“Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” “Blue Skies,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” “God Bless America” — in his many decades of creativity, the great Irving Berlin wrote the music and lyrics to dozens of beloved and bedazzling classics like these. Over his lifetime, he wrote over 1500 songs. Amazing, isn’t it? All the more so because Irving had only a few years of formal schooling and taught himself how to play the piano while singing for pennies in saloons.
How did he manage to be so creative, successful, and popular? Was it talent or tenacity — or both? If you asked Irving himself, he’d probably say “tenacity.” According to one of his colleagues in the music business, Irving told him he did “not believe in inspiration,” and felt that though he may have some gifts, “his most successful compositions” were the “result of work.” One of his daughters said that he “sweated over his lyrics.”
Along with tenacity, consistency was one of the keys to Irving’s incredible productivity.
As a matter of ritual, he would write a complete song — words and music — every day.
Early in his career, he described his daily routine this way:
“I do most of my work under pressure. When I have a song to write I go home at night and after dinner about 8 I begin to work. Sometimes I keep at it till 4 or 5 in the morning… Each day I would attend rehearsals and at night write another song and bring it down the next day.”
Wow! Just imagine having to come up with an entire song every day. Think about how many songs you’d end up writing and how expert you’d become at crafting lyrics and a melody. You’d probably have to write scores of songs before you created one that would truly be a winner, but so what?
Along the way, you’d be learning, absorbing, writing, rewriting and preparing yourself so that one day you’d be ready to write something spectacular like “God Bless America.” The version we sing today is only 40 words long, but it’s become America’s unofficial national anthem. It’s simple, yet profound. It captures so much, so sparely.
How many words did Irving have to write before he was able to pen the 40 that are known the world over? Thousands, I’m sure. That’s why writing as much as you can whenever you can is so important. That’s how you get to the next level. That’s how you get ready to write something bigger than you are. Write on!