When I do songwriting workshops or masterclasses, I generally try to leave space for a question and answer period. It allows me to break things up between just lecturing and helping people one-on-one. But there’s always inevitably one person who just wants the easy fix; the one answer to all their problems; the single guiding principle by which and through which all songs are wrought, and crafted to perfection. Want to know what I tell them? You want the answer? The golden rule of songwriting?
WRITE. EVERY. DAY.
Seriously. That’s it. How often should you be writing songs? Every day. If something’s genuinely important in your life, you can find 20 minutes a day for it, no matter what it is.
(I feel a little like a broken record saying this so often, over and over again, but perhaps it’s just because I haven’t dedicated an entire article to it. So, maybe this time you’ll get the message.)
So here are 5, count ‘em 5, reasons why you should be writing songs every day.
1) Your brain learns quickest with daily repetition.
As someone who is fluent in several instruments, reading music notation, and is proficient in a second language, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to immerse yourself in whatever it is you’re learning.
In my early 20s, I spent a couple of years doing a self-funded humanitarian mission is East Asia. It was all planned and set up months ahead of time, and we were told we’d need to learn some basic Chinese to be able to perform freely in our operations, and that the first two months would basically just be an intensive language-learning bootcamp. That way they could send us out with confidence in small groups of two or three without having to supply and co-ordinate translators also.
So, knowing this months ahead of time, I figured they must have some trick genius method or program for learning the language passably in only two months. So I didn’t bother trying to learn anything myself. When I arrived there, I was rudely awakened. There was no “secret” method to it. You just had to work really hard all day and immerse yourself into this foreign language from scratch. There was some basic grammar training, and useful daily terminology lists, but most of the time it was us studying alone or in small groups. There was no proficiency test waiting for us at the end, no award, no certificate, no degree, just the knowledge that in two months we would be out among the people, effectively on our own, and needing to communicate with them to help them. One of the guys there with me found it all so difficult that he ended up bailing after a few weeks and going to Canada instead for a working holiday with a community outreach program there.
Now, why do I tell you all this?
Because the analogy of learning a language is fundamentally equivalent to learning a musical instrument. My having done both of those things in the past has been (pardon the pun) instrumental in my success teaching guitar, voice, piano and songwriting. A lot of people might take a language class a couple of times a week in high school for several years and come away with almost no working ability to communicate in that language as an adult. Why?
Because every single day you do it is one step forward, and every single day you don’t is one step back.
A lot of people come into music lessons (guitar and voice, especially) assuming that they can pick it all up within a few months, like the way I had to pick up Chinese. Except I was doing it 8 to 12 hours a day and they only think they have to pick it up for 20 minutes 2 or 3 times a week. Do you see the problem?
When you spend more days not doing something than you spend actually doing it, unless you have a genius IQ, you’re not going to get any better at it. (Technically, you probably will, but the rate of growth is so incrementally insignificant that, from a practical standpoint, you’re at a standstill.) I flat-out refuse to take students who practice less than 5 days a week. They’re just going to grow frustrated with their own lack-of-progress, assume that the problem is either with my teaching method, or that it’s “just not for them”, and give up within 3-4 months.
To actually progress at something, you need to be taking more steps forward than you are backward. You can give yourself a “weekend off” in you need to, but if you actually want to see your songwriting progress, you need to practice, and you need to do it at least 5 days every week. And then you have to expect that it’s going to take at least a year or two for you to get any good.
Let’s run the numbers on it. 20 minutes every day for a full year is 7300 minutes or 121.6 hours. That’s a full-time (40-hour work week) job for just 3 weeks.
When I did my Chinese language bootcamp, I was doing 8 to 12 hours a day for just over 60 days straight. That’s over 600 hours total. That’s like a full-time 40-hour work week for over 15 weeks straight! That’s 5 times as much study and practice as you would get doing 20 minutes every day a full year, and certainly more than anyone probably gets in a regular high school language course.
So don’t think you can just skate by in life, leaving your muse on the sidelines, and expect her to be ready at your beck and call when you deign to finally give her some of your time. If it really matters to you, you can make a little bit of time for it every day.
And to be clear, when I say “songwriting every day”, I’m not saying you need to come up with a full verse with lyrics, chords, melody, etc. every time you sit down for 20 minutes to do some songwriting. Maybe you incorporate a creative period of time into your guitar or piano practice each day, in which you take something you’ve been learning or working on, and get creative with it. Changing it up. Adapting it. Trying that same chord sequence but in this key or that inversion or with those particular rhythmic beats. And maybe only one in every 3 or 4 or 10 of those sticks out as really catchy and worth turning into a song. The point is that you’re creating every day.
2) Creativity is emotionally healing and nourishing.
Now that I’ve had my fire-and-brimstone rant and given you some numbers, let’s actually talk about you. You are a unique individual. You are a human life. You are worth something in this dark and scary world. And in order to effectively function in this world of chaos, you need certain things. Some things are wants but some things in life are legitimate needs, without which, you starve.
