After multiple weeks of daily writing, you might be feeling some burn-out. Alternatively, you might feel ideas raging like wildfire. Either way, continue the process of writing each day, limiting your time to just 30 to 40 minutes. This limitation helps create a no-excuse mentality, and I personally find it comforting to know that I don’t have to invest several hours of my day in order to do my part in allowing ideas to flow. Here are some additional exercises to engage your muse.
Day 16: Recycle What You Read
Pick up a short story, memoir, or novel, and read the first few pages. Jot down every interesting phrase that could be a title. Look for phrases that have tangible nouns in them. Tangible nouns bring a more sensory, concrete quality to the language, and are unlike many of the titles we choose when we’re simply brainstorming for song ideas. Give yourself 30 minutes and then choose one title to brainstorm around. If you must, let lyric ideas come out. But don’t get sidetracked with writing rhymes. Instead, jot down rough ideas in response to the bolts of inspiration you might be feeling.
Day 17: Free-Write over a Loop
Take a drum track in Logic, GarageBand, or grab one from YouTube and journal or stream-of-consciousness write over it. Key into the mood of the track, jotting down images, smells, tastes, sounds, and anything else that comes to mind. Limit yourself to just 30 minutes with your writer’s cap on before allowing yourself to move over into building a production or guitar riffs.
Day 18: Reach out to a Collaborator
Consider local instrumentalists, poets, screen writers, guitar or piano teachers or students, short story writers, or anyone else you think might be open to spending an afternoon writing with you. Think of producers you may know in your area, or folks teaching or attending courses at a university or community college. Imagine your goal is to contribute something of value, and you’re inviting another to participate in that journey. Who would you approach? Make a list of people, and send a few emails or make a few calls. There’s nothing to lose here, only to gain. You’ve already got plenty of song ideas to take to the meeting from the last 17 days of writing.
Day 19: Write Happy
Write a verse and a chorus of a song that celebrates a happy, content, or hopeful feeling. Try to avoid dramatic, gloomy, or complicated dark feelings, particularly if your typical songwriting involves these characteristics. Start by choosing a perky tempo with your metronome, or stealing a groove from another light-hearted song. Then, make up two melodic hooks or motifs: one for the verse, and one for the chorus. Repeat these motifs often within each section, anchoring your melodic theme on just those two ideas. If you’re getting hung up on a cliché lyric, tell your internal judge that it’s not time to edit yet. Allow the cliché lines to sit on the page, not dwelling on them, but simply moving past them. Decide on a title from one of your lyric ideas, allowing the whole process to take no more than 45 minutes.
Day 20: Adopt a Process That Works
If I could, I’d only write when inspired. But the fact is, I’m not inspired with any predictability. So I use process to become more prolific and practiced. We songwriters approach songwriting from different starting points, so it’s natural to adopt a process and then find we need to tweak it to fit our style. I recommend choosing a two-week period in your schedule and blocking off about 40 minutes each day to establish a few good habits. Here is how my process looks each day as I work on songs in progress, and make space for generating new song ideas as well:
A. 5 Minutes of Lyric Free-Writing
Think Object Writing or Destination Writing. If you’re not familiar with those brainstorming tools, check out my Berklee Online videos on sensory writing. You’ll be brainstorming tons of ideas each day as you employ stream-of-consciousness writing into your process).
B. 15 Minutes of Music Writing with or without My Instrument
I push record, and I play. Instead of worrying about getting just the right groove or melody, I simply try to enjoy the music I’m playing and singing. I try different grooves, moods, tempos, and vocal ranges. I try short punchy notes, and long legato notes. I try melodies with lots of rest space over a descending chord progression, and a moving melody over a static chord. I try anything that comes to mind, recording all of it to listen back later and choose what I like best.
C. 30 Minutes of Songwriting
Whenever possible, I resist the urge to start actually writing this new song or songs that might be surfacing. Instead, I bring out a song or songs I’ve been developing, and try to move them a little further with fresh eyes. As soon as I feel the inspiration leave, I flip over to another unfinished idea. I always have several songs in the works at once, making no particular song precious. If I find a new direction, I follow it, letting this part of the process extend to several hours if I’ve got the time to spend.
D. 5 minutes of New Lyric Free-Writing
To end the writing session, I’ll open up a new screen on my computer, and start free-writing on another idea. This helps me to resurface from my songwriting, affirming to myself that I’ve got many more ideas than those I’ve been trying to develop.
I hope you’ve enjoyed some of the daily writing activities suggested in this blog. If you find a process that works for you, use it. When that process stops working, change it. The more flexible and willing to engage in new habits each day, the more we get out of our artistic way. In a little corner of LA beneath a light layer of smog and close to the ocean, I’ll be trying to do the same.