Around this time last year, I found an old folder in my music cupboard that held notes of some of the first songs I’d ever written. Naturally, I set it on my piano’s music stand and started playing through them…
The first song I ever wrote (and wrote down) was based on a book I was writing with my older sister. It was a (never really finished) novel about a civil war fought by teenagers and how they became fugitives and ended the war. (Think The Hunger Games but written by a teenager who hasn’t thought anything through.) The song, called ‘Too Long’ and is a kind of monologue set just before they make a final stand against the government and end the war.
I think I was fourteen when I wrote it.
Let’s dive right into the bridge, shall we?
When I think about the time I’d lost
Waiting in the woods
When I think about the time I’ll have
I’ll have it now if I could
When I think about the times I’d thought
Of when this war is through
Yet now here I stand and I’m afraid
*wipes away tear* I think I peaked too early…
Singing through it in all its cringey glory, I felt like Mikoshiba, who says sweet romantic nothings and then dies of embarrassment:
More than the general embarrassment, I was trying to figure out how to fix it. It’s not written clearly: there’s lots of cause and not much effect… what happens when I think of these things? It’s confusing: “when I think about the times I’d thought of when this war is through”... thinking about thinking about the war being done… got it…? I think?? And as a bridge, it’s not a turning point in the song, it just restates what the message of the rest of the song.
In a strange way, all of that encouraged me.
Some of you have been creating for a long time, and are much better at your craft now than you were when you started. You can play pieces you never dreamed of being able to play. People say they wish they could draw like you do. Or when you read your books, you smile at old jokes and aren’t frustrated by how choppy it feels to read.
I’m willing to bet that you have a folder, box, or shelf with your old work tucked away in a dark corner. Maybe, every so often and for no good reason, you get your old work out and look through it, and you re-read the “sweet romantic nothings and then die of embarrassment.”
You question your technique. You’re amazed you were ever proud of this. And yet, while I was creating this, I was dreaming of publishing it?
Yes, the thought of your early creations being public is enough to make anyone change their name and move overseas, but these terrible past creations show us how far we’ve come.
It’s like when you see a record of how tall you were as a toddler and can’t imagine that at one point, all of you was contained in such a small person. You see that mark and realise how much you’ve grown.
In the same way, as we learn, grow and practice our crafts, we slowly improve over time. It’s only when we see evidence of how small we used to be that we realise just how far we’ve come to be where we are now.
This is not just shown in the quality of work we produce; it’s also shown in the quality of work we reject. I won’t publish every song I write, because some of my most recent ones are really awful. But now I’m mature enough to know which ones are successes, which need work, and which should be abandoned.
But some of you are just starting in your craft, and you may be frustrated at the quality of your work. If you’re struggling to love your work, remember that one day, you’ll look back on it and cringe, just like everyone else 😉
But, along with that embarrassment, you’ll be able to identify exactly what needs fixing. Instead of gah, this looks wrong! you’ll think, Oh my goodness, this guy’s head is just too big for his body! Instead of, this feels weird to read, you’ll realise, if I just learnt to show how they’re feeling instead of just stating it, it would read so much better! Instead of I don’t know how to fix this line, you’ll sing it and think, If I had read through it once as prose, I would have found all the grammar and syntax mistakes…
The truth is, all of us–those who are just starting out, and those more experienced–will one day look back on the work we’re doing now, and we’ll cringe. This is a good thing. Not only does it show we’re growing and improving in our craft, it also helps us relax as we create, knowing that our work may not be perfect, but we’re better than we were and will be better than we are. To return to my previous example, one day we’ll be taller than we could dream now.
Whatever you finish is something to be proud of, no matter what standard you think it’s at. Enjoy creating, and look forward to the day you find it and die of embarrassment.
Alright, creators, I showed you my first (quite terrible) song… now it’s your turn! What’s something you made that makes you cringe now?