Creativity is one of those things that one can easily fail to nurture, or one can flat out stifle. A lot of people are creative minded, have interesting ideas and ambitions of how to express those ideas, but without the proper support and opportunity, that drive can fizzle or be funneled down a black hole. There are art crit groups, writing collectives and poetry workshops — all in the name of developing raw talent and feeding the creative animal. I’ve been a member of a songwriter exchange in New York City for nearly 15 years. The group meets every Monday night and the main focus is to foster the creative environment and process. How is that done? There are several methods used, all simple in process but profound in reasoning.
Good or Bad, Stick to the Schedule
1) Write a song per week. Everyone writes a song each week. Bring it to the meeting, play that newborn baby for the group and gather feedback. When people first hear this, they think it’s impossible. How can you possibly write a good song each and every week? Well, that’s the thing. It doesn’t need to be good. Many people believe that they need inspiration in order to get the creative juices flowing. That they need to be moved by something they saw or heard that compels them to translate that experience to canvas. The philosophy behind this group is to simply “write”. It’s practice. Write about anything, as long as you create something. Nothing is ever good right out of the gate anyway. “Good” comes later, with finesse and refinement. Most of the creative process is editing. So, as long as you embrace that fact, and accept that only 5-8% of your stuff will be “keepable”, you become liberated. You’re free to fall on your face and to learn where to step next time.
Give and Take Feedback
2) Provide (and be open to receive) uncensored, but constructive criticism. Most anyone who has picked up an instrument in a semi-serious or serious manner has played it for friends and family; they’ve been told how awesome and talented they are. But that’s not helpful. How can you improve if you’re blinded to wrong turns and encouraged with no specific guidance? This particular group of songwriters acknowledges that feedback might encourage the filling of major song potholes or that the song they just wrote should be scrapped all-together. If this is going to hurt your feelings and you’re not open to improving, there’s no reason for you to come on Monday night. Likewise, you, yourself, might hear a song that needs some major work. As a peer and audience member, it’s your responsibility to bring to light the points that fall short. Ultimately, it’s up to the writer if he or she chooses to act on your comments, but you should still relay them.
Keep it Social
3) Drink, eat and socialize. Every meeting happens in someone’s apartment. Someone, usually the host, cooks a big pot of pasta (we really like pasta) and everyone else is encouraged to bring a bottle of wine. We eat, chew the fat for the first hour or so, just talking about the news of the day: some dynamite new artist we recently heard or the spiciness of the charred jalapeños. A big part of these workshops is sharing ideas and connecting with like-minded artists.
Simply being in the environment is half of the experience. It builds confidence and pulls back the curtain to show that we’re all in the same boat. After 15 years, I don’t attend weekly meetings as often as I used to. It’s common for people to take months, even years, off, though I did attend every week for many years. The invaluable lessons I took with me, and rely on every week though I’m not there, is that I can’t kick back and do nothing because I’m waiting for inspiration to strike. Art is work. Craft is work. Creativity needs to be cultivated and honed. And if you’re dropping the ball on your craft, know that there are countless other talented schlubs out there doing the same. Call ‘em up, round ’em up and start a club. You’ll be surprised by your own productivity.
Singer/songwriter Ken Beasley also plays guitar and bass with a grassroots, rock sound. You can listen to Ken’s music online.