About two years after I started trying to write professionally, a friend of mine staged an intervention of sorts. He approached me very kindly and asked me how my writing was going. I told him my frustrations and I told him the truth – I didn’t have much of anything going on. He asked me how I was supporting my family and I admitted that I wasn’t doing a good job of that.
Then, he gave me one of the hardest choices of my life. He offered me a job. A career really. A choice to give up songwriting.
The job involved writing. I would be writing instruction manuals for small appliances. The little inserts that come with your toaster and you throw away without reading, because you know how to use a toaster.
I would be making more money than I had ever made before.
At the time of this offer, my biggest yearly salary ever was $30,000 per year as a youth minister. He offered me $42,000. He also offered benefits, stability, and the possibility to provide for my family long-term. I asked him if I could think about it overnight. He said that was fine.
So I wrestled all night with my options.
My question was this: “Should I give up on my dream in exchange for stability, or stay the course and continue chasing what I really wanted?” I imagined myself writing things like “Put bread in open slot on toaster, push handle down until it locks, REMEMBER – toast will be hot when fully cooked. Do NOT put more than one slice of bread in each open slot.” I quickly realized that taking that job would be the death of me creatively. I could have suffered through it, but life is too short to just suffer through.
I thanked him and turned him down. He thought I was crazy. Everyone thought I was crazy.
Maybe I was. I’m not suggesting that everyone quit their job. But I am suggesting that the temptation to settle is large and that chasing stability is not always the path to happiness. I see so many people settling for an unfulfilling career and giving up on their dreams simply because settling is the safer choice.
I’m a huge believer in the idea that great rewards usually follow great risks. To succeed at something in a BIG way, you almost always have to take a big risk. That’s just the nature of the game.
So, I kept chasing. I refused to give up songwriting. And I caught my dream many times over.
There were days when I wondered if I had made the wrong choice. Many days. But, my dream is alive. I love what I do each day. And therefore, it’s worth every bit of sacrifice it took to get her.
So, I ask you:
How bad do you want it?
Are you willing to sacrifice for your dream? If so, how far will you go? I encourage writers to ask themselves these questions and to wrestle with them honestly.
- Why do I write songs? (Is it just for a potential big payday, or is it because writing feeds my soul?)
- How do I define success as a songwriter? (Do I have to win a Grammy to feel successful or does simply connecting with people through my music make me feel fulfilled?)
- What am I willing to do to succeed? (Will I work harder than everyone I know or do I want an easy path to success)
- How do I feel if I don’t write songs? (Does NOT writing make me feel incomplete and frustrated? Or is it no big deal – I can write or not write without feeling much difference.)
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the question “When should I give up songwriting?” But my suggestion would be the following:
- If songwriting is your therapy or it feeds your soul, never give up.
- If you feel like you have something to say to the world, never give up.
- If you feel the need to connect with other humans through your music, never give up.
- If writing makes you happy, never give up. You can’t put a price on happiness.
- If you simply love to write songs, never give up.
None of those things are dependent on commercial success. Someone liking or NOT liking your song doesn’t change any of those factors.
So, what am I suggesting? I’m suggesting that you let your motivation for writing come from within yourself. Write because it does something for you – it makes you happy, it helps you feel connected to other people, it fills you up, it helps you process life.
If you learn to write from an internal place, your chances of success skyrocket. You are much more likely to succeed if you are writing things that impact YOU positively than you are if you are simply chasing a dollar.
I have made quite a few dollars from my music, but the biggest blessing by far has been the creative people I’ve been able to work with.
It’s the pride I feel over having created something I love, the joy that writing brings me and the way music has allowed me to express myself and let my voice be heard. I’m a happier, more healthy human because I write songs – not because I’ve had success with my songs.
So, when people ask me “When do you give up writing and your songwriting dream?”, my answer is “When giving up the dream feels better than chasing it.”
The joy really is in the journey. If writing feeds your soul and makes you feel whole, never give up on your dream. You will lose many precious memories and experiences if you let dollars dictate whether or not you continue to create music.
It breaks my heart every time someone asks me “Am I good enough to make it as a songwriter?” Commercial success does not define your (or my) value as a writer. So much of that depends on timing, connections, etc. All of those things are out of my control.
So, I focus on the things I can control and I let myself simply enjoy the journey every day. Each day that I get to wake up and write a song is a great day.
Write on! MD