My experience in music began when my mother taught me simple chords and rhythms at the piano and then enrolled me in piano lessons at age four or five. Music was celebrated in our home. In addition to practicing classical music, I played by ear and eventually starting to create melodies and to write songs. Creativity was nurtured during these years. Throughout my life as a musician, I have learned some lessons that can apply not only to music, but to project development and creativity in general. Perhaps some of these can apply to your own domain.
No one will know how long it took you to do something; only how well you did it. This advice was passed along to me by my Aunt Judy Frahm when I was once lamenting how long it was taking me to complete a project. The advice encouraged me to keep going through the nine years it took me to complete the current version of my educational music book, Simplifying Chords: A Textbook For the Classroom and a Reference For the Road. I typically write slowly and have to let my work “simmer,” so I was glad to hear her words.
Take time away from whatever you are creating. As I was writing the book, there would be days, or even weeks, that for whatever reason, I did not work on it. But once I opened the file on the computer again, suddenly I could clearly see what I had not seen before: “This is confusing and needs to be re-phrased.” “That needs to be deleted.” “There is an error.” “This needs to be changed throughout the book.” It was as if I had fresh eyes to see and critique my own work. I found that time away enriches, rather than diminishes, the quality of the work.
Celebrate the victories; then quickly move forward toward the next challenge. A gentle rebuke by one of my university piano professors taught me a valuable lesson. One semester I had practiced faithfully and was therefore prepared to perform my classical piece at the weekly student recital. The performance went well, and afterward I received positive remarks from my teacher and from my fellow students. However, for my piano lesson following the recital, I was completely unprepared. After my professor had endured about as much as he could take of my stumbling over the notes, he commented, “You are resting on your laurels.” Although I had never heard that phrase before, I figured out what it meant in about two seconds. Basically, he was saying, “You are still basking in the glow of the compliments you received. You need to move forward toward the next challenge, i.e. being prepared for your piano lesson.“ Thank you Dr. Fetsch for addressing my ego in your gentle, but firm way, and for challenging me to stay focused on the task at hand.
Do what you do whether or not you have an outlet for your work. I have had the opportunity to work with companies that asked me to write or co-write music for a specific purpose and often with a certain deadline. I value those opportunities greatly because they inspire me to create music that I would never create otherwise. For most of the music I write, however, I do not have the promise of an outlet. No one is saying, “I will record this, or I will publish this if you will write it. No, I write because I am motivated from within; even called to write. If I were to wait for someone else to “motivate” me, the songs would never be born.
Spend most of your energies on developing your strengths, but also give attention to weaker areas. For me, drawing brings me pleasure and helps to relieve stress. Am I great at it? No, not even good. But I like to draw, and I am slowly improving and gaining confidence. At a future season in my life, I hope to give art more of my attention and to get some instruction. My husband’s uncle has inspired me in this area. A builder by trade, he began leaning to paint pictures when he was in his sixties. Now in his eighties, he is passionate about painting and produces beautiful work. You never know—you may find out that what you thought was a weak area for you is really a natural talent that just needs some attention.
Don’t throw away a bad idea; it can lead to a good idea. A friend of ours passed along this advice that someone else had given him, and I have passed it along to many others. Brainstorm, write down your ideas, and hang on to them. You may come back to them later, tweak them or decide to go another direction. No matter, they will be like stepping stones that lead you to the final version.
See your creative work as not just a way to express yourself, but as a way to bless others. Because faith plays a major role in my life, I pray over my creative work—the details as well the people it will affect. I pray specifically that it will help and encourage people; but even more, I pray that God will use it in an out-of-the-box way to draw people to himself.
Project development, finding business solutions and even family solutions require creativity just as writing and creating music and art do. At times, we all need to be reminded of the value of the God-given creativity within us, and to be challenged to make it a priority. Now, maybe it’s time to grab that coffee, sit down and start brainstorming!
About Elizabeth Goodine
Elizabeth Goodine travels full-time with her husband, Wayne, performing in concert settings, conducting music workshops, and leading worship services in churches in many countries around the world.
Blending their passion for music and ministry, serving as college instructors, songwriters, recording artists and music pastors has filled their thirty-two year marriage with much joy. Their songs have been recorded by groups such as the Gaither Vocal Band, the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, Nashville’s Christ Church Choir, Selah, Alvin Slaughter and others.