Finish What You Started

Another short article for webzine My Caesura. Here’s part two on finishing. You can find part one here. Leave me a note in the comments below. -Charlie

Whether it’s writing a melody, lyric, or really any creative endeavor, the first step is always the most difficult. You have to will yourself to create the momentum that starts everything moving. Last month I outlined some starting steps and this month I wanted to discuss the second hardest step, which is finishing.

Once I get the first line of a song written, I find that second and third lines come flowing out. The first verses tend to nearly write themselves. Then a chorus comes along and I begin to wrestle. I’m not quite happy with a chord transition or the melody doesn’t quite lift like it should or this or that. But, I get through it sometimes in an hour or so, sometimes in a week. Then onto the second verse we go and…. nothing. Suddenly, I can’t find the right cadence, or the lyrics don’t come as easily, and then I start to question the quality of the first verse or the chorus. Then I bog. Wheels stuck. Can’t move forward at all. I start thinking in fragmented sentences and the creative momentum dies. I haven’t written a lot of songs but I’ve “half way” written more than a lot of people I bet.

Once you’ve gotten over the getting started part, you’ve still got to finish otherwise you really haven’t done anything.  My worst enemy when it comes to finishing a song is fear of failure. Failure for a songwriter or, to me at least, is that no one likes your song. I mean no one, not you, not even your wife or kids. I can’t think of worse feeling than saying “Hey everyone, I spent 2 days writing this, what do you think?” And your kids respond with a hearty “meh, it’s ok. I liked your other one better. Can you play Thrift Shop?”

With fear as a driver of procrastination, I begin to self-edit instead of continuing to move forward in the song at hand. I start picking apart the lyric or the chords, or tempo, or any number of things because it keeps me from having to write the next line or section. So it feels like I’m working but I’m really just stalling. I’ve developed a rule for myself that is simple but effective; just keep writing. No editing until completion. It doesn’t matter if it seems terrible at the moment. Just keep writing. You don’t like the key? Just keep writing. Wish you had used more imagery? Just keep writing.  Pretty soon you’ll have finished your song and then (here comes the best part), you can start the next song and repeat the whole process.

The only way I’ve found to get better at this craft is to start (and finish) as often as possible. Before you can be great at anything, you have to be terrible first. I’m always looking for other writer’s insights; so let me know what works for you in the comments section or via email.


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