Songwriting - speed writing

A Speedwriting Exercise for Songwriters

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If you’re a celebrator of Christmas, you’ve reached that time of year when it’s difficult — maybe even impossible — to find time to do any serious songwriting. Even though most of us are still in a situation where we must keep our numbers of visitors to a minimum, the holiday season has a way of demanding our attention and making songwriting hard to find time for.

But there’s one activity that’s still possible to do well during these busy days, and it’s speedwriting. Actually any time of the year is a good time for speedwriting, because writing quickly has so many benefits. Mainly, it allows you to write without giving your inner critic time to respond.

There are lots of ways to do speedwriting, but to make it fun, try this method:

  1. Set your timer for five minutes, but don’t press “Start” yet.
  2. Grab a book from your shelf, or go to some random website.
  3. Open the book somewhere in the middle, or scroll down on the website until you’re somewhere in the middle of the page.
  4. Read the first sentence that jumps out at you. (Don’t go looking for a “good one”!)
  5. Either use the sentence as something that will appear in your song, or use at least one noun from that sentence — a noun that will figure prominently in your song.
  6. Press “Start” on your timer, and start writing!

You get five minutes to come up with something that sounds like a coherent song. Don’t pressure yourself; in five minutes you’ll possibly have the semblance of something that sounds vaguely like a reasonable song, or you’ve got something that’s laughably unusable.

The benefit is twofold. First, your creative mind benefits from writing quickly, and the more you do it, the better you become.

And second, during these days when free time to write is at a premium, you’ll get a shot of inspiration from knowing that you were able to write something quickly even though you thought you’d have no time to write.

There’s a great video online of Stevie Wonder making up a song on the spur of the moment. He was supposed to sing a tribute to Motown CEO Jheryl Busby, but his keyboard wasn’t working. The song he made up is wonderful, and hats off to his band who played right along.

If you do this improv game, please feel free to post a link to your song below in the comments.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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