Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Tip #14-1/2: Embrace your limitations

It seems paradoxical, but when artists are forced to work within severe limitations, it often leads to their best and most memorable works. Artists all know about this phenomenon, and so they often chase down self-imposed constraints, hoping to spur their creativity. For example, an entire album with only voice and ukulele.

When you're under the gun to produce a whole pile of work in a limited time, the deadline is itself a constraint that can spur your creativity. But there's another set of constraints that you should go ahead and adopt in such high-pressure circumstances: the constraints that correspond to your own personal limitations as an artist.

Instead of struggling to overcome your limitations, this is the time to embrace them. Instead of raging against the handicaps that keep you from reaching your goals, choose them as the constraints that define your style.

If you can't play fast to save your life, you can be the artist who does all slow-tempo songs.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tip #14: Maybe it's complete already

Approaching the end of our series of 14-1/2 tips for writing quickly.

One of the secrets of artistic genius is knowing when to stop.

If you find yourself struggling to fill in the missing pieces of your song, it's time to think the unthinkable: maybe your song doesn't need that piece at all.

Trying playing through the song with just the pieces you have. Does it say what you need it to say? Does it fill its space effectively? If so, maybe you can stop writing and declare success. You might just happen to have a brilliantly enigmatic song with a daring and unconventional shape.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Tip #13: Roll dice

Continuing our series of tips for writing quickly.

If decisions slow you down, try taking yourself out of the decision process. Write down your list of options and roll a die or flip a coin to choose among them.

If you think you need to manage every detail and carefully consider every decision, you might be surprised at how well things work out if you loosen your control of the process and let random chance be your collaborator.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Tip #12: The buddy system

Continuing our series of tips for writing quickly.

Nothing spurs your creativity like having a buddy or group of friends to share your works-in-progress with. Whether you meet every week, or check in on Facebook every day, you'll be highly motivated to have something new to show your friends each time. Sometimes that extra motivation is all you need to get over your temporary hurdles and get your song done.

One of the great things about the setup of the FAWM challenge is how easily you can share your songs online as soon as you get them done. Even the possibility of an audience — someone might come along and listen to your song online — provides an extra motivation to get something done.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Tip #11: Set aside doubt and criticism

Continuing our series of tips for writing quickly.

Nothing slows down the creative process like self-doubt and internal criticism. If doubts and critical thoughts insist on intruding while you're trying to write, just temporarily set them aside.

If it helps, take a sheet of paper, and write at the top "Questions to think about on March 1" (or pick another appropriate date). Keep this paper physically nearby, but at the outside edge of your creative workspace. When a doubt pops into your head, take the time to write it down on the sheet of paper. And then set it aside and get back to writing.

These thoughts don't mean to be destructive. They have an appropriate role and place in your life, but their appropriate place is outside of your creative work.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Tip #10: Repetition, repetition, repetition

Continuing our series of tips for writing quickly.

What's the secret of writing catchy songs?
What makes a song easier for listeners to hear?
What makes a song quicker to write?
That's right — the answer is repetition!

Don't struggle to invent extra material just to fill up your song. Say what you need to say, and then find the best way to spread out that material over the space of the song. Look for ways to repeat and reuse words, phrases, riffs, chord lines, and hooks.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Tip #9: Collaborate

Continuing our series of tips for writing quickly.

If you're racing to meet this year's FAWM challenge (writing 14-1/2 songs by February 29), the single easiest way to get there faster is to collaborate with other writers. If two or three of you work together on a song, that song provides each of you a full credit towards your FAWM quota.

It's so much faster, it might even feel like cheating. But it's not cheating; it's a way of getting the job done.

In a real-world situation where you have a recording session scheduled and you need to write an album's worth of songs quickly, pulling in collaborators is the rational thing to do. No one will deduct any points if you're not the sole songwriter on your album — but they sure will hold it against you if you give them an album of songs that aren't up to snuff.

Of course, collaboration has other advantages besides getting work done faster. You also get the unique results of two creative minds working together.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tip #8: Beat the clock

Continuing our series of tips for writing quickly.

An athlete finds every possible way to squeeze fractions of a second out of the sprint from point A to point B. An extra tenth of a second could easily be the margin of victory.

Ordinarily, songwriting has no deadlines, and as a result it's often a lazy and sluggish event. But you can bring some of the athlete's competitive spirit into your songwriting. Work with a stopwatch, an hourglass, or a timer, and decide that you're going to beat the clock. Can you write 4 lines of lyrics in 3 minutes? You make up your own challenge, and then start the clock.

If you challenge your limits, you'll not only write faster, but you'll also bring more muscular energy into your songs.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tip #7: Write two or three songs in parallel

Continuing our series of tips for writing quickly.

If you're trying to write a whole pile of songs, you don't have to write them one at a time. Try writing two or three songs — ones that are similar in character or cover similar themes — at the same time. Leftover pieces from song #1 might find a perfect place in song #2, so you end up with fewer ideas thrown away.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Tip #6: Stand up! Sit down!

Continuing our series of tips for writing quickly.

To keep from getting bogged down in the writing process, change your physical position and location frequently — at least every half hour. Stand up, sit down, walk around. Work at a desk or table, then work with your instrument, then work at your computer.

Different locations, different postures, and different writing tools each lend themselves to different patterns of thought. By moving around and changing things up, you give more parts of your brain a chance to participate in the writing process.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Tip #5: Follow an example

Continuing our series of tips for writing quickly.

Pick a good song that has the same tempo, length, and feel as the song you want to write. Then cut your example song into pieces, and replace each piece with an equivalent piece of your own creation. You'll end up with your own notes, lyrics, chords, and rhythms, in a song that's exactly the same shape as your example song.

How does the example song help if you write all new music and lyrics anyway? It helps by giving you a very precise to-do list, so none of your songwriting effort is wasted.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Tip #4: Work out of order

Continuing our series of tips for writing quickly.

It's often faster to write a song out of order. You don't have to write beginning to end, the way the audience listens to the song. You can write in any order that makes sense for your writing process. You can even start by writing random bits of stuff and plan to put them in order in a later stage of writing.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Tip #3: Think of three options

The third in our series of 14-1/2 tips for writing quickly.

At every creative decision point
, think of at least three options before you move forward. It might seem like a waste of time and effort to come up with multiple ideas when you only need one. But think of it as looking around at an intersection before choosing which way to go. A few seconds spent considering your options could save you several minutes of walking in the wrong direction.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Tip #2: Hold on loosely

The second in our series of 14-1/2 tips for writing quickly.

Don't get yourself fully committed to any one idea you're working on. If you're stuck on an idea, and the idea starts to sink, then you'll sink with it. Sometimes the song you're working on just isn't ready to move forward. If it doesn't want to move, it won't help to poke it and push it!

It's better to stay light on your feet and willing to jump to another idea. You can come back to this first idea some other day.

Similarly, in the middle of a song, don't get stuck on any one approach. If the music isn't working out, start over with a different tempo or a different rhythmic structure. If you can't find a word that rhymes, rephrase the previous line so it's easier to rhyme with.

Writing a song is like solving a puzzle, and until the puzzle is solved, all of the pieces have to be free to move.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Quick writing tip #1: Start with the easy one

If you have a list of ideas, go for the easiest one first. Don't worry if it seems too easy, or if it's based on a cheap joke, or if people might mock it for being too simple. It's just your first song, after all. It's the warmup lap. You're going to write plenty more.

In the middle of working on a song, if you're trying to get one piece of the song together, go with the quickest and easiest solution. If this spot turns out to be the weak link in the song, you can try a different approach later. But often in songwriting the simplest answer turns out to be the best one.