Burn Your File of Song Ideas and Start Over (I Dare You)

4346741050_57f5e30565_z by la pluie et le beau tempsLosing my life’s work in 2011 was one of the luckiest spins I could’ve hoped for. All those half-finished songs? Gone. Failed novels? Outta here! Awful sonnets? Ciao!

For a decade I’d been starting lyrics, poems, recordings, even books—and then dropping everything to chase more ideas before the previous ones were finished. I was forever in Limbo, in transit from project to project to project until my hard drive was like a labyrinth of stale, rotting, half-eaten songs. Horrible.

Eventually I shattered that hard drive on a wooden floor, and all those tangled loose ends were cleanly severed in an instant. Looking back now, I wonder whether I subconsciously drop-kicked that laptop on purpose just so I could finally get free of my own past failures.

If your notebooks are cluttered with dozens or hundreds of half-finished songs like mine were, consider throwing it all out the window.

No, really. Call your own bluff. If you were going to finish that song you started a month ago, you would’ve done so already. If you were going to take action on that lyric idea you scribbled on an envelope last May, you would’ve done so. Last May. Stop slowing yourself down with dead weight. Pack up those old ideas and get them out of your workspace.

Box them up, move them to the back of your closet, drop them into a new folder on your computer called “Archive”. Whatever it takes. Just like that, all your unfinished work is now cleared away.

What happens next is the best part.

It’s just you, a cleared writing space, and a virginal notebook. Now you can breathe again.

Now you just need one song idea to pursue all the way from 0:00 to the double barline. With nothing else on your plate to distract you, you can focus on that one song and do what it takes to finish. Even if finishing means you have to write some dummy lines.

There’s nothing wrong with having multiple songs in the pipeline—unless your pipeline’s clogged. If you find yourself with five or more songs that stall out in the middle, pick just one to devote all your energies to. Otherwise, it’s way too easy to jump from project to project whenever one of your creations gets difficult.

Life’s short. Finish the songs you start.

Posted on January 15, 2012

5 Responses to Burn Your File of Song Ideas and Start Over (I Dare You)

  1. Matt Blick January 15, 2012 at 14:10 #

    Oh man. This makes me feel weird even thinking about it. If God, Karma, Fate whatever takes away your songs maybe but…

    It’s like there’s two evils at te opposite ends of the spectrum, a blocked pipe and a blank page. Happiness lies somewhere in the middle I think.

  2. Jeff Shattuck January 16, 2012 at 06:27 #

    I agree, keeping too many rotting ideas on-hand is not the best idea, but…

    For me, I have a system. My scrapbook is Evernote, in which I jot down ideas wherever they strike me. Every now and then I go through my Evernote ideas and ruthlessly save the best into a Google Doc file called Song Ideas. When I get a bit of free time, rare these days, I go through my Song Ideas file and BRUTALLY cull it. What remains is, to me, stuff that’s worth working on someday, and when that day comes, I spend time and if I get anywhere, I start a lyric in my Unfinished folder. All along, if something better hits, it jumps to the head of the class! Of course, all that is for songs that begin with words. Songs that begin with music are rare for me, but if I think of something, I record it in Pro Tools and save it under a title that, with luck, will still make sense down the road.

    Really interesting topic, going to give this more thought and maybe write a post about it as well.

  3. Ells January 26, 2012 at 14:48 #

    Very interesting post – and one that prompted me to actually look through my old ideas, which is definitely a good thing. So, thank you for that!

    I wrote a more thorough response on my blog: http://ells12.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/a-virtual-kick-up-the-backside-or-burn-your-file-of-song-ideas-and-start-over-i-dare-you/

    • Nicholas Tozier January 28, 2012 at 00:58 #

      Checking it out as we speak!


  1. A Virtual Kick Up The Backside (Or Burn Your File of Song Ideas and Start Over (I Dare You)) | Ells' Blog - January 26, 2012

    […] […]