What writing regularly has taught me

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Dear Indie Girl,

Don’t be afraid to write a bad song. 

I used to be terrified of writing bad songs. And I still have a twinge of fear when I’m staring at a blank page, but ever since I started writing more regularly (everyday if possible, if not at least one day a week), I’ve learned to do it anyway.  

I learned this from my husband, James Pray, who is a fiction writer. He is our main bread-winner working 40+ hours a week. Everyday after work he comes home, we eat dinner together, and he goes right back to work in his office working on his book. Everyday. He would write eight hours a day if we didn’t need… money. I’m so proud of him, and so inspired (and envious) of his work ethic!

So this got me thinking… so what if I write a bad song! It’s not the end of the world, right?  Well it could be the end of your career if you stop there, so don’t stop there.  Keep writing.  

George Gershwin used to write 3 songs a day so he could get two bad songs out of the way and work on something really great.

What did George known that we have yet to figure out? Writing crap is part of being a writer. Not every idea is gold. Get over it.

Someone (I can’t remember who at the moment) once said, Don’t be afraid to write crap, it fertilizes the rest of your writing.  (I’m paraphrasing)

Because that crap you wrote yesterday could hold a seed of an idea that starts a new song or book or blog post today.  Inspiration is a fickle friend. Today you’re besties, tomorrow you’re “what’s-her-name”. So don’t hang your career on inspiration. It’s nice when she visits, but you know she won’t stick around.

Be willing to get your hands dirty and spread your crap ideas out all over the page, you’ll be surprised what beautiful things will come of it.

Love, 

Kelsey

p.s. this is also written to my future self on the day I wake feeling like a failure, or I get a bad review, or something.  Just get to work.

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It’s always okay to start over

 

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Dear Indie Girl, 

After exposing my great plans for taking over the world by becoming a writing machine, life did what it does best, and  TOTALLY THREW OFF MY GROOVE!  I went from 2 or 3 weeks of a good writing rhythm where I wrote 5 or 6 song drafts.  Then I, arrogantly shared my success story only to turn around and have a week like this one.  Where I write hardly anything.  

Schedule changes are killers!  And you know what else is a killer?  Not getting enough sleep because you want to stay up and watch one more episode of Kora!  Don’t do that.

I’m a full time musician so the schedule changes really shouldn’t phase me at this point… sadly, they do.  If my schedule gets thrown off, I feel helpless to write a single thing worth hearing.  Mostly because my brain is so focused on what’s going to happen next.  The beauty of sticking to a writing schedule is you don’t need to think about what’s going to happen next.  The latter excuse is just foolishness.  

What I have learned though, is that when these things happen, I’m tempted to guilt trip myself into a routine again.  Don’t do this either.  Self-deprecation is NEVER productive.  If anything it only hinders my writing further.  

When you have a week like this, give yourself some grace, go to bed on time and get back up tomorrow and start over.  It’s always okay to start over.  

Improve your writing by writing bad songs!

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Dear Indie Girl,

The above photo was taken at Shoutfest when I was in my Junior year of high school- 2003.  I’m the one on the right.  My sister, Aubree, and I won a local competition to open up the festival.  One of the judges was Rebecca St. James’ manager.  After we won the contest, he came up to Aubree and me and told us to keep going in music, that we were good.  I was star-struck, obviously.  I LOVED Rebecca St. James and here was her manager telling me and my sister that we had talent!  I thought we had “arrived”.

After recording for about a year, we finally had a product to sell, our very own CD.  This was BIG!  By the time we got done recording the songs, I was so sick of singing them, and ready to move on with more music.  It shouldn’t take a year to record… I learned this later.  I thought I was sick of these songs because we’d played them so much… and we had, but it hadn’t occurred to me that I was sick of them because they were poorly written.  At least not until I went to school and really studied music.  For a long time I would cringe when I’d hear these songs, or look at these pictures because they made me feel inadequate as a writer/performer.  This CD was evidence that I was a flawed writer.

