How to Start: The Hardest Part of Songwriting

Songwriting isn’t easy, and one of the most difficult parts of the process is starting. One could argue that activities like writing, art, music, exercise, etc. can sometimes feel like more work than fun. Songwriting requires a lot more effort than simply tuning into Netflix, but I definitely think the former is much more satisfying.

That being said, starting can still be tough. You might be incredibly busy or exhausted, and songwriting might just not be on your radar at the end of the day. You might be struggling to get through a period of writer’s block. If you’re looking to write your first song, it’s probably better to start here. Otherwise, the best way to improve your music is to just write the next song, so here are some ideas to get started.

Don’t start writing

Yes. Actually. If writing a song seems entirely too exhausting, don’t write a song. Find a song you love and practice it on your instrument. Practice your own songs again, do some editing and play them through. You might find your way to a new song, and if you don’t, then you’ve taken a step towards it anyway.

Tell yourself you’re only going to write a little bit

Sometimes you need to trick your brain. If you tell yourself you’re just going to figure out the chords or just write one section, you’ll probably find yourself writing a lot more.

Write a bad song

Everyone, even professional songwriters, write bad songs from time to time. If you have difficulty songwriting because you’re feeling some anxiety about writing a bad song, give yourself permission to do that. It can really get the juices flowing, and if you end up liking the song you wrote, you can always edit out the bad parts later.

Make it a time for brainstorming or do a songwriting exercise

Maybe you’re just stumped for ideas—what do you even write about, anyway? This could be a good time to just brainstorm instead of actually crafting a song. Listen to some music, analyze a song, write down some interesting titles or song concepts, fiddle around on your instrument or read some poetry. You could even do some songwriting exercises. This really takes the pressure off to start writing music again.

Do some journaling instead

Do you write songs from the heart? Do you, at times, stare at the blank page, knowing you want to write a song but not being able to put it down? You can switch gears to some journaling instead. Do some self-reflection, figure out what you’ve been thinking about lately and get those thoughts down in an entirely unstructured way. This could open your creative mind to get to writing what you really want to write about.

Set an alarm on your phone

Perhaps the reason you’re having trouble starting to write is because you don’t have a designated time for it. Sometimes, even if it’s on my calendar, it’s far too easy to just ignore it and continue on with something else. I find setting a phone alarm is helpful to prompt me into writing. I can set it to certain days and times that work for me or even snooze it if I need a few extra minutes to grab some tea.

Set a timer when you start

Likewise, you could also set a timer for your writing time. That can easily trick the brain into thinking, “Oh, it’s just half an hour of writing. I can do that.” For some, that’s the only time you can carve out of your day/week for songwriting. That’s okay.

Block all social media websites, turn off notifications or turn off the Wi-Fi

This is a biggie for some of us. All those little distractions can be difficult for us, and even though we might need a rhyming dictionary (I recommend this book version). Personally, I find the quiet really helps me get into the zone for writing.

Co-Write

Have you tried co-writing? It can be intimidating at first, but if you write with another songwriter, it not only keeps you accountable for a time to write, but you’ll find that it’s actually quite fun. You might have to write with a few people before you find someone you like to write with, but it’s definitely worth it.

Your why-power

This is the real answer to work through songwriting blocks (though the rest of the tips here do help). Writing out of sheer will-power is incredibly hard because we only have a finite amount of it. You might use it in other ways throughout the day and find you’re out of will-power by the time you want to write a song. What you really need is why-power.

You may have heard of why-power already. Basically, when I’m really in the rut of a writer’s block, I have to ask myself why I write in the first place. Why-power works because it makes you want to write above all of the other things you could be doing.

Personally, when I’m really struggling to write music, I have to find my love for the craft of songwriting again, since that’s usually my reason to write songs. I have to consciously listen to music in my spare time and gear my mind towards writing. If I’m not noticing songwriting techniques or thinking, “That thing you just said could be a great song idea,” on a daily basis, I’m probably not writing very often.

That’s what it’s all about: starting the songwriting process before the first word ever hits the page.

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