If you missed part 1 of my interview with singer-songwriter Ginny Owens yesterday, you can catch that here. (Earlier today I posted this as an audio clip, but due to some issues with sound quality, I’ve posted it now in text form.)
In this portion of the interview, Ginny and I discuss writing, including her experience of co-authoring her first book (Transcending Mysteries: Who Is God, and What Does He Want from Us?), the difference between book writing and songwriting, the first lesson she taught her college writing students and what it might mean to behold Jesus’ face.
I’m so grateful for all we can learn from one another’s stories.
(Answers have been edited slightly for readability and clarity.)
Q: I have not read it yet, but I know you’ve co-written a book with Andrew Greer. I was wondering how your process of writing the book impacted the way you find yourself writing music or sharing from the stage about your own story. Has that process of writing a book informed you as a singer-songwriter?
A: The main way it informed me is to teach me that I should write more, so that it was not so overwhelming and daunting to write. And I think it challenged me to be more articulate. After writing and re-writing chapters, I learned to tell my story a little better from stage and learned to use important words and leave some of the rest out. I feel like I’m still learning that in my writing.
Songwriting is a completely different animal, though. A song happens in 3 ½ minutes; a book takes you 200 pages. So there’s really not a lot of comparison except trying to find the most effective words to use in the space that you have. So that’s very different in songwriting and book writing. For a while, I was pretty stuck. I couldn’t figure out how to write songs. I thought, “Oh my goodness, I’ve gotten myself into this crazy place where I don’t know what to do.”
But overall, it’s been good. It’s made me keep writing, to become a much better writer (or a somewhat better writer since then), and even in songwriting it has taught me, you just have to keep working at it. You have to keep practicing the art of it. So, that’s been good.
Q: You studied fiction writing some at Columbia?
A: I did. I just took some summer classes. And they were really fun. I really enjoyed those. I learned a lot, especially from the students around me. They were very talented. They were steeped in different things from the things I knew and understood, so that was very interesting.
Q: I was interested in understanding if that process of studying fiction has affected how you tell story, too.
A: It probably has in more ways than I know. I think the main thing I learned from that experience is to take chances and experiment and see where things end up. And that really tends to be the thing with writing. I want to know the outcome before I have to do the work. How’s this going to turn out? You really just need to dig in and start writing. It’s true of any creative process.
Q: Are you interested in writing another book, do you think?
A: Yes, I think so. A different type of book – probably more of a memoir.
Q: Is that kind of percolating right now?
A: I’m trying to hash out the intro with an editor friend of mine, so we’ll see what happens.
Q: Are you still doing some teaching of songwriting?
A: I’m not doing as much. I did a couple of mentorships for Belmont last summer, but being on the road, really, it’s hard to do both at the same time. I had to finally say, “This is really fun, but I probably need to head back on the road.” I love to teach song writing on the road, so I hope to do more of that – just because it’s so much fun. Teaching is probably easier to do on the road, especially without a Masters. You can’t really afford to stay home and teach college.
Q: As you were teaching those students, what was your first lesson to them?
A: To write. We just don’t write enough. We think about writing; we think we might write sometime, but we don’t do it. We put it off. We clean the bathroom. Anne Lamott talks a lot about that. We have every distraction that keeps us from writing, and so that was a key thing we focused on. I had students journal every day for the first five minutes of class — just to write.
Writing is a friend, so if you don’t show up to your friend everyday or every other day, you get unacquainted pretty quickly. And the process of creating, there are some mundane parts of that process. You just have to keep showing up.
One of the things my first publisher taught me and I told my students is that “good songs are written, but great songs are rewritten.” You have to keep working on it. You have to keep going through the motions and working to not only hone your craft, but to perfect what you’ve written.
Q: Ginny, I’m really struck by how thinking of writing as a friend changes that process because I think a lot of us can think of writing as the enemy – the thing that has to be done, the thing we’re struggling against. So if you’re able to think of writing as a friend, then maybe the process of re-writing isn’t maybe so angst-ridden. It’s kind of like, “Let me help tell who you are,” or something like that.
A: Exactly. And writing can be our friend. That’s what it’s meant to be. Just like any friend, we have to get to know it and be comfortable with it.
Q: I have a question about your song “I Will Praise You.” I loved this song and was really struck by its imagery. In one part you talk about “…when my eyes see you face to face,” and I was so moved by the multiple layers of meaning in that. I have only ever thought about seeing Jesus face to face as like this fulfillment of…well, everything, but I’ve also seen. It struck me that when you say you’re seeing Jesus face to face, you’re actually seeing for the first time.
A: I think it’s both kinds of seeing, for all of us. Obviously, for me, it has somewhat of a different meaning. I think we forget about seeing Jesus’ face. We’re always asking to see His hand, solving our problems, fixing our lives, rescuing us from things. But just thinking about His face, it’s not just His works, but His face that we can gaze on and praise Him for. His face is what I can be in awe of in worship. His face is who He is.
A small story about how this came to be: Back in July, I spent an evening speaking with some great women at Lake Bible Church. This led to a meeting with the engaging Rachel Lulich, who was in the process of starting an arts ministry at the church. I heard from Rachel via email a week after our first meeting. She had booked Ginny Owens for a concert and was looking for someone to conduct an interview with her. For whatever reason, she thought of me, knowing nothing of my interviewing/journalism background, but thinking I’d be a good fit.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Ginny, who was gracious and thoughtful in her every response. At the end of our interview, Ginny gladly met my girls (who’ve listened to her music for years), asking them questions about the end of summer and the beginning of their school year.
I’m grateful to have been able to enter into the story and creative mind of a prolific artist and interesting, multifaceted woman.
Local friends, pick up your tickets here for an evening of song and story with Ginny Owens — Saturday, September 24th, at 7 pm, at Lake Bible Church. For more information about Ginny and her music (including her eight albums), visit her online home here.