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Writing A Song… When You Feel Like You’ve Forgotten How To Write A Song

I did a show about a month ago where I played some new songs of mine. One of them was even brand new… I’d written it in the previous week and decided to give it a try.

That’s often a mistake. As a rule it’s better to let something cool a little before I commit to performing or (particularly) recording it.

But I threw caution to the winds and did the 3 or 4 new songs. Overall, they came out pretty well. But they also seemed a bit different from past songs I’ve written.

Maybe I’m getting into some new territory? I seem to be writing less genre pieces and writing more songs that are… I don’t know what. I’d like to think they’re more original… but maybe they’re just odd. Who knows?

That’s not really my business. My business is to move forward and write some more songs. See where things go.

The weird thing is, I’m in one of those periods where I feel like I don’t know how to write a song. I mean, in one way I know I do; I can look at the many songs I’ve written and recognize them as… songs… that I’ve written. But at the moment each new one feels like a tabula rasa… like I have to make the meal from scratch and there’s no recipe. And I forgot how to cook!

I know this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I wrote the previous handful, which came out pretty well, in almost the same state of mind. But it is disconcerting.

Writing is mysterious that way. In one sense, as I write, craft is developed; I have more tools with which to solve or negotiate the various problems that arise. That is true. In another sense… every song is like the first song… they’re bespoke, made to order. Some work-for-hire or specifically genre songs (which can be terrifically fun to write) are less like this – there’s more of a road map.

But when I’m writing, will I ever get used to that “I don’t know where the hell I am and what I’m doing” feeling? And does it matter?

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8 responses to “Writing A Song… When You Feel Like You’ve Forgotten How To Write A Song”

  • Hi Tony!
    I enjoy reading your posts and I can often identify with them. I agree that sometimes I don’t know where I’m going with my songwriting. The muse seems to take me in different directions depending on what I experienced that week, or what artists I’ve been listening to lately. Since I began songwriting about 5 years ago I’ve watched my writing evolve, as well as my melodies. Currently, I’m into writing about real life stories about people I know and relationships. Previously, I was writing more political statements about the environment and anti-war types of sentiments. So far most people I’ve played for have preferred the life stories material.

  • Man do i relate to this. Just keep on Tony. And maybe write about that feeling of not knowing where you are!

  • I’m right here, now.
    We’ve recently had a baby, and I just got through getting an album out in the 3rd quarter of last year, so things have been a little crazy… but I’m sitting back down to attend to a bunch of songs waiting to be finished… to be clear – I write backwards… 90% of the time, the music comes first, and when it’s all done, I write the lyrics. I have all the melody lines in my head already, but no words.
    Well… I’m also about to do live shows of my stuff, and have sent a bunch of old tracks to band members/vocalists – all of them songs I wrote using this technique.
    They love the stuff, and I’m frankly kinda floored by how good the songs hold up. But now I’m listening to the new tracks, and I am confounded by the old songs… I have no idea how I wrote them, and frankly, it’s kind of paralyzing, because just nothing’s coming to me.
    I’m being gentle with myself about it, but it’s NOT fun. Which it should be.
    Taking lotsa deep breaths.
    Thanks for sharing your story – makes me feel a little less alone in this. :)

  • Hi Tony,
    This topic caught my attention.
    I have written some songs but I don’t really consider myself a song writer.
    I do know the difference though between between craft and Art. It seems to me that un-knowing feeling leads to something uniquely yours. The thinking crafting part may come later or even not be necessary at all. This way of saying what I mean came to me a while back. “Music comes through is best when we abandon the act of making it” I’m sure you know what I mean. We want our work to be accepted so we surrender to whatever is going around. That’s cool. It can be art or it can be a rehashed version of the latest hit. For me the real art is when you hear and feel the uniqueness of the writer. Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Paul Simon, Carol King, Leonard Cohen etc… Just get out of the way and let it come.

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