You can always put off songwriting until tomorrow, but don’t kid yourself — if you put it off, you’re not gonna feel any more motivated tomorrow.
“I just don’t feel inspired”, songwriters often say. Yet we still find ourselves inspired to watch TV and poke around on Facebook. Funny how that works, eh?
Days go by, weeks go by, a season goes by. Before you know it, years have slipped through your fingers and you realize you’ve made little progress toward your musical goals. It can be quite an unhappy realization.
If you’re serious about writing songs, though, you can still find ways to make it a priority. Life is short. None of us knows how much time we’ve got left in a lifetime, and getting good at songwriting takes a lot of time —better get started.
Songwriting’s hard work, and you’ll find yourself inventing reasons not to do it today. “Inspired” or not, write songs anyway. Read on for ideas on how to jump back into the craft.
Songwriting is work
Right about here is where a lot of people push back. They say: “I don’t want songwriting to become like work! It sucks all the fun out.” If you’re just writing songs for occasional kicks, or for therapeutic reasons, that’s absolutely fine. Just be aware that casual effort brings small, casual rewards. If you want more from this craft, you’ve got to invest more time and effort. And that usually means that you’ll have to show up every day, even when you “don’t feel like it”. Buckling down and getting serious is kind of scary, right? It raises the stakes. But raising the stakes is better than letting time slip away from you and ending up with deathbed regrets someday.
Things you can do without inspiration
You don’t have to feel like writing in order to write. Here are some tricks I’ve learned for tricking myself into writing songs, even when I didn’t feel like it:
- Set a timer when you begin a practice or songwriting session. Start with small sessions: just 10-15 minutes to begin with.
- Set some small short-term goals. Take pleasure in working on little things: like learning the notes on your guitar fretboard, practicing your notation reading skills, or free writing in search of a lyric idea.
- Give yourself a deadline. “Thursday of next week, I’ll attend an open mic and play one original song.” Mark it on the calendar. Write it on the wall.
- Turn off your phone. While you’re supposed to be writing songs or practicing, turn off your cell phone’s ringer. Turn off the vibrator, too, and put it where you can’t see the screen. Even momentary distractions break focus. Your creative focus is sacred — protect it from distractions!
- Bribe yourself. Some of the dirty work of songwriting isn’t especially exciting. I’m never thrilled to do half an hour of ear training. Offer yourself an immediate reward that you can have after you do the work today: personally, I’ve bribed myself with cookies, beer, TV time, and other things that I would be embarrassed to even mention.
The following activities require zero inspiration. You can sit down and do them anytime.
- Follow a writing prompt
- Take out a book and learn some new technique on your instrument
- Take out a book and study some music theory
- Free write
- Read about a musician you admire
- Listen to a favorite song — analyze its chords, melody, and lyrics
Set a timer for just 10 or 20 minutes and work on something — just to get it started. The funny thing is, once you’ve gotten started, you’ll often find yourself wanting more. You’ll get a little kick of satisfaction from doing creative work, and you’ll find yourself craving more of that. For now, though, put just 20 minutes on the timer. That’s all you’re committing to today.
Songwriting may be tough to work into your daily routine, but it gives you lasting satisfaction, self-expression, and self-respect. Time spent writing songs is time well-spent. If you’ve been procrastinating about some area of your songwriting or music-making, take five minutes right now to set a daily goal for working on it. Use everything you’ve got to combat procrastination: Set a timer. Set some small goals; go for the small victories. Give yourself a deadline. Lock your phone in a desk drawer. Bribe yourself with guilty pleasures. Do what it takes to get the work done. Sitting down to work isn’t a sacrifice; it’s a trade. Give it your time and attention, and the craft of writing songs will eventually pay you back. With interest.
autumnal watch photo courtesy of epSos.de