Abraham Maslow published a groundbreaking psychological paper in 1943, often now referred to as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, in which he established a pattern of needs based on urgency. At the lowest level are the basics of physiological survival: food, water, air, warmth, sleep, etc. After that comes shelter, safety and security, the assurance that someone is not about to kill/maim you at any minute. These two foundational levels are referred to as basic/survival needs.
After these basics are adequately met, for the time being at least, comes the love needs: family, friendship, romance, intimacy. These are fundamental to mental and emotional survival. With the next level after that comes a personal sense of accomplishment, productivity and self-worth/self-respect. Many refer to this level as esteem, but one’s estimation of anything is ultimately an opinion, and it can be almost equally damaging to esteem yourself highly without having accomplished almost anything at all, as it tends to make one incapable of self-improvement, and will only lead to future failures.
These four lower levels are called “deficiency needs” because being deficient in any of them is a motivating factor. The hungrier you get, the more motivated you become to find food. As you find those needs met more regularly, you become less motivated by them.
The final level of the pyramid is different as it’s not considered a deficiency need, it’s referred to as a “growth need”. The level itself is called self-actualization. This is personal development, emotional growth, maturity, creativity, self-expression, etc. The difference here is that the more you find this fulfillment, this self-actualization, the more motivated you become. The psychological ideal here is that everyone has their deficiency needs met with enough consistency that they can only be motivated by building, creativity, nurturing others, etc., and this means creative projects.
We as a people fundamentally need creativity. It’s not as vital and food, water, shelter and even love, sure, but it’s still need, without which we could not grow psychologically. These are things we all need. And we need them every day. In our hearts we seek relationships that can fulfill us daily. We get married to prove this. We want this every day for the rest of our lives, but then if that’s all we do, we find ourselves ultimately unfulfilled. Because we still need to achieve and self-actualize. We need to build, create and achieve every day too. (This is likely why over two-thirds of divorces occur in couples who haven’t had children and built a family together.)
Anyway, the point is: daily creativity is as much a need as food, water, air and love. But because we don’t tend to find ourselves starving to be creative, we don’t think it’s a need. FALSE. It is vital to our growth and development.
Just think about it for a second. The more you creatively express yourself, the more you tune-in with your own emotions, the more self-aware you become, the more emotionally mature you become. Songwriting is literally a pathway to emotional maturity. This is one of the reasons a songwriter’s catalogue of songs tends to evolve so much over time, because they are as a person also.
By pushing songwriting to the sidelines, you’re stunting your own growth.
3) Success comes by following the patterns of those who have already succeeded.
It is said that the quickest way to any destination is by following the footsteps of those who know the way, generally by those who’ve already reached your destination previously. It certainly makes a lot of sense. If you want to succeed in business, you need to find the most successful businessmen you can, and figure out just what it is that makes them so successful so that you can apply it to your own business.
Entrepreneur and self-help business guru, Tai Lopez, attributes a lot of his success to his honest search for wisdom. He has always sought mentors who are where he wants to be in ten years’ time, and reads and re-reads the same hundred books (his reading list of the most valuable insights to success, health, wealth, love and happiness) over and over again, picking up a different one every single day until he finds a nugget of wisdom he’d previously missed.
While we don’t all need (or necessarily want) to be Tai Lopez, his principle about the seeking the wisdom of those walking the path a decade ahead of us is actually incredibly valuable. When someone is only a couple of years ahead of you, you tend to view them as a peer or equal, and not a fount of wisdom to be tapped. You need someone at least 10 years ahead. And maybe, just maybe, that’s me.
In which case, write/create/compose every day. Seriously. That’s my advice.
And if, by chance, and not far enough ahead of you, then perhaps you would appreciate the go-to advice of arguably the most successful living composer on the planet.
As I mentioned in a previous article ( Songwriting Advice From 5 of the Greatest Composers of All Time ), famous film composer, John Williams, specifically says that composing something every day, even if it’s only a single line, has been the biggest contributing factor to his widespread success.
Successful writers write every day. That’s a given. It’s their whole career. But what most us don’t realize is that successful songwriters and composers tend to write every day too. Just because we’re also performers, producers, teachers, whatever, doesn’t mean that we’re not taking the time to get creative every day. Some of my best song inspirations have come straight from pre- or post-gig highs.
Great songwriters may only release an album every few years, but that’s more about record companies and touring schedules than how many songs they’re writing. When you actually look into it, you’ll find that people like Ed Sheeran and Tom Fletcher, in between their own albums, were writing songs for One Direction and Justin Bieber. Or maybe jump back to Barry Gibb, Prince, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney. They’re just always writing songs. For themselves. Or for others.
