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When Your Own Songwriting Disappoints You

It’s happened to all of us. We have an idea that seems grand—even transcendent—in the mind. But once it is on paper, we feel like telling anyone who might read it, “I guess you had to be there.” “There” meaning “the spot in my mind.”

Author/songwriter/Sovereign Grace pastor Stephen Altrogge says,

“One of my big principles is that I’m OK with writing trash. To be good at writing anything, you need to do it a lot. In the process of doing it a lot, you’re bound to write a lot of total garbage. So I’ve written lots of lame songs, sentences and blog posts. And that’s OK. I think I’ve written some decent ones too. Some people get so hung up on being perfect that they never finish anything.”

I can identify. Whenever I write a song, I think, “This is my best ever.” That’s just the euphoria talking. It might last a day; it might last a week. I obsessively read and listen to my new song, far beyond that which is helpful. Inevitably within a week, a reverse-euphoria sets in. I think, “This is the worst song I’ve ever written. This is horrible. Maybe I’ve lost it. Maybe I’ll never write a good song again.”

A day or two later I realize I’ve read, listened to and edited my demo so many times that I can’t see the forest for the trees. At this point I simply have to trust outside opinion, because I have no idea if the song is my best, my worst or something in between.

And what if outside opinion confirms that my latest effort is middling or worse? In times like these I remind myself of a G.K. Chesterton quote:

“You could compile the worst book in the world entirely out of selected passages from the best writers in the world.”

Some of your songs will be better than others. This is true of everyone. Charles Wesley wrote 6,500, most of which time has forgotten. And Fanny Crosby wrote 8,000, the bulk of which even serious hymnologists never read or sing.

No one bats 1.000. Just keep trying. Meanwhile, ask yourself if you’re “filling your palette.” Good writers are good readers. Good songwriters are good listeners. And all good creatives have abundant curiosity. Singer-songwriter/worship leader Allie Lapointe says,

“Fill your word palette by reading great prose and poetry. Fill your theological palette by studying the Word and listening to sermons. Fill your emotional palette by living life fully, listening to people’s stories and fully engaging in your own. Fill your artistic palette by engaging in culture—attend concerts, art shows and community events. Keep your idea radar up at all times—songs are hiding in people’s prayers, newspaper headlines and Bible pages.”  

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Bobby Gilles has written several of Sojourn Music’s popular worship songs for albums like The Water And The Blood, Over The Grave and Before The Throne. He is content manager for sojournmusic.com and has mentored songwriters and led many Sojourn songwriting workshops as part of Pastor Mike Cosper’s worship ministry. Bobby is also Sojourn Church Director Of Communications, and works with Lead Pastor Daniel Montgomery to communicate Sojourn’s mission and vision. He co-wrote the children’s book Our Home Is Like A Little Church, published by Christian Focus. As a former radio disc jockey and music director, he was twice named a National Top 10 Finalist for Gospel Music DJ of the Year.