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How do you determine when you're going to write a song?

Do you have to wait for a special "something" to hit you before you can begin writing?

That really depends on what kind of song you're writing. If I am writing a song for a particular occasion with a special theme in mind then I suppose I would approach the task much the same as any other writer, and there are many books written on the subject that cover this.

Personally, I tend to write more and more songs these days that are quite prophetic and spontaneous in nature, and in that sense they are hard to prepare for. Due to the nature of these songs, the particular method of writing them is heavily dependent on that special "something" - call it inspiration or whatever you will. Take for instance the song, "House of Prayer". This was written and recorded in one day - only an hour or so in fact. Our family had been at a "House of Prayer" conference for 3 days, and I had been deeply impacted by this event. On occasions like this when I find myself emotionally stirred, spiritually moved upon or just passionately drawn to something, then I find I have that "something" that I need to write a song. I can't just cook something up. There has to be something there calling me to be a faithful servant and to "write what you see", or "record what you hear". It is times like this that I don't feel like I am the author of the song, just the messenger.

On this particular occasion I woke in the morning and went down to my study, and felt impressed to write a poem that captured my deepest feelings over the previous few days - feelings that drew from deep within me calling me to respond to a call I felt in my youth, to give my life to prayer. As I surveyed the years of fruitless effort and barren endeavour, I realised my life would be a record of wasted talent if I did not make a serious commitment to the truths I now faced. This traumatic experience, coupled with the grace of God's gifting to be a songwriter and the definite sense that this was one of those "now moments" moved me to write this song. I felt lead to write a poem first. This is the first time I have ever written the words first like this - I usually write the melody and words together. Then with only a few thoughts on how the melody would go ( particularly the chorus) I sat down with the lyrics in front of me and wrote/sang/recorded the song live. When you listen to it you can hear the way the song develops in a free flowing fashion, and that a good portion of the song ( lyrics included ) is quite spontaneous. It goes without saying then, that this kind of prophetic songwriting is not really at the writers discretion, but can only come as one is "moved upon by the Holy Ghost" to do so.

It should also be noted though, that in writing a song in this way, I am still drawing ( consciously or unconsciously ) on songwriting skills that I have learned over the years. I don't think there is any excuse for writing a bad song, spontaneously or otherwise. I think you have to make allowances for the fact that a song has been spontaneously written though, and accept that one must trade some degree of craftsmanship for the uniqueness of the process involved and the wonder and intimacy of it all.

One final comment: don't let this scare you! and don't worry about writing terrible spontaneous songs - just don't let anyone else hear them!!! I often sing/record for a whole hour, and might only use 2 minutes of what I have recorded. Sometimes you have to move alot of dirt to find the gold. You need to start somewhere, and it's in the constant doing of anything that you get good at it - eventually!

Songwriting Resources - Tips for Christian songwriters

Other related articles:
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Jesus music - Jesus name in the songs of the Secret Place

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