Throughout my 20 years as a professional songwriter, I’ve noticed there isn’t always a large difference in talent level among creative people. Why then, do some songwriters seem to have an over abundance of fans buying their music while others struggle to sell the first song? The answer is there is not a huge difference in skills most writers possess, but there is a little. And that extra 5% makes a BIG difference. Skilled songwriters share some common mental habits. The good news is that these habits can be adopted through practice. Here are 9 traits that can help us over the hurdles to accomplishing our songwriting goals.
1. Skilled songwriters write whether they feel inspired or not.
We all know how easily the words and melodies flow when we’ve been inspired by a life event to create. But skilled writers know, to be a master of their craft, they must write whether they feel like it or not. They are in love with writing and enjoy writing on a near daily basis. They realize they don’t have to wait on inspiration to strike. They begin the task and invite inspiration to join them.
2. Skilled songwriters are process-oriented.
Skilled songwriters are focused on the act of writing. They are caught up in the moment while they are writing. Able to block out external distractions as well as internal. They use the process to stay focused and the overall goal as the rudder to steer their efforts. They are deliberate in their work, which allows them to avoid being over-emotionally attached or judgmental when it comes to the song at hand.
3. Skilled songwriters can write what they feel in ways that make sense to others.
Again, skilled songwriters think about what they are writing in terms of how others might interpret it. Songs are a conversation with the listener. If the writer/singer is feeling the impact of the song but the audience is not, then it’s not an effective song. It’s also a good habit to get feedback from mentors and people who you respect to make sure your songs are received the way you’ve intended.
4. Skilled songwriters appreciate different perspectives.
It’s difficult to be a skilled songwriter if you are not open to ideas that differ from your own. This doesn’t mean agreeing; it simply means being open to all sides. The ability to look at a situation from all angles give the skilled writer extra depth when writing a lyric and affords the creator options to writing the song the best way possible.
5. Skilled songwriters keep learning.
It has been reported that people learning to juggle increased the grey matter in their occipital lobes, the area of the brain associated with visual memory. When the same individuals stopped practicing their new skill, this brain matter disappeared. Similarly when songwriting there is a “use-it-or-lose-it” phenomenon that occurs. Skilled songwriters are always learning more about their craft. They study other songs and songwriters. The take classes, read books on writing, AND write often!
6. Skilled songwriters cultivate a curious nature.
How does one cultivate curiosity? Simply, by asking questions and refusing to accept things at face value. Skilled songwriters want to know how, what, when, why and where? It’s this curiosity that drives them to dig deeper into understanding human nature and write songs that resonate on a deeper emotional level.
7. Skilled songwriters are good observers.
Skilled songwriters study the many details of life around them and pick up on the things that are most useful to them while filtering out the rest. They are observant whether they are reading a text or listening to a sermon at Sunday morning church. They know that truly great ideas for their art come from every day.
8. Skilled songwriters are frequently trying things.
Why is this important? Trying new things keeps the brain sharp. But it also keeps your creative channels open. We are most creative when we are exploring. Trying new grooves, rhyme schemes, chord changes, etc, lead us to new creative places we never imagined going. Skilled songwriters know that doing the same thing over and over again lead only to creative ruts and boring songs. Skilled songwriters also know this is even more importantly applied to living life. Learning new hobbies and exploring the world around them can only lead to more fodder for their art.
9. Skilled songwriters always keep the big picture in mind.
Skilled songwriters know that writing is often a roller coaster of victories and valleys. Some days the creative juices are overflowing and other days you can feel like a frustrated beginner. There are times when the world is applauding your art and times when even your closest friends question why you do it. It’s the ability to look at the big picture that allows the skilled songwriter to ride the highs and lows while having faith that in the end, the world is a better place because of music and art. And that struggle is often a necessary ingredient to creating great music.
Clay Mills is an 11-time ASCAP hit songwriter and co-founder of SongTown.com