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Creating Your Habit of Songwriting

It’s hard for most of us songwriters to write a bunch of good songs unless we write a lot of songs. They don’t all come out the way we hope! To get the home runs, you have to get up to bat pretty frequently.

So there needs to be some kind of Habit of Songwriting. A habit is defined as “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up”. (That says it pretty well.)

There has to be some kind of regularity, and also what you might call a healthy dependency, because it meets your inner need to express how you see the world (and, if you’re lucky, your outer need for money too).

Right now, my habit is this: I set the weekend afternoons aside for writing. I do various different kinds of writing, but songwriting is a regular part of the mix. It’s important to have a chunk of time, because turning something OK into something good, and maybe occasionally turning something good into something great, can often be labor-intensive.

In the writing process, I ‘circle around’ songs. Usually, not always, it takes me a while to finish them (unless I have a hard deadline). Once I’ve got a few started, I go from one to the other, tweaking them, trying to gradually improve them. When I get tired of working on one, I move over to another.

I seem to go through periods where I’m mostly developing new ideas, and then I segue into periods when I focus on finishing (sometimes because I have a rehearsal, gig, or recording session). I’ll pick the songs I’m working on that I feel are most worthwhile and I’ll make a concerted effort to finish them up. Then I start a new batch.

Also, since the muse doesn’t visit at my convenience, whenever I have song ideas I write them down or record them – I do my best to have that discipline. These ideas can range from a fragment of a melody to most of a song, depending on what comes to me. It’s critical to grab these ideas when they come – they pop into my head randomly and I need to take what my subconscious gives when it gives.

Roughly speaking, those are the two parts of how it works for me at the moment.

I’ve known and worked with many songwriters, enough to know that for every one there’s a different habit of songwriting. But for each productive one, there is a habit.

Some just write when the spirit moves them. If the spirit moves often enough, and their time is free enough, this can work well.

At the other extreme, some professional songwriters write on a tight schedule – they have appointments with other writers to co-write, they get together, and a song emerges.. That’s their habit, and they learn to get something finished, or pretty close to it, in an afternoon or even a few hours – every time. That comes from practice.

There are many other ways. But however you do it, it’s a little like the old Hollywood studio system – a lot of talented people churned out movies on a regular basis and, somehow, periodically a ‘Casablanca’ emerged.

The output of even the greatest artists in any field is always uneven. But they need a habit of creation, an (at least somewhat) regular practice, to scale the heights.

What’s your habit, or your challenges with finding one?

Let me know your thoughts in the Comments section below:

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The pertinent content in this video is in the first 3 minutes or so.

4 responses to “Creating Your Habit of Songwriting”

  • Wayne Somerville

    I couldn’t agree more. I try to write everyday. But for me it’s a deadline that really gets the best results. I actually try to create that pressure by agreeing to write with someone or talking up a song I’m working on so that my musician friends might demand to hear it. In a way it sounds silly but for me when I have to come through I usually do. Of course I don’t want to write songs that sound forced or have no magic in them. I have to have that small spark of an idea, like a cool melodic line with a great progression. Maybe a really good first verse. There has to be some magic. It’s finishing it up that I usually need some outside force to compel me to finish.

  • Sophia

    I really needed this post to think of ways to get back on the saddle. Your 5-week workshops with deadlines, prompts and concrete varied feedback of a songwriting community worked well for me and also generated a productive stretch in the aftermath. I’m in Bangkok now and struggle to maintain that habit of creativity in the absence of a like-minded community.
    Reading your posts helps and reminds me the song-writing community exists even if I can’t quite access it right now.
    As always, thanks for writing these supportive and insightful posts.

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