Skip to main content

Writing When Nobody’s Watching

Open the door for someone and set their inner songwriter free.

Every so often I find myself in a conversation with someone who asks a lot of questions about my work. For instance, how do song ideas come to me? How do I get started writing them? How do I cross the T’s, dot the I’s and finally send songs out into the world?

I get a sense that somewhere inside that person there’s an inner songwriter who wants to get out.

Anyone should be able to write a song without feeling judged. Making art of any kind is an act of courage, and it’s also therapeutic. Writing lyrics in particular can usher buried feelings out of our body so we can face them, deal with them, maybe someday even laugh at them. But more importantly, it allows us to embrace and accept them.

It’s easy for a novice to cook a meal with no intention of publishing a cookbook, or to dance in front of a mirror without dreams of being on a stage. Why is it, then, that writing a song is paralyzing for so many people?

Maybe it’s because, if done well, it exposes a very personal side of us that’s scary to reveal. Or simply scary to feel. But sharing a song isn’t the point of writing it. The magic of songwriting is how we get to know ourselves better through it — how we can answer questions we weren’t aware we were asking, discover uncharted emotional territory without realizing that was our goal. Writing a song doesn’t replace therapy, but it’s a lot less expensive!

Not every song is meant to be heard A lot of my song-babies don’t get past my studio or my car. But I do it anyway because it feels good. It’s fun! And it’s healthy too. I don’t want a trophy for doing something fun and healthy. (Although I wouldn’t turn one down either.) 🙂

I guess it’s easy for me to say this because songwriting is my wheelhouse. I’m a woman of words. A long time ago, however, when I was a teenager, I sketched this:

Sketch of two faces with only the view of the top half of each.

I remember pushing that Number 2 pencil around the paper thinking I was attempting an art form I wasn’t very good at. Even so, when I was finished, I surprised myself. I felt creatively empowered — more inspired by, and more connected to, my subjects. I’ve kept that sketch tucked away all these years, so I guess the accomplishment meant something.

Now, if you asked me to dance in front of an audience, well, that’s a different story — one that makes me feel self-conscious … which speaks to the popular Mark Twain quote: Dance like nobody’s watching. In other words, don’t be afraid of what others think — even if (especially if) it makes you feel uncomfortable.

As the article of the same name states, creativity is actually born out of discomfort. May that’s why USC professor Fred Cook asks his students to expose themselves to new experiences. “Trying new things gives you the courage you need to experiment with your life and not be worried about whether or not you fail,” he says.

Since you’re reading this on the Yamaha blog, I’m guessing there’s a good chance you may already be a songwriter or a composer. But for that friend or neighbor or hairstylist in your life who asks you a lot of questions about what you do, I suggest you consider being that person who opens the door and sets their inner songwriter free. They may thank you one day. And, yes, they’ll probably ask that you listen to their song and may even request a critique that might be uncomfortable (for you). So, remember to be gentle.

Or you could just congratulate them for writing a song when no one was watching. That’s a reward in itself.


Check out Shelly’s other postings.

Keep reading