When to Rewrite and When to Move On

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 10-eBook Bundle, written by Gary Ewer, covers every aspect of songwriting, from creating chord progressions, to writing melodies and lyrics, and much more. Read more…

Songwriting PianistAre you a songwriter that keeps honing and perfecting each song once it’s written? That’s a good thing, of course. But there can be a downside to rewriting songs: you can get bogged down and second-guess what the song’s all about. Constant rewriting can be an early stage of writer’s block. There comes a time when it’s best to put it away and start your next tune.

But rewriting and editing, when done as part of the songwriting process, is like a sculptor who continues to sand off bumps and imperfections that others aren’t necessarily seeing. It’s a good thing, and it’s part of making a final product.

In every art form, whether composing, writing a novel, creating an architect’s drawing, or choreographing a dance routine, the final stages of getting it ready for public consumption involve a lot of fine-detail work. It’s a dangerous time for an artist, because, as I say, it can cause you to feel bogged down and discouraged.

How do you know when it’s time to put a song away and get going with the next one. Here are some thoughts:

  1. It’s always time to move on. That’s because there are no rules that say you can’t work on several songs at the same time, and in fact, I would encourage it. Having several songs on the go means that as you get stuck with one, you’ve got something else to turn your attention to, and that’s almost always a good thing for a creative mind.
  2. Perform your songs as part of the writing process. Even if it’s just for a few friends, performing your songs live will give you a true perspective on how it really works — how it really sounds. Use a performance for a few choice friends, or at a songwriters’ circle, as a way of testing the waters.
  3. Try some “non-invasive” editing. In other words, first consider modifications to your song that have more to do with how the song is performed, rather than actual changing of notes. So rather than assuming that your melodies, chords or lyrics need editing, try a new tempo, a different time signature or performance style. It’s amazing what a small change like that can do to the success of a song.
  4. Put it away for a while. As part of the writing process, it can often help to put the song away for a few days or even weeks, just to let it sit at the back of your mind for a while. Creative work often happens at a subconscious level. Getting back to it after a time away often results in great ideas that surface immediately.
  5. Develop your objective-listening skills. Record yourself singing your song, put it away for a few days, and then listen to it as if you’re listening to someone else’s song. Once you’ve developed this skill of hearing the song as someone else’s, flaws and solutions come more readily to mind.


Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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  1. Even when you have gone and had a Pitching Demo made, A song can
    often be re written, generally if it’s lyrics and melody you have millions of
    permutations even with the same underlying chords.

    In fact it’s not often the CHORDS that are the problem, metric variation
    from one phrase to a next even if it’s slight will keep the listener interested
    study the melodic contour of every phrase and see where you may vary it

    Thats why it’s important to keep a backing track without any vocals, of each
    song , then you or your pro singer can re do the melody where it needs it..

  2. I think your friend is spot on , in fact most top writers do this, we must sing our songs
    to make them better ,I notice you said songs, and I hope that means several songs.

    What you wrote yesterday , could have been great , but by great I would mean it was part of the evolution of a song. Great ideas nearly always have flaws that have to be sorted out later

    Human Beings took millions of years to evolve, and that was by trial and error,
    No we have not got that amount of time but most Top Pro Writers are working on something that started out as a great idea that needed working on, and ideas often kick around in our sub conscious for a few months and even a few years.

    Why do you think it’s a waste of time?

    Many of the Old Masters like Claude Monet, Van did several copies of their paintings that became known as works of Art. before deciding on the best one

    • There’s nothing particularly wrong with constantly trying to improve a song, unless it prevents you from writing anything else. That’s what I meant when I said that it’s always time to move on. You can still be honing and perfecting what you’ve done while also starting new tunes.

      There’s another possible downside that comes from constantly reworking and rewriting music that’s worth thinking about, and that’s the issue of spontaneity. It’s a fine point, but some writers feel that there is a level of passion and impulsivity, in the best sense of that word, that flows out of good songwriters. Feeling the need to endlessly rewrite your songs may serve to kill the positive attributes of spontaneous artistic creation.

      I tend to side with Peter’s comment on this, which is to think of a good song as being the result of an evolution. But just to reiterate, that’s only really true as long as rewriting doesn’t keep you from writing new music.

      Thanks very much for your comment,

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