Finding Inspiration: Stop Working, Start Songwriting
(Originally published in Worship Leader, May 2007. Subscribe today.)
The moment of inspiration can happen anywhere at anytime. Like almost everything in God’s kingdom, songs start out as seeds. They begin small with a spark of inspiration. What happens next, of course, is up to us. When I first began writing songs at about age 10 the moments of inspiration tended to come from Duran Duran videos or school discos. Finding inspiration for God songs eight years later proved to be a difficult task. So difficult that I only managed to break through the dry spell with prayer and fasting. It seemed, though, that once the drought was over the songs just kept arriving. In the coming months, I’m going to try and track the life of one of my songs from start to finish in the hopes that looking at this process might help you in writing your own songs. And this issue I’m going to look at how songs start—the moment of inspiration.
Rest and Play
One of Jesus’ most well-known lessons on the kingdom of God is about seeds. As I’m sure you know, the seeds in the Parable of the Sewer represent the Word of God. One of the threats to God’s Word I find pertinent for this generation and particularly helpful for me as a writer. This is the threat Jesus refers to as “the cares of this world” (Luke 8 and 21). Nothing chokes the process of songwriting for me more than this particular weed. So anything that can get my head out of “the cares of this world” state of mind is helpful not only for my spirituality but also for my creativity.
For me the most obvious way to shake off the cares of this world is rest. That means not working. For some reason, this is a concept I find hard to grasp. The idea of sitting in a room staring out the window resting fills me with dread and sadness. I have to plan rest times. I guess by this stage you’ve probably figured out that I’m an A-type personality. So, I’ve worked out that I need to trick myself into rest. However through that, I’ve also learned that resting is productive. I realized this the summer I took up wakeboarding. I had so much fun that summer, hanging with my friends and enjoying God’s creation. But at the end of it I realized that I’d written more songs over that two-month summer (it’s only two months in England) than the rest of the year combined. Creativity requires a certain playfulness—a willingness to try something knowing that it may not work out. Learning how to play again as an adult increases our threshold for risk, which in turn allows us to develop and try ideas we wouldn’t normally try. Rest leads to play, and play leads to songs.
Looking for Novelty
Novelty doesn’t get great press, generally. But actually, it’s one of God’s hallmarks. Newness is an adjective that tends to follow God’s actions. Behold I’m doing a new thing. Sing a new song. But in Christ: new creation! And there will be a new heaven and a new earth. As a creative, I’m pretty pleased by this. I love new things. In particular, I love new sounds, new songs, new grooves, new chord shapes, new rhymes, new ways of worshiping God. And I am constantly on the lookout for musical new-ness. Every time I hear something new on the radio or watch something new on MTV I’m amped. And what follows normally involves me picking up a guitar.
Although emotions are notoriously bad fuel for seeing anything through—especially songs—they are, nevertheless, a gift from God and a fantastic place for a song to start. In fact, most of my songs begin at this point. I may feel ecstatic or sad or resolved or enraged or simply moved, and the next thing I know a melody and part of a lyric is leaving my mouth.
Anything can inspire us if we’re in the right headspace. The important thing to realize is that a moment of strong emotion can be the start of something new. Typically there is a long and awkward section of perspiration that follows in order for a song to reach some stage of completion. But if we live our lives willing to let what moves us become something that moves us closer to God, then new songs are there for the taking every day.
Brenton Brown has written such well-known worship songs as “Everlasting God,” “Hosanna,” and “Amazing God.” Find out more at brentonbrown.com.