I carried this attitude into college.  In 2005 Aubree and I stopped playing music together as “Kelsey & Aubree” and I went to Cornerstone University to study music.  I worked hard as a music major, but I stopped writing.  When I’d try to write I’d only get frustrated because I think I was growing out of my own writing.  I was starting to sense that I needed to grow as a writer in order to continue to be satisfied with it.  But I didn’t know how to do that.

I went away to Martha’s Vineyard in the fall semester of 2007 to the Contemporary Music Center, an intense 4 month internship for songwriters, performers, students eager to learn about the music industry. That was when I was really challenged as a writer to “get up and go to work”.  To “stop waiting for inspiration”.  These hard lessons every serious writer learns.  I’m still learning these, every morning when I sit down to write and I immediately want to quit.  The best thing I learned that semester was not to be afraid to write a bad song.

George Gershwin used to write 3 songs a day.  The first two were just getting the bad songs out of the way, so he could write one truly good song.  Truth be told I feel more satisfied with my work at the end of the day having written a bad song, than on a day when I haven’t written at all.  And on the days I write a song I don’t like, I’m beginning to learn that that’s PERFECT!  That’s right where I want to be!  Why?  Because it takes writing thousands and thousands of songs to become an expert.  It takes years and years of practice to get really good at something.  And at the end of a week of writing I’ll usually have at least 2 good songs that I can work with (If I sit down everyday to write).  2 out of 5- ain’t bad!  And even if I only have 1 good song a week, those songs pile up quickly for the next album!

So, don’t be afraid to write a bad song.  In fact- write lots and lots of bad songs!  You’ll become a much better writer if you do.

Love,

Kelsey

How to become a writing machine

I know I'm on to something when the page is covered in scribbles!
I know I’m on to something when the page is covered in scribbles!

Dear Indie Girl,

This week I’ve felt an extra gust of wind inflate my sails.

I was taught that writers should make time to write everyday.  I believed this in theory, but was never able to bring myself to the point where I could write EVERY DAY.  And I’m still not there.

I have however, begun to solidify a morning routine creating some writing time every weekday.  In the past few weeks I’ve written a good 6 or 7 new songs and have several ideas and song starts in the archives- which is saying A LOT for me!  I was always the writer who waited for inspiration.

Thanks to my husband, who writes fantasy novels, and works RELIGIOUSLY everyday on his book, I’ve seen what benefit the practice of writing everyday can do.  So I’ve established (give or take) a system of writing that helps me crank out the tunes!

This is my system so far- in case you’re looking for a way to get yourself writing regularly.

*I write in the morning because I have a hard time switching gears once I get into “business mode”.  Business mode is for writing/answering emails, booking shows, updating the calendar on the website, writing blogs, researching new venues etc…

*I keep a schedule (always been a struggle for me, but I usually function much better this way).  James (hubby) and I wake up at 6am (ideally) and go for a walk/jog (we haven’t committed to jogging yet).  We get back about 6:30am.  I make fresh juice in my juicer and eat breakfast, hopefully done eating by 7-7:30am.  Then I do my daily Bible Study from around 7:30-8am to 10am (this varies- sometimes I have a lot of journaling I need to do so it might take a little longer). I like to use this quiet, introspective, prayerful time as a springboard into my writing.  My goal is to have a song draft finished or well on it’s way by 11:30-12pm.  From Noon on, my day to day schedule varies a lot.  But on the nights when I’m not playing a show, I try to be in bed by 10pm to read and falling asleep by 11pm (again this is an ideal situation, it doesn’t happen this seamlessly every day, but this is the basic idea).

*Most people want to know “What comes first?  The lyrics or the music?”  The answer is, both and either.  Sometimes I sit down and just come up with a chord progression that is unique and interesting, and put a hook to it (a catchy melody the song will be based on).  Sometimes I have a lyrical idea hit me, or a concept I’d like to work on.  And sometimes I am blessed with a magical moment of serendipity when it all comes together at the same time.  But, serendipity is incredibly unreliable.

*I’ve found that it really helps me to use the weekend as my time to write lyrical drafts of songs (even on the weekends when I’m away, even though that’s harder to do).  To just jot down any ideas as random or absurd as they can be, just get them on paper and work with them a bit (a good activity for a long car ride).  This way I’ll usually come up with a couple of drafts of lyrics so that on the weekdays, all I need to do is take a draft and come up with a chord progression and melody.  This seems to be a nice way to streamline the whole writing process and puts less daily pressure on me.

