Songwriting, in the beginning...

Image credit: Mira Chorik Exploring the visual language of a song (2022)

I read this article recently for artists on truths the author wished they knew at the beginning of their journey. Some beautiful words of encouragement and fortifying insights about the creative practice of making art. Um... er... Make that the practice of songwriting! As I was reading it, I realised every wisdom into art making applies equally well to the art of writing songs. So please read and enjoy this article by Cheryl Taves from Insight Creative. With the author's permission, I have edited each word referencing art, artists and artmaking in the original article to songs, songwriting and writing songs. You can read the original piece here: In the Beginning  - Mira


I’ve often wondered how things might have been different for me, as a beginning songwriter, if someone had told me some of the things that I know now about the process of writing songs. While I don’t have any regrets for how things unfolded for me, what would I tell myself if I could go back 20 years, and offer my struggling self some wisdom and support?

In the beginning of our songwriting we don’t yet know what we don’t know. Everything is possible and untouched by previous experiences in songwriting. We are in a state known as beginner’s mind – a place of openness and learning, unencumbered by beliefs that we’re not good enough or worthy. For the most part, we’re simply excited to be creating and recognize it’s unfair to have any expectations of ourselves at this point. We are there to learn…and begin. There is only promise and possibilities.

However, depending on our previous learning experiences, we could certainly be bringing with us beliefs about our ability to learn and perform. So right at the beginning there can be mindset work to do, work that can lay the ground for us to receive, learn, and grow more effectively.

Here are some key understandings about songwriting that I wish someone shared with me when I began writing songs:

Don’t expect too much too soon. Give yourself plenty of time to learn the skills you’ll need and to develop your own understanding of the creative process, and the creative mindset.

Putting your work out there too soon can be detrimental to your development as a songwriter. Think of a musician playing a concert before they have fully developed their skills and sensibilities as a player. Songwriters also need time with their craft to gain experience and make solid work before inviting critique through the judgment of others that are not informed of your history as a songwriter. What they have to offer may not be valuable for you, and could derail your efforts to get better at what you do.

Songwriting is a lifelong pursuit, and you’ll never exhaust your potential, so be in it for the long game, not immediate gratification.

There is plenty of joy to be found in the creative process, and there is also struggle. They are both part of being a songwriter, and we should know how to meet them both well.

Don’t expect your creating time to always be uplifting and satisfying, and don’t give meaning to the days that are not. Try to find a place of neutrality where you can be comfortable with wherever you are in the process – allowing, accepting, and being curious.

In the beginning you’ll be exploring a lot of different song structures, styles, approaches, and techniques. You’ll learn from others and be influenced greatly by those whose work you admire, celebrate, and learn from. You don’t, yet, know who you are as a songwriter and this time in exploration and trying things is essential and helps you define a path for yourself.

When looking at other songwriters' work, be mindful to not compare yourself to them. 

Comparison energy is very draining and futile. It doesn’t help you to stay connected to your expression and budding sensibilities when you focus on what they have that you don’t, yet. They are on their path, and you yours…they can’t be compared.

In looking at other songwriter's work, you can discover yourself more fully by focussing on what inspires you about that work. Ask yourself if what you are connecting with in another songwriter's work is potentially an ungerminated seed within your own? Or is it so unlike you that you find it compelling in its contrast to your sensibilities? The answer to this question is the way to leverage influence in your work and develop your voice.

Your voice already resides in you. 

It doesn't need to be found, because it was never lost, it only needs to be accessed and understood. This too will take time… patience in this process allows for more information to become available to you. Forcing yourself to know your voice will likely lead you off-course and waste precious energy.

Knowing yourself and time spent considering your responses, choices, and compulsions, is also a very direct path to accessing your own voice and having it show-up more fully in your songwriting. Creative journals and reflective writing can be a process that assists you in this access to your voice.

Learn to trust your intuition, but also know that songwriting is not only informed by intuition. 

Just “letting it happen” is a way to enjoy your expression, and possibly discover something new, but it doesn’t always generate connected, meaningful work for us. We also need our intelligence and discernment. We just need to know how and when to employ them.

Your songwriting will evolve over time, and reflect aspects of yourself to yourself over that time. Our job as songwriters is to understand this interrelationship between us, our personalities, and our songwriting. For instance, if your habit is to be self-critical, this will begin to show up in your songwriting pretty quickly, even as a beginner. Without having methods to work with that tendency, you’ll likely find yourself experiencing much-too-much angst in the process and you may become resistant to even writing songs. We need a mindset that supports the rigours of songwriting.

Resistance, and creative anxiety, is a normal part of the creative process.

It can come on pretty quickly, often as soon as you begin to develop some skills and start attaching to the desire for a better outcome for your songs and songwriting.

We can be fully invested in our songwriting practice, put in tremendous effort, and still feel disappointed with the results. This is because we are attached to the outcome, and the feelings that arrive for us when we perform well, or have a good result. We have to be extra careful about our relationship to this tripping point. Be invested, but not attached. Focus on your efforts, your mindset, and your commitment. With this as a focus, better results are inevitable.

At some point you may begin to question why you’re writing songs at all. This is a really important place to acknowledge and meet well. The fact this question arrived for you is significant. It is telling you that you’re moving from writing songs as a beginner, in the depths of learning, into living a life purpose, and anchoring your songwriting to that purpose.

Many of the big questions that arrive around our art-making practice, and life, are signs that we are being called to go deeper. We are accessing our voice, and our vision for our work and our lives.

Songwriting is hard work, often with little external reward or validation. 

There is a tremendous gap in your knowledge and understanding when you begin, and that gap is carried with you, perhaps closing up somewhat, as you understand more and more of the complexity and beauty of the creative process. But, there is always a gap…and that is actually a good thing for us.

Your vision for your work, once formed, continues to grow greater than your abilities, and leads you forward – searching and pursuing something you may never attain. But the choice to seek it out is profoundly rewarding and will only deepen your relationship to yourself, and your life purpose. This is the gift of “the gap.”

Be where you are in the process. Meet each stage with reverence and curiosity. Hold the deepest compassion for the courage it takes to remain present and do the work. Strengthen your mindset so that you can be resilient and pliable through all the ups and downs. Know that there is value in what you do, even if that value is only known to you. Trust yourself and seek out supportive, like-minded communities along the way.

Songwriting will change you and teach you…and all of it will be worth it. Stay grounded and trust the process.

Cheryl Taves
5th January 2024