The Writing Room Revisited

 

Every artist

 

seeks

 

space.

 

 

 

We seek silence or solitude,

communal space for collaboration,

a space to share,

a space to be heard,

a space unfilled that wants what we have...

I carve out summer space to write for new projects begun months ago and find the more I work, the more I feel I'm just getting started.  Songs begun on parceled scraps of winter nights aren't really holding up in the light of recent pieces that seem more...sure of themselves.  More enduring in their interest to the writer.

(And therein lies a point: if even the writer finds the work dull and does not desire to play it again while it is still in the cradle sucking its thumb, the rest of the world will almost certainly feel the same way.)

With all this in mind, as I ready for camp next week, I re-share this post in hopes that you, too, will grab the handle of the blade and whittle yourself a room for writing.

 

Must.Write.Now.

It’s a bit obvious when the songwriter in this house has stayed away too long from writing, because she starts getting just a LITTLE bit grumpy.  A TINY bit irritable.  Easily IRKED.  Not by political leaders or financial crises or even by semi-big deals like being behind (again) on emails or (chronically) filing paperwork.

It’s much less rational than that.  Where there is no solitude, there is much loud exhaling at the very presence of human beings.  People and their people-y things, like shoes…hunger…chatter.

It’s not pretty...

So...for the well-being of my family: to writing I return.

...

Where have all the good ideas gone?

The writing road is often a thrill-ride attempt to grab all those great ideas that hover in cartoon bubbles around your head before they pop.

"Except when it's not."  (Dr. Seuss)

Sometimes I honestly wonder if maybe I’ve written my last good song, because: Where did all the ideas go?!

They arrive through books, blogs, sermons and (yes) conversations (those people-y things).  Soak...write...soak...write...soak...

I’ve been soaking for a while now without the wave rising up.  These past couple of weeks, I sense the swell coming but something isn’t quite there.  And I’m beginning to think it’s not always about the idea…

.......

What’s the Problem?

Sometimes it’s about trying to write in a way that’s akin to taking a quiet bath in the middle of Times Square.  And the billboards and traffic?  My own brain.

Maybe we fall into Consciousness and can't get up?   Maybe the noise of a thousand tiny people in our heads telling us how to be and sound and watch out for this and don’t do that gets in the way of us carving out something fresh and true?

I forget to light the candle of Intuition that has always led the way …

Any writer can break down a great song for you and tell you why it works…AFTER it’s written.  More often than not, we're not actually thinking about those things during the process.  Occasionally, a listener will point something out that looks like great crafting, and it’s a delight to hear, because I had never consciously worked it out.

We practice, study, listen and pack all the structural tips in the back closet of the brain.  But the really natural, poignant writing happens in The Writing Room.

...

The Writing Room

The Writing Room is not a physical place but a mental Safe Room, where almost everything the writer needs lives.  Stacks and drawers of metaphors, images, memories, stories, poetry, vocabulary, rhythm and rhyme line the walls (if you’re messy like me…maybe yours is more orderly).

Self-consciousness is most definitely NOT in the room.  Self-consciousness takes up lots of space, distracts from and suffocates art.

On a great day, the process is vertical, spiritual, intuitive. In that space we are free to focus every fiber on serving the song at hand. In that space, every syllable matters, every melodic nuance is measured and shaped, but it happens not in a lab but on a birthing table.

Like any good birthing room, the baby is delivered after hard labor in a safe and relatively serene environment.  And she looks a little like her parent and a LOT like a brand new thing that never existed before.

morning music: Star & Micey, Jeremy Stanfill and Carolina Story!

No fancy words here today, just these clips of a few utterly deLIGHTful moments around the piano before our guests (Carolina Story , Jeremy Stanfill and Star & Micey) left this week.  These guys were traveling through, playing at the Broad Street Cafe, and we stayed up into the wee hours of the morning talking on the back deck, telling stories about family history and travel and, after I turned in, politics and economic theory. :) Artists traveling together and supporting one another on and offstage is perhaps one of the greatest beauties I have witnessed.  Not fighting for spotlight but living inside harmony and lyric, swinging arm in arm as a collective (my new favorite word, as of this morning, when I watched THIS.)

Anyway, grab your coffee, sit in and listen for a few slow moments as we rotate on the bench and sing each other's songs?  And see them in person if they come your way!

The Writing Room

Must.Write.Now.

It’s a bit obvious when the songwriter in this house has stayed away too long from writing, because she starts getting just a LITTLE bit grumpy.  A TINY bit irritable.  Easily IRKED.  Not by political leaders or financial crises or even by semi-big deals like being behind (again) on emails or (chronically) filing paperwork.

It’s much less rational than that.  Where there is no solitude, there is much loud exhaling at the very presence of human beings.  People and their people-y things, like shoes…hunger…chatter.

