FINISH IT. The purpose of practicing is to get better, and one of the best ways to do that is by finishing your projects.
The TOOLBOX is where you'll do just that.
I wouldn’t call it a formula - the songwriting process is so varied that I wouldn’t trust such a thing. This is a guided process to gather your thoughts and give it all a bit of structure. And while it might be the basic foundation, how you decorate and remodel the place is completely up to you.
Let’s go through the steps…
WORKING THROUGH AN IDEA:
Overview: Freewrite to gather your thoughts, pull those ideas into a mind map, then create the basic outline. You can start this process on day one, or in a flurry of inspiration on day 28,29...just so long as you complete it.
We start off by giving ourselves a good two pages of free-writing space to think through the idea. Throughout the month we’ll be collecting song starters on page 58, so if you don’t have an idea at the top of your mind take a look through those and choose one that jumps out to you.
DRAW UP THE PLANS:
I love a good mind map. Take those ideas that are percolating in the free-write and branch them off in all sorts of different directions. Try to keep your associations as free as possible and not pressure yourself into one direction or another. Some of the best ideas come from errant thoughts and “accidents.”
Looking through ideas, once you feel like you have some solid options move them on into the outline. If you need more time and space to work there’s a whole section of free pages on pages 48-57.
Think back to the TAKE IT APART exercise. After several weeks did you find a song structure you’d like to try? This page starts off with the typical pop/rock BUT can be modified however your song wants to come out, You’ll see there isn’t a ton of room here. The point is to stay broad instead of getting into the details.
I’ve listed a variety of different song structures to try out if you’re not sure where to start, but honestly don’t worry too much about it at this point. It’s best to let your ideas come out without the pressure to get it “right.”
TAKE IT TO THE BANK:
THE WORD, RHYME, AND FIGURATIVE WORD BANKSWith a basic idea in place, pages 40-45 are all about finding the right words.
Fill in the details.
The word bank is a place to gather up all the themes and imagery from the last couple of pages and create a big ol’ list of options so that you can have an abundance of choices when you’re writing out the final lyrics.
The first page deals with synonyms. I find it most enjoyable to leaf through the pages of a big heavy Roget’s Thesaurus and just go to town filling in the whole page. There’s additional space on page 44 if you’re on a roll. If you’re not in the mood or in a space to be lugging around a large book, there are some really amazing online resources such as the Power Thesaurus, One Look Thesaurus, and Visuwords.
The second page is all about sensory connections. Words that might not show up in a thesaurus because they are not directly related to the theme, but ones that share a common characteristic. Think through the five senses when you pick a word and ask yourself “what else is like that?” What else is ‘painful’ to listen to? Why...children singing of course.
The rhyme bank is where you can build up a whole slew of words to choose from when you’re finally ready to write. At the same time, I often find the process revealing options that I hadn’t thought of before. A word that doesn’t connect in any other way other than the rhyme might bring a whole new meaning to your story and branch off into a direction you didn’t think of before. Let this process be fluid. You don’t have to fill out the whole section right now. Sitting down to write the full lyrics you’ll often need to come back and explore different rhyme options for a new idea.
The final tool in the box, use this familiar exercise from the weekly exercises to pull out a few metaphors and inspiration using the words you’ve pulled out of the previous banks.
SONG OF THE MONTH:
We’ve created an outline, filled our pages with rhymes and inspiration for where we can take the song, now it’s time to give it a shot. It might seem overwhelming at first, but try to forget about that little voice in your head afraid of imperfections. If it helps to bring a little humor into the equation, try writing a really terrible song on purpose. Just make sure you finish it.
There’s a story in Art and Fear about a pottery teacher who starts the first class by dividing the students into two groups. One group will be graded solely on the quantity of their work. The more work created, the better the grade. The other group is graded solely on the quality of the work. Create one single beautiful piece of pottery and you’ll be graded accordingly.
Can you guess which group of students created the better work by the end of the class?
The quality kids spent the whole semester waxing poetic about what it meant to create the perfect piece while the other group was constantly churning out work, getting better and better at their craft and allowing themselves to take risks.
All of this is of course assuming you still care about your work. You're not going to get better by writing a grocery list every day, but try and stay away from becoming a quality kid. You’ll end up over-cautious about each syllable and never finish a single thing.
You’ll get better faster by writing a new song every month. Perfectionism will kill creativity, so turn your practice into a project. With every new song, your best will get better.