Song Doctor Blog
Read about how to write better songs
I can always tell when my partner has been writing a short story because something in the house has been tidied to a freakish level. Today, the linen cupboard is so ordered I’m too scared to put away a single pillowslip for fear of misfiling, so I’ll just leave this small pile of folded laundry here to discuss later….! This is how I know something’s a-brewing on her laptop.
But is it really procrastinating when you suddenly see things you have to do rather than knuckling down to the scary blank page? Or is it part of a ritual – a preparation phase that you knowingly use to mull ideas over or nut out the ‘gnarly bits’ in a song?
Turns out that many famous writers of all genres have favourite rituals they use and techniques they employ to spur them on. Some are extraordinarily elaborate – author James Clear has an assistant reset and withhold all social media passwords until he finishes a scheduled writing session, rendering him incapable of a single, sneaky scroll. He’s very big on choice architecture.
Others are very simple - Ernest Hemingway stood while he wrote, working from dawn until midday when he visited his local bar to get smashed. His mantra while writing The Old Man and The Sea was ‘done at noon, drunk by three’.
Jerry Seinfeld’s famous strategy to write daily was to put a large red X on a wall calendar for every day he wrote jokes. Eventually, there were multiple X’s in a row lining up like links in a chain. His mantra was ‘don’t break the chain’. Note nothing about whether the jokes were any good – just that he was writing daily and this increases the probability of the jokes getting better! Which brings me to the next point.
Creativity is all about probability. There are no guarantees that you’ll write a good chorus or a brilliant melody in a particular session. Your session is all about trying things out and exploring your ideas and connections. Which is why it can be daunting and contributes to you procrastinating. The outcome is always uncertain, which is why doing ‘must do’ tasks – those which have a determinable end result - can be very comforting, and actually supports your creative process. If you mow the lawns, the result will be a mown lawn. If you tidy the linen cupboard, you’ll be able to find the sheets and towels.
But if you sit down to write a song, you can’t predict what the song will be or even when it will be finished. Songwriting is not a linear journey. It’s generally full of twists, turns and cul-de-sacs before you wind up with something that you’re happy with. No wonder you’re procrastinating!
The answer is do or get whatever it takes for you to show up and increase that probability of writing a good or even a great song. Whatever ritual you need, whatever support structure works for you, grab it with both hands and hold it close! If you’re not sure, take time to explore what works best for you, what feels ‘right’ and develop your own creative process. It will be as individual and unique as the songs you write.
Today, I’m starting a new technique in my own songwriting by using a series of song prompts from Ed Bell, a songwriter and songwriting coach whose blogs and articles I’ve enjoyed reading. He’s just released a couple of new books – The 30-Day Speed Songwriting Challenge & The 30-Day Music Writing Challenge – and I’m going to quietly work through them to see what falls out. And I’m telling you to keep myself accountable! See you on the other side!
Best wishes to everyone for the summer and I hope you have a great Christmas and a very Happy New Year,
Talk more soon