Music Notes

Letting Go of "Great"

letting go rick rubin self-doubt song a day challenge songwriting education teaching the creative act writing a song every day writing songs Jan 09, 2024

Self-doubt and Creativity

This past week, I was reading The Creative Act: A Way of Being by Rick Rubin. Gifted to me by a dear colleague, this book has been one that I've come back to time and time again when I feel creatively stuck or in need of inspiration. 

As I was preparing to write a blog post on self-doubt, I opened up to a random page in the book, and the following hit me like a ton of bricks: 

"While the emotional undercurrents of self-doubt can serve the art, they can also interfere with the creative process. Begining a work, completing a work, and sharing a work-these are key moments where many of us become stuck. 

How do we move forward, considering the stories we tell ourselves? 

One of the best strategies is to lower the stakes.

We tend to think that what we're making is the most important thing in our lives and that it's going to define us for all eternity. Consider moving forward with the more accurate point of view that it's a small work, a beginning. The mission is to complete the project so that you can move on to the next...all art is a work in progress (Rubin, 2023)."

"Yes. Yes. Yes!" my heart screamed as I read. This is what I had to, and have to, relearn every time I set forth to create. 

Forced Process

In December 2019, I set a lofty goal for myself. I wanted to write a song every day during the month of January and to record my progress. It seemed wild but exhilarating. After all, wasn't 2020 going to be the best year yet?? 

When I started recording songs day after day, I realized that I would have to "let go of great" to fully be present in the process. 

Here's what I mean. 

Oftentimes, when we create, we are so caught up on whether what we make is any good or not. For this challenge, there simply wasn't enough time to create; there was just the need to get proverbial pen to paper, to move my hands over an instrument, and let ideas ("good" and "bad") flow. I needed to get over myself and the idea that everything I wrote had to be exceptional. This idea is what kept me from writing anything in the first place. 

A couple of weeks into the challenge, a strange thing happened. I posted a song that I absolutely hated. I didn't have enough time to write another, so I went with my creation for the day. The backing track felt cheesy, my vocals were messy, and the lyrics seemed uninspired. 

The next time I practiced with my band, my guitarist told me that he'd been following the challenge and wanted to try one of my new songs that he really liked. Lo and behold, he liked the song...the one that I thought was terrible. 

But when he changed the tempo, added a washy guitar riff, and changed the key, it started to sound like a completely different song. He found the spark in what I created. He found the spark that I couldn't see. 

Doing a challenge such as the song-a-day challenge forces you to engage in the process without fixating on the product. There simply isn't the luxury of time, and to do so would be missing the point. 

The following year, Kat (co-owner of SFME!) joined the challenge, and we've been doing it ever since. This year, we have 46 people signed up for the song-a-day challenge. There's something special about this challenge and how it helps you overcome the creative blocks and self-doubt that often plague creative work. 

Where do we go from here? 

As I type this, it's day #9 of the 2024 song-a-day challenge. Like all of the years past, I continue to learn each day I sit down to write something. This year, I'm learning to experiment with prompts and ways of writing that I've never written before. I'm still posting songs that I wouldn't call "great," and I'm hoping that these songs will help others feel empowered to show up for the practice despite the outcome. 

I've also learned through this challenge about the importance of community. Creating in a community of others, either connected physically or virtually, is so much more fulfilling than going at it alone. I look forward to seeing what folks have made on Instagram each day, and it fuels me to keep going. It's why Kat and I started a membership site two years ago- so we could keep connecting with our community all year. (We're welcoming new members in February 2024! You can learn more here.)

If you're reading this and feeling inspired, I hope you give yourself permission to create something today. It can be small. It can be "cheesy." But, just sitting down to exercise your creative muscle makes you great, no matter the outcome. 

Want to follow along with our challenge progress? Head to our Instagram page (@songwriting_for_me) throughout the month of January.  

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