5 Ways Songwriters Can Beat “Parkinson’s Law”

Self-imposed deadlines for completing music rarely work; here are some ideas for creating real deadlines.


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Danny Elfman, composerIf you lack inspiration to write music, one solution will seem rather simple: stop trying. Divert your attention with something else for a while, and inspiration will usually come back. However, there are those for whom even a short bout of mild writer’s block can be a major problem. Writers of film or TV soundtracks often don’t have the luxury of stopping, because they are usually writing to a deadline.

In fact, in a recent interview film composer Danny Elfman claimed that the existence of a deadline was his cure for writer’s block, saying that he’d still be working on the score for “Pee Wee Herman’s Big Adventure” if he hadn’t been given a deadline.

Elfman’s observation about the power of a deadline to complete a job is summed up in Parkinson’s Law: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Your problem, if you’re like most songwriters, is that there really isn’t a hard-and-fast deadline to write your next song. Most of the people who compose do so because they enjoy it. So once one song is finished, it’s time to start working on the next one. But there’s no real sense of deadline involved, at least not most of the time.

Without a deadline, the time available for your next song is, for all intents and purposes, endless. And it sure can feel that way, can’t it?

Creating a deadline and imposing it on yourself often doesn’t really work, because the deadline doesn’t feel real. It’s like tackling yourself: you don’t laugh, because you know you can stop any time.

So if you’re the kind of songwriter who responds positively to real deadlines, here are some ideas for creating the sense of urgency that will lead to songs being finished.

  1. Establish a deadline to complete a set of songs, and blog about it. This at least creates a deadline that has a bit more urgency. After all, blogging about your project gets the attention of an audience of followers, and that may be all the pressure you need to keep writing. So create your own deadline (one song a day, one song a week, etc.), and let the world know that you’ve done it.
  2. Give the gift of a song. Your friends and relations can be your list of recipients of the gift of a song, written by you. I sometimes wonder why we don’t do this more often. People are usually blown away that someone would take the time to write a song especially for them. And there’s nothing like the deadline of an approaching birthday, anniversary, wedding or other important event, to focus your attention and get the job done.
  3. Offer your songwriting services to someone who has a deadline. Visit your local university or college music department, and offer to write music for a theatrical production. Their deadline becomes your deadline.
  4. Announce new songs at a public performance. If you’re singing your music at a public performance, tell the audience about upcoming gigs, and tell them that you’ll be performing 3 new songs. Getting it out there like that makes it a real deadline, and if you’re like most, you won’t want to disappoint.
  5. Give yourself an assignment. This is a great idea for those of you who teach songwriting. If you’ve got a young student that you’re guiding through the world of musical composition, say that you’ll write a song for the next lesson that demonstrates the elements that you’ve been describing in the lesson. No one wants to let a student down!

These 5 ideas establish real deadlines, not self-imposed ones that can be stretched and even ignored. I think you’re going to find that a deadline can be a positive way to get the creative juices flowing. And in a very real sense, you’re not beating Parkinson’s Law; you’re using it to its best effect.


Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
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  1. Pingback: Improve Your Songwriting Abilities | Acoustic

  2. I’m interested to know what other people do about this issue. Sometimes for me writers block comes when I feel like I can’t perfect an idea and I become obsessed with the perfection of it. Sometimes I just can’t find that word that fits just right. Maybe sometimes its just better to go with your instincts!

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