Are you writing a song a week? Do you want to be a songwriter? Here’s why you need to be writing every week.
I am going to preface this by saying it took me five years to get to the steady consistency of writing a song a week. I spent years, on again, off again, shelving my time into meticulous schedules, struggling to complete one song each week. Hours stacked on hours, and I would rake through my brain, searching for every last idea, story, and melody that I could spin into a golden song (fool's gold mostly)! After years of etching ideas into notebooks, twisting them into songs, and flooding sheets of paper, my decent writing began to shift into good writing. Then, after crafting hundreds of songs, writing for over a decade, and receiving a degree in music, I became a better songwriter.
So, you ask, why would I write a song a week? Maybe you even protest: It’s best to write when inspiration calls! Here are some reasons why consistency is a key component to improving your songwriting skills.
1. You Will Get Better
I stumbled upon this Ira Glass quote in high school, which became a building block for my philosophy on why songwriters need to complete a song a week:
“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it's normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take a while. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.” - Ira Glass
Plaster this quote on the back of your notebook’s cover page, as I once did, let it drive you to write more. In my courses with Pat Pattison he said the following:
"90% of everything you write isn't your best 10%. Your job is to fill your 90%. The more you have, the better your 10% will be." - Pat Pattison
"Don't be afraid to write crap. It's the best fertilizer, so the more crap you write, the more likely something magnificent will grow" - Pat Pattison
Embrace that not all of your work will be great; use it to get better! Grow your garden of songs.
2. Quantity Leads to Quality
In the book Art and Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland discuss a study conducted on quantity vs. quality in creative work. This reference helped me solidify my reasoning for writing a song a week as an ideal songwriting strategy. The study split participants into two groups. The first group was judged on their ability to produce one incredible piece of pottery. The second was graded on their ability to create a large quantity of work. The group that was prompted to create as many pieces as possible ended up with better production; they learned from their mistakes. I took this straight to heart and to my notebooks and decided to use this as a part of my songwriting growth strategy. I stoped focusing on perfection and began writing a lot of songs, and it worked!
“You become a writer by writing, there is no better way. So do it. Do it more. Do it better. Fail. Fail better” - Margaret Atwood
3. Build Your Songwriting Muscles, Literally
Let's talk about psychology! When you practice anything, from sports to music, the myelin in your brain changes, it develops new layers; you can literally building your writing skills! Daniel Coyle discusses this in his book The Talent Code.
In John Medina’s book Brain Rules, he shares similar ideas in his chapter on wiring. Our brains rewire every time we learn something. When we learn, the neurons in our brains physically rearrange themselves; some of them split off, breaking apart, grouping in certain areas. Others stay put, strengthening. Our brains do this every time we learn something. As John Medina puts it:
“The brain acts like a muscle: The more activity you do, the larger and more complex it can become.” - John Medina
This is incredibly important for learning; the more you write songs, the stronger your songwriting ‘muscles’ will be!
Now that I’ve been involved with the song a week challenge for over 5 years it’s become a habit. Occasionally, when I fall sick or find myself drowning in a week of exams, I will go a week or two without writing a song. But ever since it became a part of my routine, it has felt weird to go that long without writing.
4. Writer's Block Does Not Exist: It is No Excuse!
Many writers are perfectionists. This is great, sometimes, and even necessary from an editing standpoint. But too many writers get caught up in writer's block. Here’s a little secret for you: writer's block does not exist unless you let it.
Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, draws the parallel between perfectionism in writing and cramping muscles. Tense muscles are difficult to conduct at first, but once we start moving them, the struggle begins to creep away. The same goes for writing.
"I no longer think of it as block. I think that is looking at the problem from the wrong angle... The word block suggests that you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you're empty." - Anne Lamott
If you are really stumped, begin by making a list, write down everything you did yesterday, or this morning, or your plan for tomorrow. This will immediately break your staring contest with a blank page and likely spark other ideas and thoughts.
5. If You’re Not Doing it Someone Else is
So, none of these points were strong enough to get you writing a song a week? Here’s my last sentiment: if you aren’t doing it, someone else is. The best writers are doing it, as are the mediocre ones who will one day become the most skilled songwriters in the world. If you want to be a competitive songwriter, you’re going to have fierce competition, folks who dedicate their entire lives to crafting songs. If you aren’t up to the task of writing at least one song a week, it's going to be difficult to match that talent.
A Few Things to Remember:
- It takes time, years, to get a steady consistency. I started writing a song a week for a summer, and I slipped a few times. The next year I set out to write 52 songs and fell short by just 7 songs. It wasn’t until the following year that I not only wrote a song a week but completed 82 songs in a year!
- Let one goal and accomplishment lead you to another. When I first met my song a week challenge and completed over 52 songs in one year, that became just the beginning. I formed new goals. The next goal was to write 100 songs a year (which I thought was absurd, unnecessary even, but I needed to try), I met that goal in 2019.
- Try not to get caught up with perfectionism. Remember that 90% of your work will be crap; keep piling it up until you have enough to act as fertilizer for the 10% of your work that will be good!