Traditionally, I take the week off after Christmas. For a worship pastor like myself, this is a bit of a sacred time—to spend with family, physically and spiritually refuel from the long fall and Christmas schedule, and do a little reflecting on life. This last week, I also fired up my project recording studio, collected all the odd and unformed lyrics I have jotted down over the past six months, and gave my right brain an opportunity to play a little bit. (I also snuck onto my daughters' new Wii a few times, but that may be irrelevant.)
Every songwriter works in their own way. Some like to start with a melody; others begin with a lick or a lyrical phrase or some chord changes. There are no rules, no procedures, no single formula for writing a song. There is only this inexplicable thing called inspiration—that seems like luck and works like magic and feels like madness.
The most gifted and hard working artists seem to be inspired all the time, but that is not true. When there is no inspiration, it is then that skill and gifting can carry you. A gifted songwriter can write a song whether or not they are inspired, simply because they understand the craft of songwriting. A gifted painter can create an amazing work of art simply because they have a canvas in front of them. And a gifted writer can write a great article simply because they are under a deadline. All of this begs the question: Is inspiration a requirement for creativity?
As artists, we are obligated to steward the gifts God gives us, through diligent discipline. Artists must be attentive to their craft. In other words, having talent is not an excuse for not working hard. Quite the opposite—the greater the giftedness, the greater the obligation to steward those gifts, to work and hone our craft. It is a matter of the parable of the talents, applied to our talents. And so, because I understand and practice the craft of songwriting, I can write songs that are creative. But I don't always write songs that are good. In fact, I am really quite good at writing mediocre songs. So where does the inspiration come in?
Jeremy Begbie states that "art is...inherently dialogical." And I believe that includes a vertical dialogue, a transcendent and spiritual component to our art. When we are inspired, it feels like we are tapping into this wholly other thing.
This last week, I was feeling inspired. And for me, this inspiration—that seems like luck and works like magic and feels like madness—took me somewhere I don't think I could have gone by myself.
As a Christ-follower, I believe that all true inspiration ultimately comes from the Spirit of God. I also know that the Spirit of God is a much better songwriter than I am, so I am often reticent to give him credit for the stuff I write. But this week, I walked into my studio with a some unhurried time, a few scratched-out ideas, and an attentiveness to the Inspirer of things—and I walked out of my studio with three new songs. And so far, they still sound pretty good.