Piano and pocket watch

Creating a Songwriting Deadline as a Way to Get Creative

You’ve probably heard of Parkinson’s Law, which says that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. In short, if you’ve got a task to do, and it should normally take one hour to complete it, but you’ve got three hours to use, you’ll find that it will take three hours to get the job done.

I’ve seen Parkinson’s Law in full view in the world of amateur music making, particularly with community concert bands and choirs. Many of you reading this post belong to the kinds of groups I’m talking about.

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Most of these groups will start rehearsals in early fall, aiming to do a public concert in early December, giving them twelve or thirteen rehearsals — up to twenty-six hours — to get the music ready. And sure enough, you’ll find that it usually takes every one of those twenty-six hours to finally get the music in some kind of shape to present to an audience!

But I’ve also had the experience of running weekend “festivals” for bands and choirs, where the aim is to start rehearsing on a Friday evening, have a couple of rehearsals on the Saturday, a quick touch-up rehearsal on the Sunday morning, and then a Sunday afternoon or evening concert, presenting almost the same amount of music!

And the surprising bit is this: the music winds up sounding about as much prepared and polished with about one-quarter of the rehearsal time, Parkinson’s Law being in full evidence!

Using Parkinson’s Law In Your Songwriting

When you look at Parkinson’s Law that way, it’s not very complimentary. But there is a way, I believe, to use Parkinson’s Law to your advantage as a songwriter, in a much more positive way, and it works like this: set yourself a realistic songwriting deadline, and it will often ensure that you get your songs written in a timely fashion.

Most of the time, you don’t have a deadline in place when it comes to songwriting. You’ll start working on a song, and, to put it simply, it’s done when it’s done. The problem is, if you have no hard-and-fast deadline, you could continue working on a song for weeks, months or even years.

That’s the negative side of Parkinson’s Law: an enormously long time frame that you’re determined to fill! So try something more positive: set yourself a reasonable, shorter deadline, and determine you’re going to finish the song within that time frame.

It’s not possible for me to say what that deadline should be for you. Assuming you’d be trying this because you’re a notoriously slow songwriter, you’ll want to push yourself a bit and finish a song a little sooner than you’d normally finish it.

There are other ways to speed up your normal completion time for songs. Partnering up with another songwriter might work, and definitely doing a music collaboration, where you provide the songs for, say, someone else’s film project, is a great way to create incentive to get the songs written.

There are all sorts of reasons you might want to speed your songwriting up, but the main one would be that you’ll be able to write more songs in any given year, and that’s always going to be a good thing.

Using Parkinson’s Law in the way I’ve described may feel a bit stressful at first, but you’ll find that you’ll generally feel more organized, creative and successful. Creating a short but reasonable deadline will make you feel that you’re writing some of the best songs of your life.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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