Discover more from Len Wilson
“Man, did I lose it?”: How to Overcome Creative Blocks
2023-10-26 Invite Champions Weekly
At 100 million records sold, the American rock band Chicago is one of the best-selling musical groups of all time. Their unique fusion of rock, jazz, and R&B helped define the sound of the 1970s. By the end of the decade though, things were slipping. They were burnt out and losing their creative edge. Temptations were taking their toll. Worst of all, radio didn’t want horns anymore. The band needed something new.
At some point, every creative endeavor encounters obstacles. The best way through it?
Collaboration, which means letting go of control and learning to trust.
Today’s Bottom Line: Behind every successful creative endeavor is a humility that encourages creative collaboration.
Last night, my wife Shar and I watched a Netflix documentary on David Foster, who is one of the most successful music producers of all time. Dude has an ego as big as Manhattan, but he owns it—and I suppose when you have 47 Grammy nominations and a half billion albums sold, you’re allowed to act like a GOAT.
Foster has taken artists to towering successes. Think Whitney’s “I Will Always Love You,” Celine’s “The Power of Love,” or Buble’s “Home.” The fact that you know these artists by a single name, and many others, is because of Foster.
What interested me, though, and kept us watching through the whole film, wasn’t Foster’s interview or the parade of musical royalty that sang his praises. I was fascinated by the stories of creative collaboration. Foster said his goal with every collaboration is to make the musicians he works with sound as good as they ever have—and ever will. Wow, what a statement.
The best story was his creative collaboration with Chicago. 40 years later, some of the surviving band members are still conflicted about it. Foster took over production of Chicago’s 16th studio album in 1982 and promptly threw out the songs they’d brought to the session. As band member James Pankow recalls, he thought, why aren’t these songs good enough anymore? Did I lose it?
Whether we want to admit it or not, that’s an honest sentiment that every creative—including every author—knows.
Foster wasn’t the bad guy. He simply held them to their own previous standard. Instead of the songs they’d brought in, he worked with them to discover a slick new sound for changing cultural tastes. The result? Their “comeback” album, a #1 hit, platinum sales in six months, and the power ballad genre which helped define the 80s—and still employs the band today.
The sound isn’t without controversy. Ask any real Chicago fan. Yet without it, their decline would have likely continued unabated. The lesson for us is that the members of Chicago were willing to let go of what had made them stars. They recognized the need for change and creative collaboration. At the root of this decision is humility, and the awareness that other people can make you better.
Then I thought of Mac Brunson.
Mac’s new book God is For You comes out in December with Invite Press. Mac has had incredible success as pastor of some of the largest Southern Baptist congregations in the USA and president of the Southern Baptist Convention. As publisher, I am honored to work with him.
The manuscript he presented to me was good. But it had a problem. I knew the title, “Wisdom in Crisis,” wasn’t right.
This isn’t to denigrate Mac. In fact, he agreed to let me tell you this story. As Invite Press publisher, I have renamed most of our top selling titles. My top two best-selling titles as an author were both renamed. It’s very hard as a writer to get the title right. That’s why we collaborate.
How do I approach a situation when the title is wrong? I have learned three important lessons as a creative and now as a publisher who is also a Jesus follower:
Trust your gut when something feels off
Have the courage to say what your gut is telling you, even if you don’t have the answer yet
Trust that the inspiring, creative power of God’s Spirit will lead you to the solution
As a young sax player, I learned to recognize when the creative process wasn’t working. As a worship producer, I learned to name it to others. But the last one didn’t come until my 40s. It was the hardest to discover, and it was directly tied to my own surrender of control. It’s a question of faith.
With Mac’s book, the answer lay to the missing title lay in the work itself—as it often does. I carefully studied his intro to find the heart of hope that drove him, and found it in a single sentence, which captured the fear he felt in his moment of crisis. His one sentence of vulnerability led to our new title. Here is the cover:
Who knows how well Brunson’s new work will sell. But I can promise you that together, we’ve made it the best it can be.
Takeaway: Don’t let the mediocre parts slide, but trust the collaborative process. Foster tells of a lesson he learned from Quincy Jones. Early on, he once handed Jones an album and apologized for a few of the tracks. Jones looked at the disc and said, whose name is on the back? If your name is on it, you’re responsible for every part of it.
Yea, I said I was going to start on the marketing series this week—but this had to come first.
Right now, we at Invite are working with several of you that are struggling with your manuscripts. Be careful about your own sense of control. If you’re stuck, come to me. Come to the team. You don’t have to have it perfect. That’s what traditional publishers do. At Invite, we want to be your Foster. We want to help you craft the best creative work you’ve ever done. The way we get there is collaboration.