It’s not pretty...

So...for the well-being of my family: to writing I return.

...

Where have all the good ideas gone?

The writing road is often a thrill-ride attempt to grab all those great ideas that hover in cartoon bubbles around your head before they pop.

"Except when it's not."  (Dr. Seuss)

Sometimes I honestly wonder if maybe I’ve written my last good song, because: Where did all the ideas go?!

They arrive through books, blogs, sermons and (yes) conversations (those people-y things).  Soak...write...soak...write...soak...

I’ve been soaking for a while now without the wave rising up.  These past couple of weeks, I sense the swell coming but something isn’t quite there.  And I’m beginning to think it’s not always about the idea…

.......

What’s the Problem?

Sometimes it’s about trying to write in a way that’s akin to taking a quiet bath in the middle of Times Square.  And the billboards and traffic?  My own brain.

Maybe we fall into Consciousness and can't get up?   Maybe the noise of a thousand tiny people in our heads telling us how to be and sound and watch out for this and don’t do that gets in the way of us carving out something fresh and true?

I forget to light the candle of Intuition that has always led the way …

Any writer can break down a great song for you and tell you why it works…AFTER it’s written.  More often than not, we're not actually thinking about those things during the process.  Occasionally, a listener will point something out that looks like great crafting, and it’s a delight to hear, because I had never consciously worked it out.

We practice, study, listen and pack all the structural tips in the back closet of the brain.  But the really natural, poignant writing happens in The Writing Room.

...

The Writing Room

The Writing Room is not a physical place but a mental Safe Room, where almost everything the writer needs lives.  Stacks and drawers of metaphors, images, memories, stories, poetry, vocabulary, rhythm and rhyme line the walls (if you’re messy like me…maybe yours is more orderly).

Self-consciousness is most definitely NOT in the room.  Self-consciousness takes up lots of space, distracts from and suffocates art.

On a great day, the process is vertical, spiritual, intuitive. In that space we are free to focus every fiber on serving the song at hand. In that space, every syllable matters, every melodic nuance is measured and shaped, but it happens not in a lab but on a birthing table.

Like any good birthing room, the baby is delivered after hard labor in a safe and relatively serene environment.  And she looks a little like her parent and a LOT like a brand new thing that never existed before.

what we have to lose...

Steve Jobs died.

And a few days after that, I wept as I drove home from Tennessee.

Because of Steve Jobs? Not exactly…but sort of.

I’d just started down the long gravel drive, my parents waving in the rearview mirror, shouting their love…and suddenly all these years of being alive here together were also disappearing in the rearview mirror, and I faced ahead of me the likelihood of traveling on without them one day.

As she’d leaned into the truck for a last hug, Mom had said: Sometimes I wish you were still my little girl.

And as often happens, I stayed quiet while my heart said: Me, too.

I am not actually a worrier or a dweller on death and mortality. I do spy heaven on the horizon. But we all know time moves too quickly when you’re having fun, too slowly when you’re waiting.

My parents will turn 65 soon, and as amazing and energetic as they continue to be, they aren’t exactly the same as they were at 42. And 42 is the age they have been in my mind for the last 23 years.

Earlier in the week, I’d picked up a magazine from the big farm table in their kitchen and read this quote from Steve Jobs: “Remembering you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose.”

And I thought: Maybe he's right.

I’d spent several days writing, meeting, and recording in Nashville. When I’m there, I’m both invigorated by the city’s creative energy and also a bit intimidated and out of place with the industry side. I told Nicole: When I’m writing from home, it’s like a hot tub. Dealing with business out here feels like climbing out of the tub and into a pool of sharks.

Sometimes, I just want to pull away...keep myself and my work in safer places where I don't risk rejection.  Where I don't have to deal with fear and insecurity.

But I read that quote in my parents’ home, and I gave myself a little talking-to that went something like this:

Okay, listen you. You're going to die.

You may have a few brief years before your parents stop feeling strong enough to get on the trampoline. A few quick years to be brave and share the music that grows in your soul. A few fleeting years before your little ones grow wings and fly.

A few years left. At best.

So, seriously. SERIOUSLY. What exactly do you have to lose?

Do you really want to spend even one day whining or holding back because someone might not approve? Certainly, since the dawn of time humans have faced far bigger hurdles, greater resistance.

Stop looking for permission.  Love your Maker.  Love His people.  Make the Greatest.Work.You.Can make...in Him and for Him.

What do we have to lose?

Even as I ask it, I know the answer.  For me, what I have to lose is your esteem.  I have been a life-long approval junkie, now happily on the mend, but not wholly rid of it.

I write songs to communicate with other people, but I write also to imbed more deeply in my own soul the truths I know I'm in need of.

I wrote this for Allison and also for me:

"There's no way to earn what you've already got...nothing to lose when you're loved from the start..."

