Following the Song

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I forget how much I love songs all the time. I’m not one of those people who just loves to write. I don’t know if that makes me less of a songwriter, but there it is. Whenever someone says, “I write because I have to,” I always feel envious and a little ashamed of myself, because I just don’t have to write.

Life is full of interesting things, most of which don’t come with as much difficulty and self-doubt as songwriting, so it’s easy to avoid the grind of trying (and usually failing) to make something beautiful out of thin air. For whatever reason, after twenty-some-odd years of putting out records and books, I’m feeling exhausted and oddly content to not make music. It’s frightening, to be honest. Does it mean God has dried up the well? Does it mean I’m called to something else for a season?

Last night I was talking to Jamie about all this, and she said, “It’s okay. You go through this every single time you make an album.” It’s one of the advantages to being married to your best friend for twenty-two years. She sees the pattern better than I do. And part of the pattern is that, when I’m lost in the wasteland of the blank page and wondering why I’m even there, there’s a moment when I remember why I got into this in the first place, when there’s some flash of inspiration upon hearing someone else’s music and I get the flutter in the belly that tells me that there’s more to be written, more to be sung, more story to be told.

This morning, that flash came from Tom Douglas, a legendary songwriter here in Nashville. I did a songwriter’s round with him last year and I almost fell out of my chair when I heard him sing “Little Rock,” which was recorded by Colin Raye many years ago. An amazing song. Tom (along with Allen Shamblin) also wrote Miranda Lambert’s “The House that Built Me,” and about a zillion other great ones. I saw Tom a few days ago and was reminded of this video, which I urge you to watch, whether you’re a songwriter or not. It’s his acceptance speech from his induction into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame a few years ago. “This,” I thought again today, “is why I love art. It’s why I love songwriting. It’s why it’s worth it to put yourself out there, to suffer the heart-wounds that come with the touring and promoting, the warring between hope and futility, pride and humiliation, gratitude and guilt.”

Thank you, Tom, for these words. I’m a (relatively) young songwriter who needed to hear them today.

Profile photo of Andrew Peterson

As a singer-songwriter and recording artist, Andrew has released more than ten records over the past fifteen years. His music has earned him a reputation for writing songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. He has also followed his gifts into the realm of publishing. His books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga.


9 Comments

  1. Profile photo of April Pickle

    April Pickle

    @hildamae

    That was beautiful.
    Early this morning, I looked out the window and saw two cardinals, a bluebird and a rabbit, all at the same time. We’ve never had rabbits this close to the house, but our border collie died several weeks ago, and I’m thinking they have less to fear now. Anyway, the rabbit was near the little trail in the woods that I named the Come Back Soon Trail. 
    As I watched him, I thought about the trail. I didn’t simply name the trail after the song, I CUT the trail so that I could name it after the song. And, as I remembered the words:
    “I sit on the bench at the bend in the trail
    And I can feel in the fall the final exhale
    The trees of the field all wring their hands
    And the leaves go by like a funeral band
    I say, ‘Come back soon,”
    I thought, DANG, these lyrics are good. No wonder I named a trail after them.
     

  2. Clay Clarkson

    Monday morning uplift. A theology of songwriting, a master class on inspirational prose, and a testimony of God’s grace, all in ten minutes. Thanks for sharing that.

  3. Jasmine Ruigrok

    Just wow… inspirational. All I could hear playing in the background of my mind was “Let There Be Light”, when your spirit is hovering over the deep, in the image of God just look into that darkness and speak. Thankyou for sharing this.

  4. Matthew Benefiel

    Our wives are full of wisdom, we do well to listen. It was great meeting you at the Cincy Homeschool Convention Andrew. Aside from my rambling a the signature table, it was fun to hang around the Rabbit Room booth. My brother-in-law and his wife found me there and thought I was working there =). Hearing your concert and how you wrote some of your songs, I think you have more in you, sometimes we just have to wade through the mire before we find our way again. My writing inspiration comes in small doses these days, but I have hope I will pick up those stories unfinished. For some odd reason I keep thinking of the movie Speed Racer (which I have some strange obsession with, maybe I’m the only one). One character says something like, “you don’t get into the cockpit of a T-180 because you are a driver, you do it because you are driven.” God has given you a gift, and honestly that gift seems to propagate from your realization of His unbounding love for sinners, that is a story that never stops ringing in our ears, and though 1000 stories has proclaimed it, 1000 more will follow.

  5. Javen

    I stumbled onto this today, or maybe reached out and grabbed onto it.

    Thanks for sharing, Andrew.

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