“What do I want to write about? What do I have to offer my listeners?” These are troubling questions, especially if you expect yourself to come up with a clear, complete idea on the spot.
Somewhere out there, right at this very moment, a songwriter is feeling frustrated or guilty about their notebook of half-finished songs and scraps.
“Why the hell can’t I finish anything?” The songwriter moans.
It’s actually good to have a mess of lyric fragments–but it’s common to feel as though you’re just spinning your wheels, getting nowhere.
Every song is written one word at a time. If you’re waiting for a complete idea to fall out of the sky into your head, perfectly formed, make sure that you’re comfortable right where you’re sitting–it’s going to be a long wait with nothing but a clean, white, virgin notebook to keep you company.
Here’s a recent, drastic improvement in my life as a writer and songwriter: the realization that a mess is a good thing.
Unfinished ideas are starting points. They can be generated en masse, played with, tweaked, split, combined, scrapped and reimagined. The more of them you have, the better–you’re giving yourself more ideas to choose from. Remember that they don’t all have to get written.
Pick any one of your song ideas and try any of the following:
1. Set aside a period of time without any distractions so that you can focus. This is not an easy option for everyone, so if you’ve got a day job and six kids, don’t worry. Even five or ten minutes could be long enough to write another line.
2. Go about your day, but keep the song in mind as you go. If you take five minutes in the morning to read your idea and fix it in your mind, you’re priming yourself to work on it half-consciously all day. You might try carrying it around with you in a little notebook or on an index card–just jot down ideas as they come to you.
3. Connect the dots. Gather all your scraps, ideas, and finished songs in one place and start reading–you may have already written and forgotten a potential new direction for your stalled masterpiece.
4. Freewrite. Write anything that pops into your head about the song-in-progress on a separate sheet for 10-20 minutes. Write quickly, in stream-of-consciousness style, without inhibition. You never know what you might uncover if you keep working that spade.
5. Learn about songwriting. Read songwriting books, read articles by pro songwriters, attend classes, analyze songs from your favorite artists, and do everything you can to learn about the craft of songwriting. This art form requires lots of specialized knowledge–and the more you learn about it, the more likely you are to stumble upon some brilliant piece of information that gets your song unstuck.
Rinse, Lather, Repeat.
If you spend some time on one of the strategies above and start feeling blocked or frustrated, just move on to another, and stop whenever you’ve had it “up to here” or when the song is finished.
- Four Easy Ways to Begin Writing a New Song
- How the Haiku can Improve Your Songwriting
- Sensory Songwriting: How to Write Lyrics that Capture Your Listener’s Imagination
- 33 Ways to Make More Time in Your Life for Music-Making
- Ad Nauseam: Think Outside the Chorus!
Nicholas Tozieris an independent singer, songwriter, private music instructor, blogger, and recording artist centered in Gardiner, Maine. His first album, A Game with Shifting Mirrors, is slated for self-release in Fall 2010.