Some Thoughts on Songwriting

I like writing songs. And I’d like to think that I’m quite good at it. But that hasn’t always been the case.

I remember first being encouraged to write songs by a couple of leaders at church. I was 15, I played guitar and I led worship. The natural progression was to write my own stuff, right?

I’d wager more than one of you had a similar experience.

I can’t remember exactly the first song that I wrote. It’s probably for the best. Snippets of some of my first attempts are still stored deep in the recesses of my brain. Full of clichés, stolen Hillsong lyrics, suspect theology and pre-choruses that neither led to the chorus, nor had anything to do with the rest of the song whatsoever.

It’s interesting that most of these shortcomings are to do with lyrics. From what I remember, I learned quite quickly how to write a pretty good melody and fit it with chords. Lyrics, alas, did not come so easily.

And I hear that tendency in a lot of worship music. Obviously not to the same extent as my earliest attempts. But quite often I find myself singing an absolutely killer melody but with lyrics that have passed my lips a thousand times before.

I wonder why that is?

Maybe part of the problem is that the people who are expected to write songs don’t necessarily have that skill set. I would argue that those skills required to lead worship and those required to write (songs or otherwise) are quite different.

That’s not to say that good worship leaders can never be good songwriters – that’s preposterous. But I would go so far as to say that it is almost as preposterous to assume that good worship leaders automatically make good songwriters.

What I’m not saying here is that we shouldn’t encourage our worship leaders to write songs. Poor as I was when I started, I wouldn’t be where I am today if someone hadn’t suggested that I write a song. And in fact, if someone had sat me down before I started and given me a lesson in lyric writing that may well have been counter-productive.

Those first forays in song writing – though they may not have produced much of note, apart from a remarkable determination to squeeze words into spaces they were clearly too long for – were formative and important in learning to flex my creative muscles. Never time wasted.

As Tim Keller recently tweeted, anything that’s worth doing, is worth doing imperfectly the first time.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that perhaps at some point along the line more direction, in terms of lyric writing, is needed. Maybe we need to be looking for more budding poets and writers to work alongside our worship leaders. And perhaps, a better example needs to be given.

I have some more thoughts, but I think that’s enough to be going on with for now. I should probably welcome your own comments and thoughts, whether or not you agree with me. But I’d rather labour under the illusion that I’m completely in the right, so I only welcome affirming thoughts. Because I know if you disagree you’ll say so anyway.

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