Songwriting Prompts From James Tealy

April 23, 2020

Songwriters, here are some prompts to get your creativity flowing in these days of social distancing. A stay-at-home order might be a gift, providing some extra time to think, process, and create. Here are four ways to focus your songwriting in this season. (My focus here is definitely on those of you who are writing for the church. However, whatever you’re writing you might find some helpful guidance here.)

WRITE PASTORALLY

I read a beautiful article this week that suggested that the emotion we are experiencing right now is not anxiety or anger, those are secondary emotions. The root emotion we’re feeling is actually grief. We are grieving the loss of life but also the loss of normalcy, even the anticipatory grief of an uncertain future. People need language to express their grief because (at least for us in the west) we are not used to emotional discomfort. We don’t have the stomach for it much less the tools to process it. Fortunately, scripture provides us ample tools and language to help us process our grief. Your song lyrics are like the stretcher that carries our wounded hearts to The Healer. You can use the power of a song to create a safe space for people to bring their grief, their lament to God. 

WRITE PROPHETICALLY

Don’t just write what you hear people saying now. Write what you know they’ll need to be singing a month from now, a year from now. Right now our emotions are amped. We are all ratcheted up on anxiety and defiance. But when these raw emotions become more blunted we will need worship language that reflects our new reality. Things will not get “back to normal.” In much the same way that 9/11 forever changed air travel, I believe this pandemic will fundamentally change both the way we view the world and the way we move through it. What will people need to be singing once we’ve flattened this curve and begin finding our “new normal?”

WRITE PERENNIALLY

Okay, I forced the alliteration. Perennial means lasting, enduring, permanent.  Now is NOT the time for more overly simplistic, disposable songs. Don’t rush to release your latest Pandemic Anthem to the world. These days we need lyrics with depth and muscle that will weather this upheaval and stand the test of time. We need to be reminded of the immutable characteristics of God. Take your time and craft something of timeless beauty.  

WRITE PERSONALLY

I write 6-10 unusable songs for every one commercially viable song. That doesn’t mean the others don’t serve a purpose. Songwriting can be therapeutic. Give yourself permission right now to write some songs that no one else will hear. Say what YOU NEED to say in a song. Get as angry or as afraid or as defiant or as broken-hearted as you need to get. Don’t force those therapy songs on your friends, fans, and family. They are between you and God and just the process of creating them will make you a better writer.

A writer HAS TO write. Don’t put off the life-giving work of creative expression. You need a song right now and so does the world around you. 

James Tealy

You can find a video of James talking through these thoughts by following this link!