Songwriting is most definitely a skill. In time, you will come up with many of your own tricks, tools and guidelines. My “three rules of thumb” have proven to be my most valuable tools when it comes to the art of writing songs. Here they are!
Before I explain my three rules of thumb, I’d like to say that these were developed over time, after much trial and error on my part. They have saved me much time and frustration. It has transformed my songwriting into an easy process that works well for me.
Rule number one – Write it down
Even if you’re not in love with your idea or word, write it down anyway. It is so much easier to work with “something!” than “nothing!” A blank piece of paper, can be very intimidating, particularly for the new writer. It doesn’t have to be a great idea to get you started — just write it down!
And don’t wait until very long into your session either. Just write it down and start working it. Many a bad line has led to a good one. It gets you started! And that’s worth more than you can imagine! Ask anyone who has experienced writer’s block.
Rule number two – Don’t move on if you don’t like it
Once I have got something to work with “on paper, ” then I apply the second rule. It is important to note “once I have something on paper,” otherwise you may never get anywhere.
So, once I have something written down, I don’t move on to the next word, line, chord or whatever form I’m working, if I “dislike” what I wrote. I don’t have to like it, particularly, or think it’s the best I have ever written, I just have to not “dislike” it. Chances are if you dislike something right from the beginning, your feelings are not going to change.
So to restate, if I don’t “dislike” what I wrote, then I move on.
If, however, I do “dislike” what I wrote, then I stay there and work alternatives until I find something that I don’t “dislike” before moving on to rule number three.
Rule number three – Never change what’s on paper unless it’s absolutely, without a doubt, better
This one has saved me a great deal of time. When I first started out I was always changing and never finishing what I was working on. So in order to stop all that inner struggle (and remembering that basically anything can work, if you work it) stick with your original idea and move on unless you are absolutely sold that a new idea is better.
Now, if I’m not satisfied with what I’ve got down on paper and I’m undecided about a new idea, I do what I call “trying it on” for awhile. I still don’t change what I wrote on paper, but I make a rough note in the margin, to remember my new idea. Then for the next while, every time I play my song, or that section, I’ll play this new idea and see how I like it. (And so while you’re trying on this new idea, for a few days, a week, whatever — you move on in writing your song.)
I stand firm, I do not change my written record unless I am sold on a new idea being better. Sometimes I end up liking the new way and I’m sold and other times, I just rub out my notes and concede that it’s not better and that’s the rule. I stick with my original idea.
These rules can speed up your process tremendously
After I developed these three rules, indecision was a thing of the past. You know when you love an idea. These three rules sped up my writing tremendously. I also found that many ideas worked that didn’t seem to at first.
Each rule is vital. As I saw the value in them, I never wavered and now always follow them to the letter.
Benefits of the three rules
The benefit of the three rules are this. Rule number one gets you started. Each rule is as important as the other. They work together. Rule number two and three are of no value if you have nothing to work with.
Rule number two eliminates those bits in your songs that always bug you! I had so many songs I loved but in each one was something I didn’t like — something I never liked from the beginning. It does a lot for your performance if you work out those little glitches in your writing. If you feel deep down inside that you are totally satisfied with your writing, that you worked through anything that felt off or bad, you can perform your song with so much more conviction and confidence. It’s not about what the audience will accept — it’s about what you will accept!
Rule number three saved me endless hours! Oh my. I can’t stress this enough! I don’t think I’m the only one that kept changing and rearranging my songs endlessly. Every idea, whether it’s a real good one or not, still needs to be worked out. So that means every time you rewrite, you are, in essence — going right back to square one!
So those are my three rules of thumb for writing songs. Songwriting can be a very fulfilling experience and gets even more enjoyable as you improve with time. As you find your way, I’m sure that you’ll come up with some great rules of your own.