Good songwriting is always a process of tossing some ideas, and keeping others.
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At the end of yesterday’s post on writing songs by starting with chords, I mentioned that “temporary frustrations can be part of the process.” Frustration, anxiety, dissatisfaction… they’re usually part of songwriting no matter how good you are. And not to get corny about it, you may need to embrace dissatisfaction and accept it as part of songwriting in order to get better at it.
Any creative process, whether that’s writing a song, choreographing a dance, or painting a landscape, always means adding something to the existing piece and seeing how it fits. For songwriters, that means every time you add a line of lyric, a phrase of melody, or a new chord, you immediately assess it and decide if it’s partnering well with everything else.
When you’re in the groove, you keep more than you toss. But the norm is that you’ll toss more ideas than you keep as you work. Every time you throw out something, you can feel a bit negative.
But it’s crucial to consider that songwriting and dissatisfaction are important partners in creating good music. Dissatisfaction is not a bad thing. It means that you are a perceptive songwriter who knows what’s good, even if it takes you a few tries to find it.
So this is normal and to be expected:
But it’s during the tossing phase that we can allow all sorts of fears and negativity affect us. A fear of failure is the most common first stage of a bout with writer’s block. That fear of failure makes you wonder if you’re impossibly stuck, and wonder if you’ll ever get the song finished. Then it becomes the proverbial self-fulfilling prophecy:
True enough, if you find yourself spending an entire session with nothing concrete to show for your efforts at the end, it’s easy to get negative. But at those times, it’s best to employ the philosophy famously espoused by American inventor Thomas Edison:
Negative results are just what I want. They’re just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.
So if you find it easy to get down on yourself when good songwriting ideas are hard to come by, try the following:
- Take breaks. There is no such thing as a songwriting session that’s too short. There are sessions that go on too long.
- Accept tossing ideas as normal. Throwing out bits of lyrics, melody or chord progressions as you work is a normal and important part of assembling a good song.
- Have two or more songs on the go at any one time. Moving back and forth from one unfinished song to another is a great way to keep frustration at bay.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter. “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle looks at songwriting from every angle, and has been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics. (And you’ll receive a FREE copy of “From Amateur to Ace: Writing Songs Like a Pro.“)