Finally started reading Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works and I’m inspired. Fascinated, too.
After a compelling introduction, Lehrer tells a bit about Bob Dylan’s early career and the circumstances leading up to the creation of Like A Rolling Stone. This was all new information to me, and very interesting. I won’t rehash what Lehrer wrote (you should read this book!), but it did spark a little thinking in my own brain.
I’m a creative person; I love to write, I occasionally write music, I design services with a focus on flow and connectivity. I respond to creative things and I am creative in many aspects of my life and work. Plus I’m all up in my head all the time. My mind flows on a creative track; I see life as on ongoing narrative.
But there aren’t often measurable results from this creative lifestyle. Mostly, it’s just me, being me. I don’t see the good outflow of being creative, but more the weirdness of me, being me. That’s sometimes just weird.
The first chapter of Imagine prompted me to revisit my most recent burst of tangible creativity. Here’s what happened:
Our teaching team at church prepared messages for a series called Close Encounters a few months in advance. We had manuscripts and plenty of time to think about how to frame a 25 minute message with elements that would enhance the point and offer a valid church experience. When I read John Tiller’s message a few weeks ago, a particular phrase caught my ear. He talked about having “JEJIT” – originally coined by Mark Batterson – which means, Just Enough, Just In Time.
Just Enough, Just In Time.
It rolled around in my brain. “We ought to write a song for that week,” I told Lindsay. She agreed. And it started stewing….
About three weeks prior to his message, I sat at the piano on the Powhatan stage and played around a bit. “You give me just enough, just in time…” The phrase had a definite jazz feel to it, so I experimented with a basic blues framework; a B flat chord followed by an A flat seventh. I played a few bars, and just opened my mouth to see what would come out. Essentially, the chorus was already written, in my head. It pretty much came out the first time the way it ended at the end.
You give me just enough, just in time
All my needs you satisfy
And I’ve learned to trust you, because I know what you do
Every day, every way you supply all my needs
You give me just enough, just in time
You always come through for me
I sat my iPhone on a music stand and recorded myself singing and playing that much; then I messaged it to Lindsay.
I think I left for vacation or something shortly after that; it went dormant, and I didn’t do anything with the song until I got two return videos from Lindsay, sitting at her piano, singing the chorus back to me with a couple of verses she’d added. The week before the service, I took her words on a piece of scrap paper and went back to the piano. I played it through, and then thought a bit. Tried again, and thought a bit more. After the third time, I realized something just didn’t connect.
I took a walk. A friend was in the room working on a floral arrangement for a wedding; she said, “That sounded nice.” I thanked her but grumbled, internally, frustrated.
I went to the bathroom, walked around the hallway a bit, then returned and tried again. I threw out a few lines, thought about the general concept, decided a little repetition wouldn’t hurt and started rewriting lyrics.
I played what I wrote; then tweaked. Played again, tweaked again.
In twenty minutes, I had the song. I called Lindsay in and asked if it was okay; she liked it. We debated adding a bridge – tried it, and realized it felt like too much. I played it through one last time, we agreed it was done, and then I headed home to record a scratch track.
So, what? Big deal – who cares how we wrote the song?
Well, I learned a few things.
1) Creativity takes time. Gestation is our friend when we’re trying to grow something new. Allowing John’s message to roll around in my my head for a few weeks was incredibly helpful. I think my head had the right environment, the right pieces in place to assemble something that made sense and enhanced the point of the day.
2) Collaboration is awesome. Lindsay gave the verses a place to go; she put legs to the defining emotions. I was able to see the song from her perspective, which gave me a fresh approach. Also, her interpretation was brilliant; as I chose notes for the melody, I wrote for her voice rather than my own. That gave the song a different (for me) flavor.
3) It was relatively quick. From the time I initially sat at the piano, I probably only spent 45 minutes actually “writing” the song. It was, essentially, already written. My brain just needed to be uncorked.
4) Movement helps. A trip to the bathroom did wonders for getting verbally unstuck.
5) It wasn’t earth-shattering, but it worked. I get hung up a lot because I don’t want to write drivel. There are a gazillion songs out there. I don’t write worship songs because all I hear are worship songs, all day long, and it seems like there’s really nothing new to say with four chords, a pre-chorus and a bridge and an octave jump when it’s time to build. I choke myself before I start because I feel I’ve got nothing new to say. But I do have something to say, and maybe if it works – whether it’s earth-shattering or not – I should just say it.
Here’s the song as Lindsay delivered it last week. You can certainly watch the entire service, but the song I’ve been writing about begins at 56:20.