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Last night, I debuted my first-ever original Christmas song -- and, a few mistakes notwithstanding, it went pretty well!
Which is funny, because when I decided to write a Christmas song, I thought there was about a 1% chance I'd create something that wasn't embarrassingly awful and cheesy.
So how did I do it?
I tied a hand behind my back.
Not literally. But by setting a few limitations for myself, I was actually able to be more creative than if I'd just sat down and told myself, "Write a song! Be creative!"
The "Write a song! Be creative!" approach has failed me countless times. Most people have a hard time "being creative" when told simply to be creative.
Because, as Tina Seelig, author of inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity and Creativity Rules: Get Ideas Out of Your Head and into the World, once told me, "If you want to make someone be creative, you have to tie a hand behind their back."
For example, if you tell a group of people, "Choreograph a dance," you might get some cool results. But if you tie a hand behind their backs and then tell them, "Choreograph a dance," you'll probably get more diverse and interesting ideas.
Not only because constraints force you to be creative... but also because they help you feel okay with being silly -- or even just imperfect.
That's why, in her Stanford d.School classes, Seelig often puts strict limitations on students' projects. It's not, "Solve a problem." It's, "Solve a problem using post-it notes."
It's not, "Make money." It's, "Here's $5. Make it worth as much as possible." (I can't remember the details, but I remember her telling me the project that won that competition didn't actually even end up using their initial $5.)
In fact, Drew Boyd, author of Inside the Box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results, would even go so far as to say that constraints are a necessary condition for creativity to occur.
Which is why, of all the songs I've started writing, this silly Christmas song that I only half cared about is one of the few I've actually finished.
It has to be about Christmas.
It has to be kind of jazzy.
It has to be feel-good.
It has to have a Dm7b5 (which, thanks to Phil Spector's famous Christmas album, A Christmas Gift For You, has become the quintessential Christmas chord)
Next, I started working on my melody and storyline.
Once I had a draft (which I recorded on my cell phone), I sent it to a few friends for feedback -- even though it was SUUUUPER cringe-y and embarrassing and I had to tell each of them, like, three times, "IT'S A FIRST DRAFT!!!!!!! I SWEAR!!!!!"
(The alternative would be, don't play it for anyone, ever, until it's perfect and I have a high-quality, semi-professional recording... in other words, work in isolation and never get any feedback, ever. Sure, it's impossible not to care what others think of you... but it's possible to care less.)
The vast majority of the time I ask people for feedback on something, they say, "It's good." Which is not very good or useful feedback. But once in a while, you get something valuable and actionable, and the willingness to listen to criticism can really improve what you're working on.
Another good way to get feedback on a song: play it in public and watch how people respond to it. Hence last night. I made the trek out to Los Gatos Coffee Roasting Company open mic night, because there's only a limited amount of time I can test this song before the audience response is going to be, "Why is she playing a CHRISTMAS song?"
And... despite a few mistakes, I was really happy with how it went.
So happy, I ended up making a "music video" out of the song using a friend's DJI Mavic Air drone. (He did an amazing job filming, even though it was literally the second time he'd ever used the drone.)
In case you totally loved it (or were totally confused and need some help), here are the lyrics:
Verse 1/Intro thingie
Christmas feels like less when there’s no snow
And Christmas feels like less when you feel like you’re alone
We can’t change the facts, but we can change how they appear
So let’s celebrate together… this year.
I'll put my hand in your pocket at your Christmas party
If you'll meet my friends on New Year's Eve
Instead of awkward and alone, we'll be rockin' 'round the Christmas tree
We'll put on a show, and make 'em all believe
Take my arm, get some eggnog, introduce me to your boss
Then let’s gush about the custard and cranberry sauce
Instead of, “Why are you still single?”
They’ll covet how we jingle
Doing Christmas things together this year
I made some cookies, you can have some if you hang my mistletoe
There’s an ice rink on the way and there’s no reason not to go!
Caught in a winter storm
But your hug still keeps me warm
As we do Christmas things together this year
Smells of roasted chestnuts wafting like a mist
While we’re shopping and I realize you’re everything I wished
Fa la la la, la la la
Fa la la la la laaaa
The presents are unwrapped, the lights are down
And everybody's relatives have all left town
When I remember how we giggled at that silly holiday boutique
I say that we should do this another week
When I remember going skiing during MLK day -- all those runs
I say that we should do this another month
And after turkey at my parent’s house, then spreading all our Christmas cheer
I’m glad we kept this going another year
We put on a show, made ourselves believe.
We put on a show, made ourselves believe.
I'm going to practice a bit more, probably make a couple of tweaks -- and hopefully perform it a few more times before New Year's!
Now, a question for you: What have YOU created lately? Let me know in the comments, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram!
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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