I read an interview with singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles recently where she describes the difficulties of writing an album. There were such similarities to the writing process that I wanted to share some of her comments.
In writing her first album she spoke about trying to write a hit song. She said she studied other pop hits. She said she felt like all anyone wanted from her was “the single” and after some agonizing she finally got angry. She said, “I don’t want to be a replica of anyone. That day I decided to write something for me, and “Love Song” [her Grammy-nominated girl anthem] poured out.
On her experience of judging a singing competition on TV, she said,”I think it’s all about finding your authentic self and really nurturing that,” she said. “I think a lot of people get really distracted by what’s already out there in the music world and I think they want to try to fit into a mold that already exists and I think that it’s most important to kind of establish yourself.”
Bareilles added: “What makes you unique is just who you are naturally.”
It’s good to be reminded over and over about this, because as a writer, I’m constantly wondering if my story is fast, cool, well-thought out, literary enough. It good to remember to wonder if my writing is authentic enough. Am I writing for me too?
The second nugget of advice I got from Sara Bareilles reflects her experience of writing a second album. She was trying to live up to her last album’s success. She says, “A friend got me through my writer’s block by saying, “Just chain yourself to the piano until the song is finished. ” She reported that “It worked. I realized not every song I write will end up on a record.
I take from this that sometimes perfectionism or expectations of perfectionism totally get in the way of just creating something. When she reduced writing another hit album to just writing songs, she burst through her writing block. I guess that is the “butt in chair,” advice that many professional writers give.
The third thing Bareilles did to stimulate her creativity is she made a big life change. She moved from California to New York City. For her newest album, she didn’t want to use much of the same process as before, and she wanted to bring new energy in. She says, “This year I’m choosing to be brave.” Her new hit song from album “The Blessed Unrest” is aptly called, “Brave.”
I’m not planning a move anytime soon, but I do like the idea of shaking things up by trying something completely new. Writing in a different neighborhood, or trying something a little scary or challenging can really pay off in increased confidence which you can then transfer to your writing.
Toward the end of the Glamour magazine piece, she says, “True bravery is being exactly who you are, imperfections included.”
I’d say also that true bravery means forging on through really bad rough drafts, and having the confidence and patience to know that the good stuff will be in there too.