The word amateursometimes gets a bad rap.
Besides describing one who follows a pursuit without being paid, amateur also means “inept” or “incompetent.” But there are a lot of amateur athletes, musicians, and performers who perform at the highest levels without being paid. These amateurs exhibit the root meaning of the word. They do what they do “for the love”of doing it.
Every songwriter starts out writing because they love it. Sure, we dream of being paid for our music, but in the beginning we write for the sheer joy of it. Of course, being the emotionally needy creative type, we crave affirmation for our efforts. We really want people to like our songs. We want people to understand us. And the clearest metric for that sort of affirmation is money. If our song sells then somebody out there must like it.
So, we pursue publishing contracts, artist recordings, and print publication. We pitch songs to anybody who will listen. Some of us chase this dream for years, spending significant time and treasure, with limited or even no financial return. And that can be disheartening. Over time, it can be emotionally crushing.
I recently exchanged emails with a person, who was near the end of his songwriting rope. He had written Gospel songs for years with no success. He had attended songwriting workshops, pitched songs to publishers and artists, and been dismissed at every turn. I got the sense he believed the whole Christian music business was a private club with a secret handshake, controlled by a few insiders, where newcomers weren’t welcome.
I had no easy answer for him. I never heard any of his songs, so I have no clue as to his ability. Besides, talent is only one of several factors that lead to success in the music business. And the music business, with all its weirdness, cannot be explained simply. So, I asked him, “Do you still love to write?”
Here’s the thing: If we still love to write, then, regardless of compensation, I believe it is a worthwhile activity. Whether it’s a song, a short story, or a three-act play, so long as we love doing it, writing is good for the soul. We can revel in the thrill of composing a melody that no person on earth has ever sung. We can create a couplet never before expressed, not even by Shakespeare himself. We can set our innermost fears to music, and, for a moment at least, unburden ourselves. Just sing them and set them free. To put it bluntly, writing is cheap therapy.
Do you still love to write?
Our email exchange came to an end without an answer. Maybe he does. Maybe he doesn’t. If he’s like a lot of us on any given day, he may not know for sure. I do know this: Every writer experiences rejection far more often than they experience acceptance. And in the dogged pursuit of professional affirmation of our work, it’s easy to lose touch with our earliest motivation: To write for the love of writing.
Do you still love to write?
No matter where our writing takes us, in that regard may we all remain true amateurs.