I have all that I need.  I really do.  And there's nothing I can do to make Him love me more, nothing to make Him love me less.  If you know God through His son, this is true of you also.

Let us boldly love and boldly make,

and let us repent of the moments lost to self-pity/self-consciousness/self-preservation,

because tomorrow we may die and all we'll have is what we've given away. (a truth found in a long ago Ann Voskamp post)

Thank you, Steve Jobs, for the reminder.

-------------------------------------------------------------------

*For any of you struggling with people-pleasing/approval-seeking/perfectionism...may I recommend?

When People Are Big and God is Small (Ed Welch)

Grace for the Good Girl (Emily P. Freeman)

Sing along tonight?

In Nashville this week, I had the rare opportunity to go out with Mom and hear some live music last night.  Listened to several accomplished songwriters at Cindy Morgan's benefit for the Leukemia Society sing in the round, telling stories - some lighthearted, some serious - about the music they have made, and perform them for us simply, guitars or piano.  I sat leaning back, absorbing the phrases, language and melody, hearing them sprinkle each other's tunes with harmony...loving every line.

Before that event had finished, we buzzed out and over to Family Wash in East Nashville to hear our friends, Ben and Emily, from Carolina Story.  And I swear I couldn't stop smiling the whole time they played, being completely delighted by their creativity and the layers just these two build into a tune.

I don't get out for live music much these days, but it was awesome.  And a reminder of what it can feel like to have someone else wash your feet with music.

So with that in mind, I invite you to join me tonight with the generously gifted Nicole Witt, in her living room just outside Nashville.  What's that you say?  You're in Alaska tonight?  No problem.  Just follow this link:

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/christa-wells-live-from-the-living-room-w-nicole-witt#

...and log in (easy) to join us from wherever you are. Apparently you can chat there - enter questions or file complaints :) - so we'll have someone on duty there to pass on your messages.

Sure, it's not quite the same as hearing the sound fill a room or getting to swap stories in person.  But come along anyway. And bring the whole family.  Mine will be there. :)

Time: 7-8pm Central

With humble gratitude for your ears and hearts,

christa

Masterpiece Project 2011: Someone You Know Needs This Camp

Today I repost my reflections on the time I spent in 2010 with high school students at one of the best creative arts camps out there, along with a note written by one of our students. This is where you'll find me every late July and where I am personally encouraged and challenged by an intimate group of young artists. This is where I would have spent my summers when I was a teenager, if it had existed, and it would have been a source of deep encouragement to me, as it is to these students.

Registration is now open for Masterpiece Project 2011 whose theme will be "Add to the Beauty" (inspired by Sara Groves' song by the same name).  To find out more, contact Sherrie Rogers at gslrogers@gmail.com .

*******************************************************************************************************************

I want to tell you about Masterpiece Project 2010.

Our theme this year was “Frame the Clouds,” and you’ll just have to believe me when I say I did not have anything to do with that. But I was humbled, so grateful that the concept resonates with others.

The staff at Masterpiece are not all of a kind.  We are songwriters, musicians, graphic designers, painters, poets, photographers, calligraphers, pastors, dancers, and counselors.

We are all passionate about our art forms and passionate about the work of God’s kingdom.

In particular, we are passionate about encouraging young artists to be fearless in their faith and in their work.

We all feel inadequate in one way or another.

We wonder what’s next in our own lives.

Above all we believe there is a big, big beautiful true story happening and that it is our responsibility to participate in the telling of it.  By making art.  And by living in love with God’s art.

The students at Masterpiece are not all of a kind.  They are songwriters, musicians, painters, poets, photographers, calligraphers, dancers, novelists, cartoonists, designers.  Public-schooled, private-schooled, home-schooled.  Funny, dramatic, shy, mysterious, hardworking, uncertain, open.

They feel inadequate and wonder what’s next.

But above all they suspect they have something in common with other storytellers, past and present, across the globe and in the next cabin.  Some small part of them, at least, believes they have been given a uniquely powerful way of representing God’s True story.

In one little week in the rural midwest, we are together and changed.

We, together, have listened, walked and talked, written, collaged, and played, danced, cooked, and cleaned.  We've sung prayers, read the Word, and represented a Creed.

We tried to frame the clouds.

And yes, we even built a giant iPod.

