Over ten years ago, I stood in front of my bedroom mirror with my pawn shop acoustic guitar and strummed three chords, hummed a tune, and called it my first song. I had no idea if it was good or not (it wasn’t), but I’d finally crossed a line into being a creator.
Over the next 10+ years, I’d craft songs for fun, play in bands, record EPs for friends, and hone my craft into something I can be proud of. Here’s what I learned along the way.
In the beginning, you’ll be bland and rip off other artists’ work
The wonderful, but terrifying thing about creating any sort of art is that there are, in theory, an infinite number of combinations and outcomes when putting pen to page, so to speak.
The average guitar has 138 playable notes and an estimated 2,341 chord combinations. Not only that, but simply holding your guitar in different ways can yield different sounds.
With this in mind, we typically approach new art forms with the help of frameworks. I learned guitar by memorizing basic, popular chord patterns and pop songs. I was instructed by teachers to hold my guitar a certain way. From there, I moved into learning scales and absorbing guitar method books.
We turn to these resources because we’re lost and overwhelmed by the possibilities. We want to create something, but we don’t know how to go about creating it.
So, when starting out, you’ll mostly be ripping off other people’s work and/or making bland art. What you need to know is that this is totally okay and part of the creation process. Rip people off all you want, but know that you’re capable of much more.
Inspiration is a mix of influence and accident
Last I checked, I have over 150 song samples in a folder on my computer, dating back over 5 years. Of those, only 12 were developed into full songs. While that’s far less than the output a full-time musician might have, it illustrates that you’re not going to get it right the first time.
I’ve written full songs after months of trial and error, and I’ve written full songs after 2 hours of goofing around on my guitar. There’s no tried and true system, except that you absolutely have to put in the work and fail repeatedly.
Additionally, building a backlog of influences is incredibly important. As you explore your craft, you’ll gain insights from studying other artists, each of which can teach you new tools for expanding your art. If you don’t appreciate other artists, you won’t be appreciated by other artists.
Not only that, but if you’re in the habit of saving all of your old drafts, you may even find yourself being influenced by your past self. I find this practice of saving old work to be invaluable, as I’ve often discovered that my past self had some interesting ideas that just needed time to bake.
If you’re afraid to seek feedback, you’re not ready
When I write music, I send an early draft to two longtime friends to get their feedback.
I do this because, as a creator, you experience your work in a way that no one else ever will — you’ll see the flaws, you’ll have your favorite nuances that no one else notices, you’ll remember the entire story of how your work came into being.
In short, you’re married to it.
You need to give it to someone who can experience it as it’s meant to be experienced. If not, it’s nearly impossible to know if your work is actually accomplishing what you want.
Also, getting feedback on your work is scary and hard. It puts you in a vulnerable position of sharing your flawed creative process.
And trust me, you’re going to create some garbage that you’ll believe to be a work of genius; it’s humbling to hear this isn’t the case. At the same time, it’s exhilarating when you discover that it’s really connecting with people.
Thankfully, the process of requesting and receiving feedback becomes much easier to stomach over time. You’ll eventually develop a sense for what’s actually good and what’s garbage, but it’s important that you never stop looking for feedback from those you trust and respect.
If you’re afraid to take this step and expose yourself to constructive feedback, you’re not ready to reach the heights to which you aspire.
You should love the final drafts
When you create something that matches up with what you want to express, you’ll love it. It’ll be the pinnacle of your self-expression, and you’ll consider it an extension of yourself (and you should love yourself, right?).
If you don’t love what you’re creating, go back to the drawing board. Rewrite it. Store it away for later. Re-use it in a future work, and reshape it into something better.
Stop publishing art you don’t love.
If you’d like to hear my music, head over to my Soundcloud.
Filed under: Life Lessons