To those who say that to succeed as a songwriter, you must write every day: I don’t believe you

To those who say that to succeed as a songwriter, you must write every day: I don’t believe you

I’ve heard it said many times before: if you want to succeed as a song writer, you have to write every day. Maybe you’ve been given this advice too, either about songwriting or any  number of other goals you might have. Well I don’t know about you, but for me the old phrase “easier said than done” comes immediately to mind whenever I hear advice like that. I mean, sure, I’m certain that writing every day would make me a better writer. Of course it would. How better to hone any skill or craft than to work at it day in and day out? But let’s get real…it would be nearly impossible for me to write every single day, so I guess I’ll never succeed.

Pen and paper on a guitar
You gotta pick up the guitar in two hands, and the pen in the other

“Impossible,” you say? “Really, Gary? When I hear you whine about impossibility, all that means to me is that you don’t want it badly enough to sacrifice in order to get it.”

You know, you might just have a point there. But I don’t think so. I do want to succeed, and I’m willing to work very hard to find success. But let’s take a look at what writing every day would mean to me.

First, I am not a lazy person. I work hard and I am willing to put in long hours. Let’s take a look at my day, not because you care about my routine, but because I’m willing to bet that many of you can relate very well to my reality, and maybe through shared understanding of the challenges “real” people face, we can all stop beating ourselves up for not doing the “right thing” as defined by someone else’s description of what that is.

I’m up no later than 6:00 most mornings. Some mornings I’m up at 4:30ish so that I can go for a run or to the gym with my wife. That’s important time not only for our physical health, but for the health of our relationship. On school days, I get my shower in, and then make breakfast for my kids. The oldest are out of the house, and the youngest are fully capable of making their own breakfast, but this is important to me. If I have to choose between taking an hour in the morning to write another song, or taking that same hour to fix breakfast for my kids and then share it with them each morning, I choose my kids. So, if you compare the two, then you are right: I don’t want success as a writer badly enough to sacrifice this time with my wife and kids.

After breakfast, I head to work. I have nearly an hour commute to my 9 to 5. I use the time in the car to listen to a variety of podcasts that inform me, teach me, inspire me, challenge me, and motivate me. Once I get to work, my time is the company’s until my hour commute home (listening to more podcasts). At 6:00 I eat dinner with as much of my family that’s around given their school/sports/activities schedule.

Around 7:00 I head to the gym for an hour on workout nights, or sit down to work on my projects. I try to be very strict about getting seven hours of sleep every night. Consistent sleep is crucial to health and clear functioning, at least for me. So that means that most nights I’m in bed by 11:00 pm (23:00 for those 24-hour clockers among us). Math isn’t my strength, but 8 to 11 figures out to three hours. I do not watch TV. I haven’t for years. That’s one thing that seemed obvious to cut out of my life to gain more time to work on my projects. I don’t miss it, that’s for sure. I wish I could have all those hours back that I spend wasted on TV when I was younger. So, essentially, I have three, or sometimes four hours a night to work on my projects.

Well, that’s plenty of time to write music every night, isn’t it? Sure, but lets look more closely. What’s the point to writing music if I’m not going to share it? And to share it, for me that means recording it. You musicians know all too well how quickly four hours evaporates when you’re working on a recording project. And if you record it, you have to mix it. And to share it, you have to post it somewhere, so you either need a website or space on something like BandCamp or SoundCloud. And posting your music to those sites takes time. And so do all of the activities that go with posting your music publicly: copyrighting your music, registering with a PRO, and so on.

And then there’s this blog. I’m really enjoying writing this blog and sharing my thoughts and feelings about music with anyone who cares to read what I have to say. But obviously, it takes time to do it. I want to provide value, so I put time not only writing, but also reading, researching, and learning about music.

Well, I guess you get the point. I’m sure many of you have similar schedules. Just like me, you work a regular job, you have families, you exercise, you eat. It all takes time. And then you have your  music. If you’re a live performer, then you have another activity that takes time. Rehearsal, band meetings, scheduling, travel, and so on. It all takes time.

So, is it really true that if you don’t write every day that means you “don’t want it badly enough?” I don’t think so. If you’re lucky enough to have made it to the point where you don’t have to hold down a regular job, than you have a huge chunk of time available to you that many others reading this blog don’t have. If I had an extra eight hours a day, then I’d have a different outlook on this. But I’m willing to bet that even those of you who have those extra eight hours still have trouble carving out the time to do all of the things you “must do every day in order to succeed.”

So, I don’t believe it. I don’t believe I have to write music every single day in order to succeed. In my present reality, believing such a thing would be tantamount to believing that I will never succeed. I refuse to believe that. This is exactly why I hate statements like “if you want to succeed as a songwriter, you have to write every day.” It’s a beautiful aspiration, isn’t it? Pie in the sky, I say. There’s no way that it can be reality for me right now. Not if I want to accomplish other things that I’m working on and are just as important to me. And I’ll bet there are plenty of you for whom it cannot be reality right now either.

Of course, songwriting is important to me. I do consider myself a songwriter, after all. But it’s a balancing act. I have to balance songwriting against everything else. And so do you. We all do. Telling someone that “you have to do [fill in activity here] every day in order to succeed” feels to me like the worst possible advice. It usually comes from someone who is already comfortably ensconced in a position of success. Someone who can afford the time to do that thing. If that’s you, please know that by saying something like “you have to do it every day to succeed,” you are not helping me or guys like me. I’m sure you want to help, and I’m sure you mean well, but it’s not helping. It’s hurting. You’re sending the message that my dedication is inferior.

Sounds a little like sour grapes, doesn’t it? Maybe it is. Maybe I’m just making excuses. Maybe my inability to devote the time to do this thing every day is a downside of being a Jack of All Trades. I don’t know, to be completely honest with you. But one thing I do know for sure is that hearing, “If you want to be successful as a songwriter [or whatever], you have to do it everyday,” is terrible advice for me. You might as well tell me, “You will never succeed. You will always fail.” And I’ll listen to you and believe you just as much as if you had said that. I do not believe you. I believe there are many roads to success, and I will find mine. And right now, it doesn’t include writing every single day. Maybe one day it will. But now? It does not.

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