That’s it!  I hope this helps you set up your own writing process!  It takes a bit of time, and your process doesn’t need to be the same as mine.  Maybe you write better at night?  Maybe your day job won’t allow you to write the same time everyday?  Whatever your schedule, finding time to write regularly is key.  A friend of mine once told me, “you don’t have to be the most brilliant writer there is, you just have to be prolific.”

Keep moving forward.

Love,

Kelsey

Let’s have some fun!

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Dear Indie Girl, 

Happy Friday.  I hope your weekend plans are shaping up nicely.  James and I are headed up north in just a few hours to spend time with family and to sit and relax for 3 whole days!  GLORIOUS.  

Recent weeks have been filled with lots of ups and downs.  I’ve been trying to soak up as much information as I can about booking and promoting shows.  I’ve been booking for our band for a while now, and it’s gone well.  I’m just trying to set a clear path out in front of our feet so we know where we’re going.  

I can get so overwhelmed with businessy things.  I was talking with my friend Mallory the other day (she’s in a band called The Rough & Tumble check them out!).  We were talking about how easy it is to get swept up in the work of the music business.  As Indie girls in bands, we book, promote, and fund our own bands and projects… but we’re artists.  We’re not business people.  We didn’t dream of spending hours emailing venues and networking at shows for new contacts when we were kids!  If someone had told me I’d be doing that when I grew up I probably would have chosen something else to do.  We do it because we love music, and we want to do all we can to succeed. But pretty soon, the business end of music takes over the creative end of music and you wake up one day and realize it’s been 4 months since you last sat down to write a song, or you can’t remember the last time you last sat down to write a song.  It’s exhausting.  

But if it means we get to share our original music with new people at our next gig… we’ll do it.  We’ll labor for the miracle of music and how it connects people.  

James keeps reminding me that I need to put writing music first.  I’ve been resisting this, and I don’t really know why.  I think it’s anxiety.  Because I’m not great at being a business woman, I spend more time working in that area so to improve it and less time working on music.  The problem is, I very quickly begin resenting music because of the business.  Why?  Because I stop having fun.  

I think I forget to have fun, actually.  I forget that I’m supposed to have fun.  That a part of making great music is the joy in creating.  People are drawn to that.  When they sense that you love what you do, and you do it well, I think it’s magnetic.  People will want to know why you’re having so much fun, and want to be a part of that.

So I’ve made a decision, and it’s not an easy one.  But I’ve decided I’m going to have fun.   Weird, right?  

I’m reading these two books side by side.  They’re both on writing. One is called “The War of Art”.  The other is called, “Take Joy”.  “The War of Art” compares art (specifically, the art of writing) to War.  The enemy is resistance.  That invisible force that distracts you, frustrates you, and does pretty much anything to keep you from doing your art. This is an interesting and compelling concept, I think.  At least I thought.  Until this morning.  The section I was reading this morning talked about being a soldier.  Pressfield (author), says artists need to know how to be miserable, much like soldiers.  He went on to describe how terrible being a soldier is and how being a writer is similar.  My stomach turned.  Why would anyone want to be an artist or a writer if this were true?  I get what he’s saying, I think.  Being a writer for a living is not an easy job, and you need to get used to that idea.  For a long time, it doesn’t get easy.  Maybe it never will.  

The other book, “Take Joy” is about taking joy in writing.  Yolen (Author) says, you need to enjoy writing because you may never get published, you may be the only reader- so you might as well make sure you enjoy what you’re reading.  

I’m much more drawn to the second idea, aren’t you?  I’d rather take joy in what I do everyday, or else sooner or later, I’m just going to give up.   

Bottom line: Booking, promoting, managing a band is important work.  But it’s useless if your music sucks.  The first killer of my music is stress and anxiety.  But when I make writing music one of the first things I do in a day, my skills as a writer are sharpened daily, and everything else is a little bit easier.  

Let’s have some fun!

Love, 

Kelsey