*The following was copied (with permission) from a Facebook "Note" posted by one of our campers:

"When we were released by the kitchen staff the people who were helping and I were sitting around a table and someone asked if I had any of my drawings with me and I did. I showed them the one I was working on and I ran back to my cabin and grabbed my three boxes of my drawings and brought them over to the gathering area. I opened them up and gave them up for viewing. This is something I do not do often, generally I am not comfortable with groups of people looking through my art for whatever reason, but I knew it could be appreciated. Now there was a little crowd of about eight or nine people chattering and oooing over my art. Now this was unique being that I have drawn them and made up my mind whether or not I like them or not. There was stuff from a couple of years ago to present and some of those pieces are somewhat embarrassing to me but much to my surprise people were pointing out things in my art that I never saw and were explaining how much they enjoyed them. Compliment after compliment kept coming about drawings that I had nearly forgotten about. It was an encouraging moment and something I remember clearly. In that moment I knew that I was in the company of friends..."

unpacking

Now that we're home (home home in North Carolina), it's time to unpack.

Physically, that looks like a bedroom floor piled with a mayhem of luggage and car trash.  :)  That's going to take a few days.

Spiritually, it's been underway for several weeks and will continue long after the clothes get sorted and put away.  Blogging is helpful not only to readers but to the writer...when Kat , who sees herself as one who passes out torches (and I agree), asked me to post some reflections of our journey - why we did it - on her blog, I was grateful for the push.  Too often, we mean to write but never get around to it.  (Even people who write for a living!)

I'd LOVE for you to hop over here to Inspired to Action (which is one of my favorite places to get motivated), where Kat so graciously made room for me on her couch.

ALSO.

Thank you. You guys have been (and continue to be) immensely encouraging to me, not just with the release of How Emptiness Sings, but over the months, with your lifting-up letters and stories.  They always seem to appear in the Inbox at just that moment when I'm beginning to wonder about all this and where it belongs.

It belongs with you.  And not surprisingly, you and I are a lot alike.  Which "adds to the beauty" (credit Sara Groves) by reminding all of us that we are less alone amongst humans than we sometimes feel.

So.  That's it.  Thanks. Now go get inspired.   :)

The Line

The Line

Who’s to say why a modern girl

Should be so moved

By socks on a line,

Bath towels damp and clothespinned,

Dancing like old friends on a parquet floor

Swinging like children on rusty monkey bars

-----------

Who will unfold the reasons

She opens inside out

At the sight of a white polyester fitted sheet

Billowing and blowing full of Costa Rican breeze –

------------

Why she inhales more deeply,

Or stands more quietly,

In the presence of the mundane,

Fabric doing what fabric must do,

Under the midday sun.

-------------

Who can explain

The rushing river of abundance

In stretching out a task

One

------Shirt

--------------At

---------------------A

--------------------------Time

About the pleasure of being spun clean

And sundried slow.

------------

About the joy of hanging by a thread,

Old underwear flung against the clouds

For all the world to see.

-------------

And! the crisp harmonic contrast:

What our hands have made

Alongside

What His hands have made.

-----------

Who’s to say, really,

That she shouldn’t just stay

A few minutes more --

Arms long and loose –

In a

------

standing still moment

-------

Old-fashioned awe

Of laundry on a line.

--

In the Image of the MAKER...with Ann Voskamp!

*Friends!  Thanks for spreading the word about this little retreat.  We SOLD OUT in 4 DAYS!  Wow.  Please add your name to the waiting list if you missed it (you never know) - and stay tuned.  We are working on the possibility of adding another date for this retreat in the next few months.  Maybe we'll see you there? :)

Dear Friends!

I've been so excited to share this news with you...it's been in the works for months and we have finally landed on specifics enough to invite your participation.

If you have been around my Twitter feed much over the past year or two, you are aware of my great affection and admiration for Ann Voskamp, Canadian blogger/writer (although she would first list wife to Farmer and mother of six).  Ann writes vividly, poetically, and with profound depth about faith, life, and living gratefully.

Across the miles, Ann has become a dear friend to me.  The title track of my new EP: How Emptiness Sings originated with one of Ann's marvelous blog posts -- Soulcoustics: How to Hear God in the Dark.  This will be releasing in March, and we've hoped to join forces in some way, her speaking and me singing about the music that comes from the hollow places.

Together with Nicole Witt (another name you know by now), we began envisioning a weekend of women gathering to celebrate the Creator God and the ways we can image Him in artful living.  The gathering will be deliberately small (75 women).  During our overnight time together at Caraway Conference Center in Asheboro, NC, we'll listen in quiet, make music, pray, share meals and words of encouragement, and celebrate the countless ways God has borne His creative spirit into all of us "makers."  The date has been set!  June 10-11, 2011.

Join us?

You don't have to be one who calls herself an artist, or a seller of any product.  You may express beauty in the kitchen or an office or in your garden or a classroom...If the idea of reflecting His beauty in daily living connects with you in some way...you are welcome and invited.

Click the Green Button for more... Register for In the Image of the Maker Retreat in Sophia, United States  on Eventbrite

NOTE: Registration opens Valentines Day.  :) Because we need to provide the retreat center with numbers at the end of March, we are closing registration at that time, so don't wait!