When I first started writing songs, I wrote one song at a time until it was finished. This process was so delicate for me that I convinced myself that I had to write the entire song in one sitting or it would be forgotten forever. As a result, my writing sessions were sporadic bursts, going on for hours and hours, then never picking up the pen again for weeks.
This worked well for me when I was in high school and bored on summer vacation. It even worked in college because I had to write songs for assignments. Unfortunately, after graduating, this songwriting process led me to many dry months and I ended up writing just two or three songs for an entire year. That continued for the first few years after starting to work full-time.
Last year, I wrote thirty-one songs.
This year, I’ve already written twenty-five songs, and we’re only halfway through 2021.
Fact of the matter is, I don’t have the time to hammer out a song in one day. Even if I did have time, I simply don’t have the creative energy. The more you learn about the craft, the more difficult songwriting can become (which is why so many people don’t believe in actually learning songwriting). But if I don’t continue learning, I won’t grow as a writer and I won’t feel very inspired.
It is hard to crank out a great song all in one day, though that still happens sometimes. I stumbled into my solution by accident: I started writing multiple songs at once.
Although this was also because I started co-writing, writing just two songs at once gave me a sense of freedom. I could focus on just one or two sections of a song and come back the next day and write more. Nothing had to be perfect. The pressure was off.
Here is what writing multiple songs at once looks like for me.
1. Sitting down to write for thirty minutes to an hour a day, max.
This part of writing really is about showing up. I’m rarely hit by “the muse,” and inspiration is a fickle thing. If I sit down for a little while each day (thirty minutes is nothing!), then creative ideas start to flow a little easier.
2. Opening up my notebook or song folder and just playing through old songs, practicing and seeing if little edits are needed.
Keeping all my songs in one place and playing through a few of them is a great thing to do on those days when you can’t just jump into writing. Sometimes a little editing gives you ideas for new songs, maybe by stealing a line from an old song that didn’t fit. It also might wake up your brain when you start your sessions.
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3. Playing one half-finished song and seeing if I can think of another verse, or if the melody needs improving, etc.
This method will give you unfinished songs — although, let’s be honest, don’t all songwriters have songs with a few cobwebs? When you come to an unfinished song and it’s missing a section, you can turn your focus to just that section instead of having your attention on the entire song.
Note: make sure you’re recording your unfinished songs in a way that’s easy to find in case you forget how they sound!
4. Hitting a roadblock in one half-finished song, so I open another and play around.
Maybe I’ll open another song. Sometimes I hit inspiration at this point and just finish the whole song.
The best part of writing multiple songs at once is that if I hit roadblocks, I just work on another song. And another. Maybe that day of writing is just little edits on a few songs, which is still great progress.
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5. Sometimes I do a songwriting exercise. Sometimes I just play around on my instrument and enjoy myself.
If I want to start a new song, I still have time in between working on older drafts and trying a songwriting exercise to get myself started. There are days when my songwriting sessions just become times when I play around on my guitar. Experimentation is important, too.
Although writing multiple songs at once might look different for you, I believe the benefits will be very similar. The most beneficial part of this was definitely the change in mindset. If nothing worked out today, at least I tried to write, and I could come back tomorrow.
This might not be a goal for you, but writing more songs felt great. I feel I have an easier time sorting what I do write into the release pile, the pitch pile, etc. Sometimes the pleasure of songwriting comes not in the duration, but having written.
Not only do I feel I’ve expressed myself more, there is less pressure on the music I do write. I don’t have to release every single song I’ve written. I might write a song and think, “No one else is ever going to hear this, but that’s okay. I still love this song, just for me.”
Another bonus: usually I stumble upon a new song idea because I’ve made the space for songwriting. It might be a lyrical idea, a riff, an interesting chord progression — I write it down, record it in an iPhone memo, etc. By showing up, I have invited in these new ideas.
My goal is not to write so mechanically that the process becomes stressful. Perhaps this doesn’t work for commissioned work or work-for-hires, but I have really begun to enjoy a songwriting process that isn’t always so inviting. If that’s your goal, give this a try — it may surprise you!
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