The morning after the Folklore: The Long Pond Studio Sessions came out I woke up to an email from my friend Emily with one word in the subject line — “Taylor.”
I moved from San Diego to Florida a few months ago and my west-coast-friend Emily decided to email instead of text since she finished the sessions past my east coast bedtime.
Her email shared her gut reactions to the revelations in the sessions and how inspiring they were to her as an artist (she’s a fiction writer — her books are like a comforting cup of tea fyi).
I felt the same, and since Taylor has long been an artist who inspires my own writing, I thought I’d share the creative lessons that shone through. ❤️
1. Meet the artists you admire.
They say “Don’t meet your heroes” but I’ve never ascribed to that — especially if you’re an artist. Being in the same room with, and sometimes meeting, my own artistic heroes helps me keep going, often far longer than I would have alone.
And while it might not be as simple for you to go backstage to meet your favorite artists as Taylor talks about doing after seeing The National, you might be surprised at what might happen when you dream big. (I never imagined I’d be backstage meeting Lin-Manuel Miranda and the original cast of Hamilton — but, yeah, that happened.)
Meeting Lin in particular kept me going on a book I was thinking about giving up on; Taylor meeting The National birthed folklore.
It’s hard to meet people right now, but one day that will happen again. And in the meantime, meeting virtually — even binging the YouTube and podcast interviews of your favorite artist, is a great way to start.
2. Ask about craft.
So then what do you do when you meet your artistic heroes? Or what should you look for when you’re binging interviews?
How they approach their craft.
That’s what Taylor did, asking The National backstage all about how they write songs.
That’s an artist who’s always learning.
Founding member of The National Aaron Dessner told Taylor they often write songs remotely because they live in different places.
When the pandemic hit, she remembered.
3. Just ask.
When Taylor remembered, she reached back out to Aaron over text to ask if he might be interested in collaborating.
He half-jokes in The Long Pond Studio Sessions that he thought it was a fake text at first.
It seems she might have been a little nervous to ask, too.
Their collaboration seems obvious now because the album is so good, but at that time, both took a risk.
One to ask.
One to say, “Why not?”
Taylor shares that she collected the phrase “meet me behind the mall” four years ago and was just waiting for the right song to use it.
Consider keeping a judgment-free treasure chest of ideas if you aren’t already.
Because you never know.
5. Let your imagination run wild.
Taylor sees vivid settings in her head when she hears a track for the first time. It seems she lets her imagination run wild in those moments, honors whatever she sees, and then writes from that place.
6. You are more than one thing.
The first time I heard the lesser-known Taylor Swift song “Ronan”, written for charity from a mother’s perspective about a young son dying of cancer, I turned to my husband and said “Taylor Swift is going to be around for a long time.” That song, inspired by a Tumblr post by the boy’s mother, is one of my favorite Taylor Swift songs because of the storytelling and lines like, “Race cars on the kitchen floor” and “What if I kept the hand me downs you won’t grow into?”
In The Long Pond Studio Sessions Taylor shares how confining it can feel to be defined as only one thing. Or being thought of as capable of only doing one thing.
I’ve never liked the way the mediated version of Taylor Swift is portrayed as simply “a girl sharing her journal” — implying that she’s not really an artist. That everyone can keep a journal and thus the only thing special about her is that she shares hers.
(I don’t know about you by my journal doesn’t include lines like “the moon like a spotlight on the lake.” Though, fun fact, this blog post did come to me while journaling the morning after watching The Long Pond Studio Sessions and these 10 lessons all started in my journal.)
For me, The Long Pond Studio Sessions are a reminder of what the women who’ve been inspired by Taylor’s artistry for over a decade have known all along — that the mediated version of her isn’t the whole story.
Taylor Swift is an artist and while it seems it’s taken some people a long time to figure that out, it’s not new information.
And the best news is that just as she realized she is not confined to make art only from her lived experience, the same is true for you.
Inspiration isn’t just what happens to you. You can go searching for it too, even when, or maybe especially when, you’re lost.
7. Time and isolation can be good for art.
Time and isolation are helpful for creating art, but of course it’s hard to do when you’re also dealing with a lot of other life stresses at the same time.
When almost everything shut down I put my own half-written book away. I decided I would leave it alone until this was all over — I was too stressed.
And then a few months later I finished it.
I didn’t mean to.
I just couldn’t ignore it.
It’s not always easy to create that kind of time and isolation (the kind where focus, too, is possible) — but however possible, even if it’s going into a corner and telling everyone to leave you alone for 15 minutes, it can help you create art.
Alone time + imagination = magic.
8. Do you really love this?
Not all parts of the creative process are fun, but you can tell when an artist is really having fun — when they would clearly do this even if no one was watching, even if they didn’t make any money doing it.
And yet these artists often do make money from their art — because they love it so much and have so much fun that they get so good and their joy becomes impossible to ignore.
It’s what I’ve always loved about Taylor Swift concerts, and dream about when I imagine (hopefully) getting to see one again in 2021 — seeing someone own a stage and captivate tens of thousands of people and live in the center of her own impossible dream, loving it.
But what really makes it awe-inspiring is the quiet knowledge that this larger-than-life experience is also like that line from the song “peace” — “All these people think love’s for show/ But I would die for you in secret.”
9. Is it enough?
In Taylor’s explanation of “peace”, she talks with Aaron about the parts of her life that come with her music career that she can’t control (i.e. paparazzi), and how the song was written from a place of wonder — wondering if what she can control will be enough for the loved ones in her life.
And in her chat about “the lakes” she shares even she wonders sometimes if it’s enough for her. Why not run away to the lakes and write and not deal with all the other stuff that comes with being at the top of the music business?
But it seems, at least for now, the love of all she gets to do is enough.
And as soon as it isn’t, she has an escape plan.
10. Intention matters.
Great storytelling is intentional.
I cried on my 30th birthday when I walked by the journals of science fiction author Octavia E. Butler displayed in The Huntington Library museum.
She wrote in big hand letters, sometimes in red, things like “Emotional Drive: Strive always — in all ways at all times — always, for intensity,” and “Tell stories filled with facts. Make people touch and taste and know. Make people feel feel feel!”
I saw her intentions.
And I’ve always loved how intentional Taylor is with her art — from every word to every visual.
In The Long Pond Studio Sessions she talks about how carefully she thinks about how to end an album (I too am obsessive about the last line of any story I write).
Taylor loves to let the audience play inside the world she’s created and make it their own.
Intention invites an audience in; everything is carefully designed, but with room for the audience to find and make their own meaning.
To escape for a moment in a new world — to discover, get lost.
Artistic intention is a gift your audience feels.
BONUS track! 😉
When you’ve created something, share it.
However you want.
Whenever you want.
Without worrying about how it’s been done before.
Someone out there just might need it to keep going.
Maybe even that someone is you.
(This post originally appeared on Creative Teacup. For more, join my newsletter for creatives, artists, dreamers, and people who love inspiring stories: The Keep Going Club.)