You've been hacking away at this song for weeks, and it's still not right. Or maybe it's perfect. It's hard to tell. The point is, you're just too close to it to see the big picture and you'rein danger of overwriting.
If you've been writing for any length of time, you've no doubt encountered this issue. It's something that can really sneak up on even the most seasoned of writers, though – so here are a few tips to help you recognize it.
1. You hate the song now
This is a pretty big warning sign. You were excited about the song when you started, but now you're on the fifteenth draft and you're just exhausted and irritated with it. You can't figure out what drew you to the song in the first place or what makes it different – the whole thing feels stale.
If you're feeling this way, it may not be the song at all – it might be you. It's time to set it aside for a little while (a couple weeks minimum) and move on to other projects. You may look at it down the road and feel that spark of inspiration again – or you might not. Either way, you'll have a fresher perspective.
2. You're not making it better
They say “great writing is re-writing,” and that's 100 percent valid. However, every tweak you make should make the song better, even if it's just a little bit. This can be something as simple as adding a word or cutting out the bridge or as drastic as writing a whole new chorus. Hopefully you're perceptive enough to know if your changes are making things worse.
But what if you're just moving words (or notes) around? What if you're not making things better or worse, just different? This is a sign you may have lost the original thread of the song or are perhaps just getting burned out. Stick this one in a drawer and take a breather – it's not going anywhere.
3. It's got no soul left
Don't get me wrong – we all want to craft that perfectly written song that knocks your socks off. But the kind of songs I'm talking about are polished to a bright sheen – every line, note, and chord just sits perfectly.
There's one problem – all of the emotional impact, all of the soul, has been wrung out of it. Often, you'll find that the song has no real effect on the listener. The other end of the spectrum, which is the mark of a novice writer, is all emotion and no skill – you don't want that either.
The perfect song is a blend of well-crafted lines and melodies married to some sort of impact (whether listeners are crying, tapping their feet, or smiling). If your song is too well-crafted to let anything “real” shine through, you've overwritten. Give it a break and come back to it.
As you write, you'll often develop a sort of inner sense that the song is “done.” Learn to listen to that voice. Ideally, you want to be just as excited (and hopefully more so) about the song you've finished as when you first started.
Get more songwriting tips:
- 5 Exercises to Write More Creative Lyrics
- When, How, and Why to Break the Rules of Songwriting
- 7 Easy Things You Can Do Right Now to Get Out of a Songwriting Rut
- How to Write Songs That Get Stuck in People's Heads
- How to Find Co-Writers
Daniel Reifsnyder is a Nashville-based, Grammy-nominated songwriter, having started his musical journey at the age of three. In addition to being an accomplished commercial actor, his voice can be heard on The Magic School Bus theme song and in Home Alone 2. Throughout his career, he has had the honor of working with the likes of Michael Jackson and Little Richard among many others. He is a regular contributor to several music-related blogs, including his own.