The Righteous Thrashing I’ve Received For That Last Post

This weekend I posted an article called Burn Your File of Song Ideas and Start Over (I Dare You). I’m on the receiving end of a righteous thrashing for that one, complete with angry e-mails and complaints to my e-mail delivery service. Clearly I drilled into a nerve.


Harness that rage and prove me wrong. Dig into your song idea file, hose the mold off a stalled song, stick in some new spark plugs and give ‘er a kickstart. Then do figure-eights on my front lawn!

I’ll take angry e-mails and lost sales any day, as long as those losses mean that you’re writing. And not just writing, but getting songs done.

By the way: despite the dramatic title, if you read the article you already know that I don’t urge anyone to actually physically destroy their work. Matt Blick and Jeff Shattuck left thoughtful comments that you should check out, too.

The burning portion is mental: it’s best to finish songs, then immediately start more. If a song stalls for days, weeks and months until it’s effectively dead, get it out of your workspace.

Never let the weeds grow higher than your garden.

And thanks for the angry letters—I mean that. It’s good for my heart to see that kind of passion. Songwriting means the world to me as an art and a vocation… It’s great to know I’m not the only one who cares.

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  1. says

    Wow, I’m surprised people got so pissed. I though you presented a cool idea well. What were people so upset about? No need to name names, but I would love if you printed a few quotes so I can better understand how folks reacted — and what their reasoning was.

    • Nicholas Tozier says

      I’m surprised too! Only a handful wrote in, but they were vocal.

      Three people were pissed because they thought I was urging them to destroy all their finished work as well as unfinished. I assume they only glanced at the headline, wrote their own article in their heads, and then wrote me angry about it.

      Another reader wrote in to say it made no sense to tell people to finish more songs by giving up on songs. Touche.

      And at least two or three readers reported me as spam to Aweber. Five people unsubscribed. I know that’s not many, but I’d grown accustomed to steady growth with NO lost subscribers.

      Oddly enough, none of the people who wrote in unsubscribed.

      My only regret is that the discussion happened via e-mail instead of in the comments section of the post! Got my blood moving. Wish there’d been more public debate.

      • T.C. Elliott says

        After reading the interview with Rickie Lee Jones in “songwriters on songwriting” (as well as a few other interviews in that book) I’ve realized that some people write songs by the month or even year. They leave a half finished song lying around or on the desk or in the notebook until they get the piece of the puzzle they need to finish it.

        But a partially complete or half finished or even nearly completed song is much different than an idea bin. My first reaction to your blog post was an obstinate no. But after thinking about it, I think there is some merit there. I have a log of ideas, mostly musical, that I keep around. But I put them away and hardly ever use them. Unless I fully intend to use something from the idea bin, I never head there even when stuck or uninspired. I’m not sure why, but I know it works for me. Speaking for myself, the best time to look in that bin is not when I’m struggling but when I’m on a roll and I’ve just finished a song or two. Then I go in and find something and kick it out real quick.

        • Nicholas Tozier says

          Thanks for weighing in, T.C.

          I’ve finished songs over a long timeframe before–but I remain skeptical. I doubt there’s any reason for a typical song to linger unfinished for months or years. If completion of one song takes you as long as it would’ve taken to write a novel…

          Waiting for time and chance to resolve an unfinished work is far less efficient than a brainstorm or research session. Strong craftsmanship and determination get the job done faster and often with a better end result.

          My best works have come from pushing through a first draft (on my hands and knees if necessary)–then shelving that finished piece and starting another. Within a few weeks I can view that first rough draft with enough clarity to edit and rewrite. Magic happens during the revision phase.

          Maintaining constant writing habits also makes it much more likely that I’ll recognize that “missing piece” within minutes or days, not weeks or months. When a song takes longer than a week to finish, I ask hard questions about my own level of focus.

  2. Max says

    I think if it lingers to that amount of time, A) you are straining the concept too hard, clearly overworking it and it will come out in the writing, or in revisit (thats not saying revision is bad though, its a must, by all means grab your thesaurus for that right word that shades, or colors, the detail). remember songwriting is causing a experience and if you are confused about how to develop further for that period of time you don’t have a clear objective or emotion backing. If your song lacks resonance and curiosity for yourself, how do you expect the listener to feel any different? Or B) you need a fresh perspective, an objective viewpoint. Study craft. Analyze your favorite songs. Sleep on it and revisit it.