Do you ever sit down to write a song but find your motivation disappear as soon as you begin?
You start playing chords or singing bits of melody and all of it sounds so boring. It’s the dreaded moment: your inspiration is gone.
But don’t just wait around for inspiration to strike!
A consistent practice is the best way to create inspiration and take control of your songwriting. And the best part is: it can completely replace waiting around for the “muse”.
So let’s look at three aspects of developing a consistent songwriting practice:
- Establish a predictable routine to reliably write music.
- Focus on the long game.
- Do one thing at a time.
Establish a songwriting routine.
The best way to write songs on a regular basis is to establish a routine, ideally a daily one. If that’s easier said than done, you can start with a simple goal. Choose a time that works best for you and commit to writing just 15 minutes a day at that time.
At first, the point is not really the music. It’s about building the habit. This habit can serve as a foundation for a lifetime of songwriting.
You can spend the first 10 minutes improvising a new part. Then spend the last 5 minutes recording what you came up with and writing down the chord progressions in a notebook. The next day, you can either start from scratch, or you can go back to yesterday’s chord progressions and build from there.
The magic of setting a shorter time goal is that it’s mentally easier to start. But once you get going, you’ll often get into the flow and keep writing.
So set a goal of 15 minutes a day, but let yourself go over.
Whether you’re sitting with an instrument or programming a DAW, writing music takes you out of the normal rhythm of life. Transporting yourself out of that normal rhythm is sometimes all you need to get inspired.
But the real goal is to write songs, not to feel inspired. And if you want to write songs on a regular basis, you can’t just focus on immediate results.
Play the long game.
One of the worst ideas for a songwriter is to set out to write a great song.
“Wait,” you say. “Writing great songs is why I got into this. Why wouldn’t I set out to write them?”
Because you’re setting yourself up for failure, over and over again. If you keep failing, you’ll probably quit.
And if you quit, you’ll never write a great song!
So yeah, if you want to write great songs, the worst thing you can do when sitting down to write is to make that your goal. Even the best songwriters in history didn’t write great songs most of the time.
Think of it like this: great songs will emerge over time, often when you least expect it. Instead of aiming to write a great song, aim to create the conditions for great songs to emerge.
This is called playing the long game.
Let’s say that only 10% of the songs you write are ones you’ll really like. That means to write 5 good songs, you have to write 50 songs.
But writing 45 songs you don’t really like sounds kind of… uninspiring.
What we need is a way to turn writing each of these songs into a more immediate success.
Do one thing at a time.
If you sit down to write a great song, you will probably fail, no matter how good you are. But if you sit down to write a song with four chords, regardless of how good it is, you’re virtually guaranteed to succeed.
If you do one thing at a time, you’ll be less focused on how good your songs are. Instead, you’ll be focused on exploring, learning new things, seeing how new ideas and combinations sound, and developing your skills and vocabulary.
You’ll be building a songwriting practice.
Let’s say you try to write a song in the Dorian mode. You look up some distinctive chords for that mode and start experimenting with ideas for a melody.
Eventually, you’ll come up with something. And if you haven’t written in the Dorian mode before, it will sound different from anything you’ve ever written!
That’s interesting, even if the song doesn’t end up on your list of favorites.
It’s something worth recording and listening to later. And there’s a chance that at least one idea in the song will be worth revisting in the future.
You just added a song to your backlog.
Keep a backlog
The backlog is another goal that doesn’t depend on inspiration. If you record every song idea you have, then you build a backlog of experiments.
You can use this to hear your development as a songwriter, but you can also use it to mine for ideas.
Let’s say you’re dealing with writer’s block. You can always go through your backlog and find a part to develop further.
Grab a verse from one of your old songs and try to write a new chorus. Change the lyrics. Keep the chords but change the melody.
The possibilities go on and on.
You can download my free songwriting cheat sheet for more suggestions about what you can focus on besides “writing a great song”.
A songwriting practice is more important than inspiration
Rather than wait for inspiration, take action to develop a songwriting practice. Over time, this will become a part of your life, something you just do.
And when you do it, you’ll often find yourself feeling inspired.
But even when you don’t feel inspired, you’ll be writing and recording new ideas.
Everyone’s songwriting practice is different, and that’s part of the fun. Not only will you explore different song ideas, but over time, you’ll develop your own unique methods for writing songs.