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How to Discover the Secret of Creativity and Cultivate It

The most important thing we need is diligence.

In fact, I would say that diligence is every bit as important as having talent. There are multitudes of talented people who never develop their gifts because of a lack of diligence. The Bible has much to say about diligence:

A slack hand causes poverty, but the hand of the diligent makes rich. PR 10:4

The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor. PR 12.24

Go to the ant, O sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise. Without having any chief, officer, or ruler, she prepares her bread in summer and gathers her food in harvest. PR 6.6-8

So often we wait for a “flash of inspiration,” or some brilliant insight that will suddenly inspire the next Mona Lisa. But that rarely comes. I once read that an artist should think of himself or herself like that highway worker who just goes out every day and puts asphalt on the road. He doesn’t wait for a flash of inspiration; he just goes out and does it, day after day.

The way to overcome writer’s block is to just start putting some words down on the page. Or pick up that guitar and start playing chords and singing. Just get some paint on the canvas, like that asphalt on the highway.

Once I was on a plane with my friend Steve Cook, who along with his wife, Vikki, are great songwriters. He was writing in a journal. I asked him what he was writing and he said he was just writing song titles. One title after another. Because if you hit upon a strong title, it goes a long way to launching the rest of the song. The title is often the main line in the chorus, and if you have a strong chorus, that also goes a long way to building a strong song.

So I used Steve’s idea when trying to write a song based on Psalm 145 about the greatness of the Lord. I began writing title after title. I wrote “How Great You Are”—no, already used. I wrote titles like “You Are Great,” “Praise You For Your Greatness,” title after title. Then, about three fourths of the way down the page I wrote, “Greater Than We Can Imagine.” I liked it! That was much more creative than the other titles I had written. That became the title of a song, and the first line in the chorus.

I can’t say enough about the importance of diligence. Just keep at it. I can’t tell you how many times I would work on a song for a couple hours and nothing would happen. But later, I would be working on a different song and I would remember the chords I had used a couple weeks before and they would work perfectly.

Thomas Edison said, “None of my inventions came by accident. I see a worthwhile need to be met and I make trial after trial until it comes. What it boils down to is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

To develop the light bulb, Edison tried over 1500 different filaments before he found the right elements that would glow and not burn out quickly.

Don’t be discouraged by failure. I have written lots of songs that weren’t that good, and have painted many paintings that I never hung on walls. But if you keep plugging away, you will get better. Don’t pursue greatness, pursue diligence. Don’t worry about being successful, try to be faithful. Just try to develop the talent God gave you.

A couple other tips:

Whatever your talent, expose yourself to lots of influences.

If you are a songwriter, listen to lots of music. Listen to classical music, broadway musicals, jazz. If you are a painter, look at lots of art.

Here’s another one:

Copy others

Shhhhh! Don’t tell anyone I said this. In his book Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, Austin Kleon says:

“Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find yourself.”

I’ve done this for years. If you’re hitting a blank wall for a song idea, take a song you like and copy it. Only change it enough that no one will know you copied it. I once used the exact framework, line by line, of the verses in “How Great Thou Art” for the verses in a song, “Glorious,” then wrote completely different music. “Glorious” is a fast song and the melody is completely different than the song I “stole” the shape of the verses from.

I have intentionally imitated songs by others. I have tried to imitate the feel or rhythm and at times have imitated musical phrases—but again, change them so I don’t plagiarize. Every artist, songwriter, designer or cook is influenced by others. So “steal like an artist”—be influenced. Imitate someone else. Only change it enough that no one will know you “stole” it.

And if God chooses to bless you—if you achieve any success, don’t forget where your talent came from. And not only your talent, but even your diligence comes from God. So don’t forget to thank the Giver of every good gift for the gifts and blessings he gives you.

Remember the words of Charles Spurgeon:

“A journey of a thousand miles is begun with a step. Beware of despising small beginnings. Some men never arrive at usefulness because they are not satisfied to begin in a small way, and proceed by a step at a time.”

This article originally appeared here.

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Mark Altrogge is the original triple threat: singer, songwriter, pastor. He has been the senior pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA for over 25 years, and is the author of many well known worship songs such as “I Stand In Awe”, and “In The Presence”. When not pastoring or writing songs, Mark can be found consuming vast quantities of coffee. Unfortunately, Mark is not particularly gifted in the area of athletics.