There is no reason why the creative process needs to be a struggle; a never-ending tug of war between you and an idea. Unfortunately, this is the approach that many songwriters take.
For any songwriter, both hobbyists and professionals included, the way to achieve the greatest success is to nurture the creative process, so that each idea - no matter how big or small - can blossom into a fully developed song.
Nurturing the creative process is a matter of tweaking an existing approach; you don't necessarily need to change your methods of songwriting, but rather optimize how you go about your songwriting. The following ideas are ways for you to tweak your own approach to songwriting so that when you get into the creative zone, whether it comes naturally or have to work for it, you will be able to get the most out of the time and effort invested:
1. Remain organized
This is likely to be the most important and most effective way to optimize your creative output. As with anything you do, being disorganized will make it far more difficult to focus on your goals your vision. All of your lyrics, melodies, chord progressions, song titles, etc. should be kept in an organized and easy to find notebook or file on your computer. This will make it easy for you to reference all of your existing material, allowing you more opportunities to take advantage of past ideas that otherwise would have gone unused.
2. Don't be afraid to fail
Contrary to popular belief, failure is actually a very good thing. It's the basis of all of our successes. When we fail, we learn from our mistakes, only to try again and succeed. Sometimes we need to fail multiple times in order to succeed, but we get there eventually. Failure is what will make you a good songwriter - avoiding it will stifle your ability to grow.
3. Be prepared for random inspiration
Being prepared to take advantage of all of your random inspiration is something that we touched upon a few weeks back, and is crucial in optimizing your creative output. Much of your musical inspiration will come at the most inopportune times, so being ready to record them and keep them organized is the first step to turning each idea into a fully formed song.
4. Write now, critique later
We know you want your song to be perfect, but trying to achieve perfectionism at the time of creating can pull you out of a creative mindset. An equivalent would be maintaining a dream journal while you sleep! Focus instead on getting everything out of your head in the one go, and then looking back with a critical eye.
5. Trust yourself and be confident
You're an artist, a visionary, a creator. If you want your songs to strike the right chord with others, you need to believe in yourself and be confident of your abilities. Nothing will turn away listeners faster than a songwriter who doesn't have confidence in his or her own writing.
Take your favorite vocalists - be it blues, jazz, soul, rock, r&b, hip-hop, etc - one of the common characteristics that all great singers have confidence in their abilities. That confidence is what people call 'soul', as in: 'she is a really soulful singer', or 'you can hear him pouring his heart and soul into this song'. This is something you cannot achieve without the confidence and trust to let yourself go within the song.
6. Nurture your optimal creative environment
Do you have a mood or mindset that produces your best songs? Maybe you have a specific place you have to write in, or maybe you need to write with all the lights off and candles lit? Whatever your optimal creative environment is, realize it and nurture it in order to maximize your creative output!
7. Taking a break is important
As important as it is to have a work schedule and know when you need to buckle down (even if it sucks… remember that failure is okay!), it's equally important to know when to walk away and clear your head. Go for a walk, read a book, watch a movie, cook, do anything that will release some stress, so that you can clear your mind and reset the batteries. Doing this will allow you to re-visit something you may have been struggling with, with a fresh mindset. Sometimes the most obvious solution to a problem is right in front of you, you just can't see it because you are too overwhelmed and stressed out.
8. Have fun!
Songwriting may be your job (or maybe just a hobby), but good songwriting will reflect your own enjoyment of the creative process. If it's a struggle just to get through the song, the final product will most certainly reflect this and won't flow naturally making it more difficult for the listener to connect with it.
How do you optimize your creative output?
The ideas outlined above will work wonders for optimizing your creative output, but they certainly aren't the only solutions. Please feel free to contribute to the list by posting any suggestions or ideas of how you optimize your creative output in the form of a comment below.