We live in a time where leisure is readily available. Netflix and other streaming platforms have millions of television shows and movies. Any game we could want is ours with a click of a button. Scrolling through social media feeds is so easy and so fun.
And let’s face it: being creative, which can be fun, is actually a lot of work. Even hit songwriter Billish Eilish spoke about how songwriting can be torture. We put a lot of brainpower into writing songs, and that can be tiring at the end of a long workday. We have to be disciplined enough to put some time aside to write, and even if we’re using a timer, that is still time we could be doing something else.
Companies are paying high prices for our attention. When I was younger and iPhones didn’t exist, I would spend all evening on my songs. When I wasn’t writing, I was usually thinking about it. There was a lot of quiet that gave me enough space to write. Now, it seems I get a notification every two minutes and it diverts my attention away from thinking about songwriting—or anything, really.
After binging a season (or three) of a new show, my mind doesn’t want to focus on anything strenuous. Even getting myself to read is a challenge, and it’s easy to understand why people are reading less. Watching content is easy. Creating it? Not so much.
I don’t think that means the generations that are growing up with the Internet are lazy, but it’s clear that we have an extra obstacle to overcome. When we think of being creative, we often associate it with the joy and excitement that comes along with it. I believe that is always there, even when it’s hard to get started.
But sometimes, it’s not that fun. Sometimes you’re stuck on one line for a full half-hour. Sometimes it’s lonely.
If you’re a professional songwriter, it adds to the pressure of writing a good song every single time. Not everyone feels this way every single time, but it can be a tough pill to swallow when I’ve written a song that’s not as great as the other ones. We all need to write the bad songs out of our systems, but it can feel discouraging.
Sometimes, songwriting is not that fun. Sometimes it’s just lonely.
Even if you don’t feel that pressure, the process of writing a song isn’t like watching another episode of The Office. You need to sit there and get in touch with your emotions. Sometimes the blank page is quite intimidating. We get a lot more instant gratification from social media.
I believe there is also this underlying feeling of, “This is supposed to be fun… isn’t it?” Sometimes I feel guilty for not enjoying every moment of writing a song. I could be doing a lot of other jobs that are less fulfilling, but I am lucky enough to be able to write songs every day. Shouldn’t I feel grateful and enjoy every moment?
And herein lies the issue, as well as the reason for doing anything besides consuming content. Maybe writing isn’t supposed to be fun. Maybe that’s the whole point.
James Altucher said, “Happiness is not the only good emotion.” This might even apply to satisfaction and gratification. As humans, we are wired to want more. We strive for happiness as the goal for our entire lives, but I’ve started to question that.
“Happiness is not the only good emotion.”
After all, one of my favourite phrases as a teenager was, “Music makes me happy.” But does it? Listening to music (consuming) makes me happy, absolutely. Playing songs is enjoyable. Learning new songs can actually be a little tiring. Writing new songs can be downright frustrating. Not to mention all the people in this industry who disguise insults in the form of criticism. It’s easy to say, “Well, maybe scrolling through Instagram will make me happier.”
But that feeling when you’ve written a song, or half a song—hell, even one section of a song. There is nothing like it. This is where the fulfillment comes from, at least for me: the achievement of having created, the expression of my true self. I can’t get that from instant gratification.
The fact of the matter is, creation can be difficult and not always fulfilling in the middle of the process. Sometimes that means finishing a song quickly with intentions to edit. Taking a break and coming back to writing is okay, too. These days, I’ve been thinking that not everything I have to do in my life has to make me happy. Somehow, that makes songwriting a little easier.