All A Songwriter Needs Is A Door
Here’s one of many things I’ve gleaned from horror writer Stephen King’s excellent book On Writing and transposed from books to songs.
“The space [where you write] can be humble…it really only needs one thing: a door you are willing to shut”.
Write With The Door Closed
Stephen learned this from newspaper editor John Gould who told him, “Write with the door closed. Rewrite with it open.” Meaning a songwriter should try to write the first draft of his/her song “with no help (or interference) from anyone” and then rewrite with the help of feedback from others.
He recommends finishing the song as quickly as possible saying, “If I write rapidly…I find that I can keep up with my original enthusiasm and at the same time outrun the self-doubt that’s always waiting to settle in”.
Once the first draft is finished “[let it] rest and go to work on something else.” Resist the temptation to go back and repeatedly listen to the demo. You want to be able put it on in a few weeks and hear it with fresh ears, the way your audience will.
Rewrite With The Door Open
When you start seeking objective advice the first person to ask is yourself. If you’ve been good and not put the song on heavy rotation on your mp3 player you should have gained some much needed objectivity (or at least a tad more than you had when recording it). Make notes of possible corrections, revisions etc, but don’t do anything about them yet.
Now get a few trusted people to give you feedback. There are two types
Factual. If your grammar or theology or anything else is objectively incorrect - change it, without delay or argument.
Aesthetic. Look for consensus. Do they all hate the chorus? You probably need to change it. Does everyone has a problem with a different aspect of the song? You don’t need to change anything unless you want to. And if some people love the part that you hate or haven’t noticed that 'horrendous' note in the pre chorus maybe you need to let that go too.
The 'get the first draft finished as fast as possible' approach is new to me. I have to confess that struggling over a song for ten years has felt like a badge of honour for me, but perhaps it's the most insane example of multitasking ever attempted. I'll let you know how it works for me.
What's your method?
How does Stephen's advice differ from your approach?
Has this post inspired you to try anything different?
Related Posts: Songwriting with Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg