To the young writer...

(Photographs in this post were a gift from my young reader/listener/writer friend Abby Ang.  Enjoy Abby's words here.)

*Adding here to my original post, based on an interaction with a lovely young lady I hope to one day meet.

She wrote: At each stage of this journey, it seems the more productive I am...the more I battle the lie that my contributions are worthless. But, I know that is not I keep on keeping on...trusting that God will use me (and my work) in a way that will somehow bring him glory.

I wrote:  When I was your age, I tried not writing for a period of time, on the advice of an older songwriter.  He said, "If you're not sure if this is what you're meant to do, try  NOT doing it.  See if you can. "  :) Clearly, I couldn't stop for long!  And I hope you won't, either...always remember that though there may be many others in that place [songwriters], working toward a similar goal, there is only one you.  No one else has had your particular life experience and seen it all through your set of eyes.  You do have something to add, and if God has gifted you musically/lyrically, you have something to add to the world of art & music.

And a couple of relevant book titles I recommend:

Walking on Water (Madeleine L'Engle - just read it, it's a classic) Linchpin (Seth Godin - secular, inspires the artist to break the rules & be uncompromising) At the Crossroads (Charlie Peacock - deals with history of "Christian music" & examines what it means)


I’ve recently received several letters from young songwriters. You have something to say, and music is the language you speak, but you are uncertain where to take the work. I understand exactly how you feel, so...

I thought I’d jot some thoughts here to speak to you, and any others who also wonder.

It’s strange to suddenly find oneself in a sort of “older sister” role.  Odd to find that in the midst of all your own uncertainties and your own quest to understand how to really create something good, the “little sisters/brothers” knock on your door hoping you have the secrets.

And honestly, I can talk about words and writing all night, but business…not my favorite topic.

Strategy hasn’t played a part in any opportunities I’ve had before now.  And while I'm trying to be smart about things, I don’t tend to do things the way you’re supposed to do them in the “industry.”

So here, dear young writer, are my only words for you tonight:

What’s it all about for you? You have to find that answer…who are you writing for, and why?

Do you need to make a living from your writing?

If you do, you can do some googling and get tips on where to begin.  They’ll tell you, rightly, to first really make sure you’ve got what it takes, skill-wise.  It’s not an easy thing to get your songs cut by established artists, so your songs are going to have to be not good, but GREAT (and that’s defined by the market/genre you’re writing for).  And you’ll find tips on what to do and what not to do…don’t send in unsolicited material, don’t pay anyone to “publish” your stuff, don’t write 5-minute songs for pitch, start co-writing, etc….But lots of people write about that side of things, so I will not.

But, if you don’t have to make your living from your writing, then why bind yourself to that set of rules? You have all the freedom in the world to create something new.

Why not

stretch yourself, and your listeners…

Pay attention & deconstruct the music you love

find out what makes it work,

Be honest in your writing

write fearlessly,

use fresh, strong language…

Refuse to write what has already been written.

Take enough time to write each song the way it needs to be written,

(like a mother should heed the differences between her kids)

and rewrite,

but call it “finished” when it is.

(Gentle side note:  There is no divine inspiration behind any song in the way there was with Scripture, so let’s not say anymore that God gave us this or that song…it’s too often an excuse to not consider revising.:))

Be brave and put it out there...if singing isn't your strong suit, find someone else to deliver the music so that it can really be heard for what it is meant to be.  Start where you are...don't try to play it for industry people before you play it for "real people" in your own community, besides Mom and Dad.

Get old-fashioned in your thinking.  Consider the traveling musicians pre-record label.  Bring a song as you would bring a gift to small gatherings.  Post a song for free online and let people respond.

Write what is TRUE, and learn to WRITE IT WELL, and there will be people who want to listen.

And when they listen, and they get it, those are the people to listen to.  They’ll tell you what rings.

Not everything has to be heavy or serious.  We need to dance and laugh out loud as much as we need to cry.

Maybe the worst mistake we make is to define “success” by the numbers of people who know our name or our work.  Of course, we want witnesses to the work.  Of course, it feels good to be understood and validated.

But if we believe our work is made legitimate by being popular, we have bought a LIE.  I was no less valuable as a teenager because I was invisible and unpopular, but I believed that.

It’s a false story.  When we swallow it and live in that context, we have jumped tracks.

Real art has OFTEN been unpopular and Jesus Christ is not popular and we are not here to be popular but to be human. The gospel wasn’t pretty but it’s beautiful.  Because it’s true.

That’s the story we need to live and breathe and WRITE.

These are the things I have to constantly remind myself.  Because I like to be liked.

I know this isn’t what you’re looking for.  You’re afraid there won’t be a place for you in the world of art, that you'll live and die and no one will care about your songs. You want someone to give you 3 steps, or 7 tips.  But honestly.  I have no idea what work you were put on the planet to accomplish…I just think that the career path is not the point, and money is not the point, and fame is definitely not the point.  But creating something really good and pleasing to the Creator is.

Google those other articles and do those smart things.  But let those things support the art, and not the other way around.

I hope we cross paths one day, and that my soul is awakened by some bit of music you deliver into the world.  :)

With love and hope!