Last night I had the privilege of dining with one of the greatest recording artists of our time.Â I’m notÂ exaggerating;Â thisÂ man wrote whatÂ many of us would say is the iconic song of my generation.Â He is still recording, still writing songs, and still performing gigs around the world.Â Over dinner, we got to talking about creativity.Â He was interested in how I write books; I was interested in how he approaches the writing of a new song.
“I don’t approach anything,” he said.Â “I just do it.Â And I don’t know how I do it.”
Then he confided in me that, even afterÂ decades as a music icon, he stillÂ can’t explain how he does it.Â “I start off writing a new song with the feeling that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.Â Or how I did it the last time.”Â As he describes it, he doesn’t have a plan.Â In fact he’s never had a plan, for his career, or for his next creation.Â Everything, he says, just “happens”.Â HeÂ starts outÂ wanting to try something new, somethingÂ he’s never done before.Â His drive is entirely creative.Â His success grew out ofÂ that creative drive — not from his sitting down and masterfully plotting out a map to financial success.
So then he asked me, “How did you get so successful?Â How do you sit down and write a book?”
“I do it exactly the way you do,” I said.Â Every time I sit down to write a book, I feel as if I’m doing it for the first time in my life.Â And I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.Â And as for my career, I never hadÂ a plan either.Â I just wrote what I wanted to write.Â And success somehow found me, I told him.
It was an amazing revelation, to discover that an artist I’ve admired all these years — someone working in an entirely different medium, music — would feel the same insecurities I feel.Â That even after the dozens of hit songs he’s recorded, he still questions his ability to write the next song.Â What a sense of relief, and mutual recognition, to find out that I’m not the only one who feels like I don’t know what I’m doing.
And yet we manage to keep doing it.Â Book after book, or song after song.
He told me how irritated he was when he watched a newÂ songwriter on TV recently, who said he was performing because he “wanted to share his gift with the world.”Â
“What bullshit,” my friend said.Â “Share his so-called gift with the world?Â This is hard work!Â This isn’t a gift!”
At the moment, I’m about halfway through the writing of my next book.Â I’ve been having more than a few moments of panic.Â I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night, wondering how I did it the last time.Â
Now I know that evenÂ one of the bestÂ songwriters in the world has self-doubts.
I’m in good company.