“Write 20 songs a day, throw 19 of them away.” – Bob Dylan.
I am not 100% sure of the accuracy of the above quote, but it is a philosophy that I repeatedly come back to in my creative life. I don’t know if Bob Dylan actualy wrote 20 songs a day (I wouldn’t put it past him), but I think the essence of what he is saying is this:
1. Don’t be too precious about your songs
Be willing to discard songs that aren’t great, or that you don’t love, or that are too similar to you’re other songs. It doesn’t make you less of a song-writer if you write the occasional sub-standard song (after all, Paul McCartney wrote “C Moon”). Just be willing to let it go.
2. Finish what you start
Don’t start out expecting to write the perfect song. That only paves the way for disappointment, which stifles creativity. Start out writing a song with the expectation of finishing a song. This mentality allows the song to take it’s course without the pressure that comes with striving for perfection. A finished song is better than an unfinished song, regardless of which has the better content.
3. Just keep writing
Of all the advice I’ve gleaned from other songwriters, this seems to be the most frequently repeated and stressed. The best way to write great songs, is to write lots of songs. Not only will your skills improve each time you write, but you’ll give yourself a much better chance of stumbling across that one gem of a song that you’ve been trying to capture. You’ll also learn how to write on demand or to a specification – skills which are invaluable to the professional song-writer. Following Dylan’s logic, if there is one diamond in every twenty stones, then you need to write 200 songs in order to have an album’s worth of top quality songs. Do you need any more reason to just keep writing?
Now, I suspect that Dylan’s message was not supposed to be taken literally, and perhaps 20 was a hyperbolic figure meant to make a point. But the gist his advice is something that all song-writers should take on board.