The writing process has some common threads. Whether you’re writing fiction, or for work, or writing songs, the creative process requires a lot more nurturing than we want to admit. It’s difficult to just sit down and let ideas flow out of you onto the page. Even in the situations when you are feeling creatively engaged, the environment that surrounds you and the requirements of work and daily life often conspire against creation.

I was talking with a good friend of mine last week about this process, and it was nice to hear someone else has the same problems I do. Finding the moments to actually sit down and concentrate on writing is very difficult when it’s not your primary job. It’s even worse when you’re also engaging in OTHER content creation processes, and you have to try and convince your brain that this exercise is fun and creative and worth pursuing.

I feel like there are some common misconceptions about the writing process, and a lot of those misconceptions come from people who either don’t regularly write in any form, or write primarily to generate product. I don’t begrudge these people their approach, and there are many times that I’ve questioned why I waste time trying to write or create content when there are other, far more leisurely ways to spend time. But at the same time, I feel that those who don’t write regularly tend to treat the writing and creative process in others like it’s something that can be done in your spare time. The attitude is almost, “Why would you need space and time to write? You’ve got 30 spare minutes, surely you can just come up with something then!”

Doesn’t work that way. Sorry.

I was looking back on my first blog tonight, and it’s funny how MUCH I was writing at the time. I don’t even have a recollection of writing that much, or that often — and truth be told, I wasn’t writing that terribly often. This was back in 2006 and 2007, and I don’t remember having much time to write. But it’s all there, and it’s far more than I would have considered writing at any point in the last four years. It’s funny though, because it was my newfound impulse to start writing again that drew me back to that material. So as I stare at this rapidly-growing blog post that I’m writing about containers and creative delivery (don’t worry, it’ll be up soon enough), I realized that this “new” mode of writing that I’m getting myself into isn’t new to me at all — just dormant.

So what does all of this have to do with songwriting? Well, it’s a creative process that is probably even more fickle than regular writing. It’s reliant on a bunch of elements coming together, and at least for me, it’s a situation where those elements can’t be forced together. You’re melding, not welding — which sounds like some sort of stupid business school catchphrase, but it’s true.

Songwriting is cool because ideas can come and go and fit into different areas that you weren’t expecting. Sometimes I’ll be writing lyrical ideas down — scraps of poetry, individual lines, stanzas — and not having any idea where they’re going to go, not have a melody to go with them. And then later I’ll have a chord sequence or riff that I’m playing around with, and some of the earlier lyrical ideas will almost magically materialize within those confines. Sometimes, none of that happens. I’ve still got chord sequences and melodic ideas from the mid-1990s that have never really found a lyrical home, and I’ve got reams of paper from the last 20 years with words that may never find a song.

In a way, the process is almost easier than regular writing, in that regular writing feels so damn linear sometimes. It’s very hard to pop in and out of a story, writing description or dialogue, and not feel a bit awkward about the obvious holes in between things. You start a scene or a chapter and you want to finish it, or at the very least provide a framework within which it can exist in your head. I feel that way about regular writing, yet I have no problem orphaning a chord sequence or a lyric in songwriting, because I’m certain that the good ones will find their way into a written piece of work.

The other issue with songwriting is the fallow periods. I think most of us do better in any sort of content creation when we immerse ourselves in the content types that we’re working in. For instance, artists do best when spending a lot of time taking in others’ paintings. The best movie directors watch a huge number of films. The folks that are best on Twitter use it every single day. And so it goes with writing and many other forms of content creation.

The problem with songwriting is that it’s sometimes not feasible to play music. Listening to music is a must, but the songwriting process requires a bit of organic spark between you and the instrument(s) you’re writing on. Some people force themselves to play guitar or piano every day, and I think those people are fortunate that they have the time and discipline to do so. I try to play guitar consistently, but it’s hard to set aside that time every day. And once you step away from it, it becomes harder and harder to stay in touch with the essence of songwriting.

My most prolific periods in songwriting have tended to be in these blind rushes of focus and energy. April-May 2001 saw a lot of songs either written or perfected, and it just so happened that I had a lot of time by myself and the emotional reservoir to generate material during that period. I used to average one of those periods a year, and then would enter a fallow period until the next one hit. Unfortunately, as professional life intervenes, the ability to throw ones self into that sort of creative process becomes more difficult to find. I’d say the last time I had that kind of creative push and impulse with songwriting (and song playing) was May of 2010, which seems like a lifetime ago.

But I still get occasional impulses. And now, I try to capture them whenever possible. I have an app on my phone that allows me to record in pretty good MP3 quality, and so recording a scratch track with a song idea or a lyric is not difficult. I’ve moved my recording process from desktop to laptop, and that will aid in future recording processes. And I can feel another creative tide in the songwriting realm coming in at some point soon. The ideas and focus are a lot different now than they were even three years ago, but I see that as a good thing. One of the enjoyable things about looking back on the songwriting process is how songs from the different eras still bring back the flavor of the time in which they were written. It’s like an autobiography that I wasn’t aware I was writing, and which very few people would understand. That may be the coolest type of writing there is. Not profitable, no. But cool.