1. Free writing
Free writing is basically just unstructured, haphazard, nonstop writing. Forget that your pencil has an eraser. Forget that your keyboard has a backspace key. Ready…? Set…
The goal is to produce as many words as possible in the time allotted. Your pen should not stop moving across the page. Your fingers should not stop tapping keys. You should be writing rhythmically and steadily without interruption until the timer goes off.
Naturally that might mean that some of what you produce is incoherent or downright strange. That’s the whole idea. It doesn’t have to be presentable. Correct spelling? Not necessary. Sentence structure? Never heard of it. Feel free to type the same word or letter eighteen times in a row, if that’s what it takes—but keep those words coming, no matter what. Try not to censor yourself. Whatever’s on your mind, pour it all out.
I suggest you start with about 10 minutes on the clock at first. It’s a great way to loosen up before you do any kind of creative writing.
For more specialized free writing exercises tailored specifically to songwriters, you might try Andrea Stolpe’s Popular Lyric Writing. Despite the name, Stolpe’s book contains techniques useful to songwriters of all genres. It’s built upon Pat Pattison’s brilliant free writing exercise, object writing, a description of which you can find in Writing Better Lyrics.
FAWM is short for February is Album Writing Month. The objective is to write 14 songs during the shortest month of the year. That’s one song every two days, faster than many amateur songwriters.
Or, if you’re like me, FAWM is 27 days of procrastination followed by 14 songs frantically written on the 28th.
Many of my friends have also participated in FAWM. Even those who fell short of 14 songs that month agree that it was a worthwhile exercise, and that it was one of their more productive periods.
The group energy and enthusiasm of the FAWM community is great, especially for solo songwriters. Obviously February is a long way off at the date of this writing, but keep FAWM in mind—it’s a great exercise in productivity and camaraderie.
The 50/90 Challenge is a songwriting marathon that begins on July 4th and ends on October 1st of each year. 50/90ers test their own mettle by attempting to write 50 songs during that 90-day window.
4. The Immersion Composition Society
Much like the two challenges above, the “Immersion Composition Society” aims to stir unmotivated songwriters to write. Their challenges seem to be deliberately absurd: they encourage songwriters to try to write 20 songs in a single day!
Obviously this is not an exercise for beginners, or for the faint of heart. But it reinforces that songwriting need not always be an agonized, slow process. It can also be a rapid-fire intuitive rush.
If you’re a perfectionist paralyzed by your own quality standards, any of the above exercises can help you shake yourself loose. Take a deep breath, lower your quality standards, and make a rush at it—there’s always time to pick nits later, when you’re revisiting and revising these hurried tunes.