Songwriter explains how every woman can tap into her creative process
My first encounter with Lizzy Shell’s album Seed is hard for me to forget.
In beautifully poetic lyrics, each of the nine tracks spoke (and continues to speak) of meaning into their late twenties and beyond. From thinking about letting go of relationships to letting go of fear, to the desire for a more open and less guarded heart, his music expresses a wide range of emotional realities: exultation, reflection, remorse, persistence and the joys and pains of just growing up.
I recently caught up with Shell to talk about creativity and what the process of singing and songwriting means to her.
Lindsey Weishar: Tell us a bit about yourself and how you express your creativity.
Lizzy shell: I am based in Phoenix and grew up here, although I lived in a few places in the United States between now and my childhood. I came to identify with this landscape, the desert of the Southwest, the mountains, the massive sky. My faith is a big part of how I structure and navigate this world we all go through.
When it comes to creative work, I play piano and guitar, sing, and can shake a nasty tambourine. Writing songs and other forms of prose or poetry is my primary means of creative expression. I would definitely say housework, conversations, self-expression, and even relationship building are major ways to express my creativity. Ultimately I would say my life is about people and I’m trying to learn to love and be loved by them.
LW: How has writing and music production affected you? What have you learned about yourself and the world through this process?
LS: There is an endless list of ways I still deal with the impact of musical creation, but a few things immediately spring to mind. One is very personal: I remember a particularly dark wave of depression when I was talking to my therapist about my mind loop, repeating that I couldn’t do anything, that I would never figure out how to accomplish even the smallest task. He asked me if I had accomplished anything before, and I said, “Make my album. It was a point of contact for me, that I immediately knew – no matter how futile I felt like everything was futile and that nothing I tried would succeed – I have a proven track record. to anchor my own belief in my ability to do Something.
I made an album. there is no doubt. When I am drowning in feelings of helplessness or incompetence, it is an ankle that I can hold onto for reality. I did something. It’s possible. If I did it once, surely I can do something again.
On the other hand, I was humbled and amazed at the impact that simple work had. I did, but it exists outside of me now and works without me. I wonder if that’s kind of what motherhood feels like. It’s an undeniable reminder that I’m part of a bigger story than mine.
LW: What kinds of things and activities inspire your writing?
LS: I see so many contradictions, paradoxes and mysteries, and I need a way to put them next to each other and see them somehow live in harmony. I think I also want to understand or capture the heights and depths, the most intense experiences that I can have, in part so as not to lose them. Peaks and valleys are what make up the size of our lives, and they’re hard to remember. I think that art is a way of taking possession of these moments for ourselves in a more permanent way.
Inspiration comes mostly from curiosity, as far as I know. When I was writing my song “Armored Heart” I was playing with the opening lines and suddenly thought, “I would fall in love, but who has time? I was taken aback, why did this occur to me? Did I believe that? Why did I think of love first as a disadvantage? I became curious about this line.
As I explored my own memories, I began to unwrap my experiences that led to my fear, caution, or self-defense, but in lyrical form. I think a lot about relationships, a lot about regrets, growth and why I did what I did. Then I try to get terribly vulnerable about it. I think there is an oddly fertile ground in vulnerability – that by accessing what is most personal, we can express something universal. Artists, more than anyone, let us know that we are not alone in our struggles.
LW: What does your creative process look like?
LS: Well, on a very practical level, I love to write songs on paper. Some people start with music or words and add the other, but I usually write music and words at the same time. I really try to put my analytical head down and do some sort of creative export without being overly critical.
I can’t stop writing something brilliant on the first pass. If I’m not ready to write garbage, I’m already stuck. I cross out a lot of lines. If I’m lucky, something beautiful will fly away and I’ll keep it as it is. I can sometimes be surprised at the things I let go of while looking for songs. I learned things about myself; it can be an eye-opening activity.
On a little more transcendent level, I think the writing process is another way of going through the emotional process for me. There are certain emotional spaces on the things that I have been through that I can only access when I write about them. Thinking and writing literally continues the flow of real experience for me. It is the harvest of experience. It’s part of taking ownership of the experience. I review it and, while I do, it gives me more of what it has to give.
Truly, the creative process begins (for better or for worse) with an authentic experience of life as it happens. Without it, there is nothing to be learned that could mean anything.
LW: You shared that your take on art is that “the artistic impulse can be fully expressed outside the realm of artistic creation” and that “every woman has a work” of some sort. Can you say more about this topic?
LS: I think the attempt to get through this life must be creative. For me, creativity is synonymous with fertility. We are made for other new things to come out of us. Unless we know it’s happening somehow, I think life becomes futile and laborious, boring and inconclusive. Unless we see that good things come from whatever we choose, suffer and see, life is unbearably meaningless. We need a fundamental belief that all of these seeds could someday become something. Meaning and purpose are non-negotiable human needs. Creative work makes me feel more connected to meaning and purpose.
Each person has a unique work, an irreplaceable and essential contribution. What this job can be will differ from person to person, and even from season to season throughout our lives. Our work is made up of all of our lives, up to and including the work of our dying. It’s important that we try to do every part of the whole well.
As women in particular, I think our work is beauty, which is obviously a huge factor in artistic creation. Part of our job is to be bearers, bearers, generators, reflectors of beauty, to be illuminators and to teach each other to see beauty. I think she is a particularly feminine genius. For as much courage and tenacity as it takes, we always fight to bring beauty in our work, in the house, in our relationships, in the parenthood project, in art, in politics, everywhere. where we find ourselves drawn. Beauty needs fearless advocates. It is part of our job. And I am inclined to agree with Dostoevsky’s assertion: “Beauty will save the world.”
LW: How can women harness their creativity and discover their work?
LS: It’s such a personal quest! But I have some general thoughts, focusing on four important elements of creativity for me:
Augustine of Hippo said: “Love and do what you want. Anything that is truly productive must come from a place of love. Love is the driving force that crosses a thousand obstacles like jealousy, ego or fear of failure. And in that force I would include any love – love of the world, love of work, love of self, love of human experience, love of mystery, love of beauty. The more we love, the more our work, in whatever form, will be true.
The first step in creativity, always, is to see. It is the first step of love. There is a lot to be said for the view, and it is an incredibly difficult task. But the brave keep their eyes open and might even boldly ask for any remaining blindness to be removed. Seeing does not include judging, and to be creative we must first observe with curiosity. Without this step, we cannot find anything poetic in the world around us.
As CS Lewis put it in Screwed letters, true humility consists in the freedom of each “to rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in the talents of his neighbor – or in a sunrise, an elephant or a waterfall.” If it’s good, go ahead and do it. And be happy for it. The less we are attached to being well received by others, the more we can devote ourselves to our work of loving people, making art or tending our gardens. The world needs us to do the job. There is no point in being precious over our vanity.
One of the main guides to your unique and special work is your own sense of pleasure. I think our weird and wonderful delight is sort of the compass that the divine has placed within each of us. When you follow your sense of wonder and your sense of pleasure, you will definitely get to your job.
Lizzy Shell is currently finishing a second album. In the meantime, discover his first album, Seed on Spotify. Follow her on Instagram at @lizzyshell.