All songwriters fight with frustration. I’d say that if you don’t get frustrated from time to time, you’re not growing the way you should.
Artistic growth requires getting excited about what you’re writing, but it also requires feeling dissatisfied. Dissatisfaction is not a negative reaction if you use it to propel you forward.
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So how do you deal with songwriting frustration? You’re probably doing one, more, or all of these things:
- You’re putting your songwriting away for the day (or week… or month) and giving yourself a break.
- You’re switching your concentration from writing music to playing it.
- You’re concentrating on a different creative outlet, like writing poetry, dancing, singing, or some other.
Those are all the kinds of activities that I would call avoidance techniques, and that’s not a bad thing. In doing those things, you take a break from the thing that’s frustrating you.
But there’s something else you could be doing, an idea that comes from singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell in an article on the Variety.com website. The article describes an interview she did with Cameron Crowe.
In the article, Joni Mitchell mentions the artistic and psychological struggle she’s experienced by thinking about her early songs, which she had almost disavowed. She’s much prouder of her later songs, and I think that’s probably common for all songwriters.
But in discussing how she comes to terms with the earlier songs, she said something interesting, something that can help us all find purpose in those early songs. Crowe writes:
She compares her career to visiting a Van Gogh exhibition, where “they had all his paintings arranged chronologically, and you’d watch the growth as you walk along. That was so inspiring… If [hearing the early material] serves that purpose [to younger artists], that would be great.”
That’s such a great idea! If you’ve been struggling with writer’s block that’s been brought on by feeling frustrated, wondering if you’re improving at all, take a walk through some of your songs, but do that in chronological order.
So give it a try. Make a playlist of six or seven of your songs, and arrange them from the earliest efforts to your most recent ones. Then sit back and listen. I think if you do that, you’re going to discover that you have in fact been improving. Your musical imagination has been strong, and your sense of creativity has been growing.
Sometimes we all need that kind of ego boost. Not only does listening to your older songs serve to give you a pat on the back, it allows you to see those older-and-possibly-flawed songs as playing a tremendously important role in the songwriter you’ve become.
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