When I’m sleepy, probably the last thing I want to do is write a song. As much as I love writing, I can admit that it requires a lot of effort and brainpower. Like most things worth doing, songwriting can get pretty difficult when your focus has to be squeezing a story into short lines and a time of three and a half minutes.
Furthermore, writing songs when feeling exhausted can make the process even more difficult than it has to be. I might not be able to think clearly enough to have coherent ideas, much less express them coherently on the page. Coming up with new ideas might be almost impossible.
This tip is going to help the overthinkers (like me!). It’s easy to throw in the towel and go to bed instead of writing, but I also know starting can be the hardest part. There are two important reasons why I will push through and write anyway.
1. I am always tired
The sad part about being an adult is that I’m in a permanently tired state of mind. Most of us have to balance a job, cooking, chores, exercise and time with our family and/or friends, all in one day. Even if you’re able to have time for writing earlier in the day, you might still feel drained. Songwriting might consist of a lot of self-reflection, and I might not be alone when I’m staring at a blank page and think the only thing I feel is tired.
Fact is, I can use being sleepy as an excuse to not write—and I do.
2. The inner critic is tired
There are people who swear not to learn too much about songwriting because it makes them hate the process. I, on the other hand, can’t help but analyze every song I hear, read songwriting books, take courses and learn every single thing I can on the subject. I absolutely love learning, but unfortunately, the inner critic always comes out to play when I write music. It definitely hinders how quickly I write and can feel discouraging at times.
But when I’m sleepy, the inner critic is sleepy, too.
So here remains the question: how do I write when I’m sleepy? How do I make a sleepy songwriting session a successful one?
First thing’s first: don’t be too sleepy. I shouldn’t feel the exhaustion in my bones when I sit down to write (although, if you really want to, who’s to say you can’t?). This should be the kind of sleepy that I feel when I would normally sit down to read a book or watch television. I might want a little tea to get me in the mood. I’m tired, but I’m awake for at least hour or two.
Next, I probably wouldn’t want to start with a blank slate. Hopefully you also have a place where you store all your songwriting ideas you want to write one day. I will take one of those and go with it. On the other hand, perhaps this is a good time to start a new idea because I won’t overthink it. I would start with a small idea and build it.
Even when I’m sleepy, I can get frustrated because I know my writing isn’t as good as I want it to be. But being tired also means I can give myself an excuse to say, “Okay, I know it’s not great, but it expresses the idea and I can change it later when I’m editing.” It’s okay if your rhymes suck. Use filler lines and get it done.
In fact, getting it done is a great motivator at this time. Often the sleepiness fades, but if it doesn’t, I can tell myself, “I can sleep as soon as this is done.” You don’t even have to write an entire song; a section or two is a great start. If I end up writing a section or two, I feel pretty satisfied by the time I get to bed.
And just to reiterate; ninety-nine percent of the time, after I’ve sat down to write, the exhaustion actually does fade. At least, I might be distracted away from it. It can take a lot of will-power, but if I sit down and keep at it for at least ten to fifteen minutes, I get into the zone and I’m not thinking about feeling tired anymore.
Lastly, I don’t write for too long. It can be easy to keep going for hours once I get started, but I’m not the type of person who can function on less sleep. I have to cut the session short and get to bed on time. This works out because I try to write just a little bit every day, even if I’m working on the same song for a while. I try to remember that songwriting is a practice, and just like sports, not every practice will go as planned each day.
If you have a tendency to get stuck, overthink or unable to finish songs, I would really consider trying this method. It doesn’t work for everyone, but for me, it allows me to write how I actually feel and what I’m really thinking about. I can be honest with my writing, and most important, I write the next song and learn from the process.