Ten Tips for Songwriting Success

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9. Don’t be afraid to edit.

One of the things beginning songwriters often have trouble with is editing. I’ve seen three rationales behind this kind of thinking:

1. Inspiration is “holy” and should be used as is.

2. I can’t cut something I’ve written! It’s my work and I can’t bear to see it thrown away.

3. I’m not sure I’ll be able to create something better if I edit out something.

Here’s my response to these three ideas:

1. If you understand how the creative process works (see tip #5) you’ll know that editing is a basic part of it, for very good reasons. The “inspiration” process gives you raw materials, not finished art. If you expect to create wonderful songs that other people will enjoy, without ever changing the first thing that pops into your mind, you’re going to be dismally disappointed.

2. Don’t ever think of editing as destroying something. Editing is about observing what works within a given project, and setting aside the things that don’t work in that context. So if a couple of lines of lyrics don’t work in your new song, taking them out doesn’t mean that you’re throwing them away. You’re pulling them out for use in some other song down the line. There’s no need to mourn them.

3. Being afraid you might not be able to replace something you cut is a perfectly normal fear, but it’s unfounded. If you’re not used to being creative, trust me – it’s a permanent ability. (All of us are constantly creative in our day-to-day lives.) If you’re worried about a creative block, it will pass. (Above all, don’t worry about it! The more you worry, the longer it’ll take to get past it.)

The moral of the story? Be fearless in your editing. You’re just making sure your song works, and when you’ve done a good job, you’ll be delighted with the response the song will get.

10. Write for the right reason—because you enjoy it.

If you think you’re going to get rich quick by writing songs, you’re not very well acquainted with the music business. It just doesn’t work that way. Using unrealistic expectations as your motive for writing will only lead you to disappointment and giving up.

When you write a good song, you’ll have fun, you’ll express your feelings, you’ll be appreciated (by some people, at least) and you may even become a force in other people’s lives. These are good reasons to write. (I’m sure you can think of others.) Just remember: If your reason for writing songs is to get rich quick, your songwriting career will be short – and depressing.

Write songs because it’s fun, and because of the impact that a good song can have on you and on the people around you. If you do it for the right reasons, you won’t be disappointed, and you’ll keep doing it. And as you keep doing it, you’ll keep getting better at it. After a while, you’ll get so good that you might just write yourself a hit song!

© 1996 by Christopher Kent. All Rights Reserved.