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Monday, October 05, 2009

God Told You I'm Supposed to Use This? OR 10 Things to Tell People Who Swear You're the Lennon to their McCartney

He brought his guitar with him one Sunday. He told me I had to sit and listen. "God gave me this song and told me to give it to you," he said. Awkward to say the least.

As an "up-front" artist, I often get approached by people asking me questions about songwriting/poetry/painting, etc. They range from, “how do I get started?” to “will you help me with _________ (music, lyrics, publishing, art, poetry, etc.)? to God told me you are supposed to help me.”

It’s hard to tell from a first meeting if this is going to be a creative-collaboration-match-made-in-heaven or it is going to be a nightmare where you’ve committed to reading someone’s Chicken Soup for the Soul poetry while wishing there was some sort of Kevlar headgear to protect you from oncoming clichés and hickory-dickory-dock meter.

In some of my most scary awkward moments, I’ve been handed notebooks of poetry after a set where someone tells me God told them to give me the poetry so I can turn it into songs. I have had people give me recordings of the song God told them I should do in church the next week. I was once handed a notebook of sketches that were "inspired by the Holy Spirit" for my use.

Honestly, in 20 years of ministry and dozens of these spontaneous meetings, I have never had many turn out real well.

The collaborations that work usually come about an entirely different way. Usually, the collaboration happens when artists collide while they are doing the hard work of honing and sharing their craft. And, the magic usually only happens when there is a relationship between two or more parties. Sometimes the relationship can be as simple as getting to know each other at a writer’s retreat or playing a gig together.

But, asking someone you're not in relationship with to spend their time helping you make your “art” better is mostly awkward, sometimes rude, and often strangely bizarre and unfair.

Unless you are part of a collaborative group, a dedicated retreat, an open mic talkback, etc. OR unless you are paying an expert for their services, time, and opinion, OR unless you have a great relationship with someone who is some kind of authority, OR unless that expert has made it known they would like to be a mentor, it is probably not a good idea to approach someone and guilt them into reading something or hearing something.

With all that said, not everyone is a sponge ready to exhaust you of your energy. Not everyone has bad poetry/art/songs. Some are just starting out and really need someone to give them direction. Some just need us to point them in the right way. Some are just socially awkward and don't know the "rules." Some respect you and want advice.

It’s not always easy to discern between them, however.

So . . .

This is the approach I take when put in any situation—awkward or not—wherein I am asked to give my opinion, read poetry, collaborate, etc. I usually say something like:

“It sounds like you and I share something in common . . . we write songs and poetry/paint/design, etc. The difference is, I have an outlet to share it with others. I understand your frustration because seeing something come to fruition is the best part for me at times.

With that said, I always feel awkward saying this but . . . I have so many ideas and songs I feel like I am driving myself crazy at times. It's enough to keep up with my own stuff. So, it's hard for me to imagine dropping everything and collaborating with something new.

Plus, songwriting/art/poetry is very personal. It’s difficult for me to be able to talk through these things unless we are either in a classroom setting where I am getting paid for my opinion or we are friends and trust one another a good deal.

But, I always want to listen to voices that may potentially be God speaking! So, here is what I suggest to anyone with your particular gifts:

1. Consider starting a blog if you don't have one. This is a great way to get your thoughts down and share them with the world and get feedback. Let me know when it is up and running so I can go read the goods!

2. Consider sending me some poetry to see if it something we can use in other ways beyond song--i.e. on screen, having it read, etc.

3. Consider starting a satellite group for poets. We have reading groups, visual art groups, and writing groups happen here. A group for poets to share and give feedback would be awesome!

4. If you have any musician/art/poetry friends, sit with them and share your thoughts.

5. Start taking piano or guitar lessons.

6. Consider paying someone to take your lyrics and help you write and rewrite them from a songwriter’s perspective. I would be happy to do that for you at $_____an hour.

7. Enroll in some music theory classes/poetry classes/art classes etc. at the Junior College.

8. Join our next songwriter’s retreat. Be ready to submit your stuff and get real constructive criticism. Be ready to grow thick skin.

9. Enter your lyrics in a poetry contest or your song in a songwriter’s contest. There are many of these that happen throughout the year.

10. Join any of our multiple teams around Westwinds and get to know some people. There are many young and fresh artists who are building community with one another. You should get to know them and serve with them!

All of these things are good starting points. We may find we have a good connection. On the other hand, I want you to understand it may not be a perfect match but, we never know until we try. It's the match that counts.

Art is strange. It is highly subjective in some ways and there is sometimes almost universal appeal in other ways. Sometimes, art is for the few and sometimes it is for many. Depends. I've written many songs that will never be heard but, they are great prayers and special to me. I have people that speak into that.

Kudos to you for being bold and looking for ways to serve God and bless others through your gift. I'm sure there is a great place for you. Let's see if we can find a good fit! Let me know how you want to move forward.”

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