The Creative Process: Lessons from Leonard Cohen
‘Writing begins with an appetite to discover my self-respect. To redeem the day. So the day does not go down in debt.’
What makes a song great? How do we know that what we are writing is worth reading or listening to? How can we fight the inner resistance played out by our laziness, insecurity, self-doubt, and defiantly bring to light our creation?
If I knew where the good songs came from, I’d go there more often. (Leonard Cohen)
Creating means placing a bet on the unknown. It is a mysterious endeavor, one we engage in so passionately, without even knowing why, how, or whether it will bring a tangible outcome.
Yes, we may have some clarity on our goals, on what we’d like to achieve with that specific creation. Every piece of art, however, holds a certain degree of uncertainty. Even now, while I am writing this post, I am not completely sure where my meditations on the creative process will lead me. I don’t even know whether I will come up with something interesting enough to get published. So, what compels me to keep writing? What helps me win those mental blocks?
Leonard Cohen, one of my biggest songwriting (and life) inspirations, had an interesting perspective on the matter.
Redeem the day
Interviewed by Paul Zollo for his precious book Songwriters on Songwriting, Leonard Cohen made a courageous statement about the real meaning behind writing.
It all comes down to an internal appetite, a strenuous demand we place on ourselves to satisfy our thirst and “discover our self-respect” while avoiding to let “the day go down in debt”.
Creating is a human need. It is an attempt at letting go of our ego while actually feeding it, as we create to give meaning to our day, to our life, to our self. Of course, a great work of art, as most, if not all, of Leonard Cohen’s songs, manages to go beyond the concepts of time and self to become universal. Unfortunately, we don’t know whether this will be the outcome of our writing while we are busy creating. We can just surrender to our thirst, trying to satisfy it with one more line, one more sentence, one more stroke.