So, unless you have Beatles mojo magic and can summon a fully-fledged quality song from the ether every single time you sit down to write something, you need to be writing every day. You just do. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Seek out the inspiration yourself and make it come to you. And whatever doesn’t come by sheer grit and determination will come over time as you become a master artisan of your craft. Your decisions to act determine your destiny. You need to be active about what you want in life, not passive. You are the protagonist in your own story, so go and protag.
4) Adults make a plan and stick to it. Children do what feels good.
If you’ve ever listened in to the radio show of US financial guru, Dave Ramsey, you might know that he has 15-million regular listeners. You might be familiar with his Southern grandaddy charm and loving leadership. And you might be familiar with any number of catchphrases he throws around. All. The. Time. Quotes like:
“When broke people buy a house, they get broker. That’s why they call them mortgage brokers.”
“We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like.”
“A budget is people telling their money where to go instead of wondering where it went.”
“If you live now like no one else, then later you can live (and give) like no one else.”
“Adults make a plan and stick to it. Children do what feels good.”
Adults make a plan, and stick to it. This is what this point is all about. When we wait for inspiration to call us before sitting down to write a song, we’re abdicating our own responsibility and sense of self-accomplishment in the act of creating something. Even worse, we’re feeding into false stereotypes that creative people need certain stupid conditions to be met before they can even do their job.
No. That’s not how it works.
Yes, having some private space with good acoustics is helpful for productivity when songwriting, but it’s absolutely childlike to excuse yourself from doing your job on the basis of unmet expectations. That’s just not how life works.
My previous teaching studio was on a busy street in the middle of the city. The traffic and commotion outside could at times easily distract the younger children, and even adults. Was the noise a detractor to my ability to teach? Yes. Did it stop me from doing my job or writing songs in between classes and in workshops and masterclasses? No. Because I’m an adult and a professional.
They say it’s always better to choose the “harder right” over the “easier wrong”. Well, failure to write something every day ultimately comes down to making excuses for yourself, choosing the easier path, the childlike “what feels good”, over the harder right, sticking to plan anyway like a professional and a grown up.
So, make a plan to write every day and actually do what you say you will.
5) Creativity is a fundamental part of what it means to be human.
You were born to be creative.
No, seriously, you were. Anyone who’s ever seen young children knows that all kids create, explore, play make-believe, etc. It’s an important part of our psychological development. It’s a means by which we can explore our thoughts, feelings, desires, questions, confusions, etc., in a safe, healthy manner.
The problem with adults, however, is that many of us have learned to stifle that publically, lest we face bullying, social ostracism, mockery, hate, etc. We stifle our creativity because we form a protective barrier around our innermost thoughts, feelings and desires to protect them from the world, but then often lose touch with them ourselves as we, ironically, attempt to find ourselves and our place in the world during our teenage years.
Having a daily creative outlet helps us mitigate that sense of self-loss and aimlessness, by ensuring that we are more aware of how we’re doing emotionally. And we need to keep doing it, because that’s what it means to be human.
All things, if left to nature or their own devices, will decay over time. It’s the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Entropy. Everything decays. Buildings. Bones. Bananas. Even our own DNA will deteriorate. But we are at this amazing stage of abundance and advancement in our history because humans are inherently creative.
We build. We plant. We maintain. We fix. We grow. We reproduce. We organize. We fellowship. We produce. We flourish. We prosper. We advance. We give. We love. We do.
Our whole existence is about creativity. Maybe we create friendship. Maybe we create children. And maybe we create music. But it’s intrinsic to who we are.
Honestly, one of my biggest pet peeves is this whole false dichotomy we have in society between the “artists” and everybody else.
That’s not how it works.
Everyone’s inherently creative. Everyone can sing. Everyone should learn an instrument. And everyone should write their own songs.
And the best way that you can prove it to yourself is to write every day. Make a plan and stick to it. Get creative. Get in touch with your emotions. Explore in a safe environment. Mix it in with your music practice.
And then try to expand it to all the other areas of your life.
Create your own recipes when you cook. Invent your own ballgame with your kids. Write love-poems to your significant other. Don’t limit yourself to just one creative thing. BE a creative thing. Be human.
Sure, maybe you’ve stifled yourself for a long time, and you don’t know where to start.
Wrong again. You have access to this website, to the articles and resources we have up here. I have written thousands and thousands of words on how to go about writing a song. I’ve shown you tricks and hacks and even written a song while talking through my creative process step-by-step as I went for you to follow.
It’s never too late. Honestly. If you’ve never done this thing before, it just means you have so much more emotion and meaning waiting deep down in your soul for the opportunity to come out. And you have a duty to yourself to let it out in a controlled fashion. That’s what this it. A pressure release valve for all those unprocessed emotions you’ve been avoiding. And to release it, you need to start by working it a little bit every day. It doesn’t need to be a huge eruption. You control the flow. And you do that by showing yourself that you’re going to seriously do this for 20 minutes every day.
Seriously. The healing you don’t even know you’re needing will come through songwriting. You just need to start, and start doing it every day.