No matter what kind of music you make or how experienced you are as a songwriter, distractions have the potential to stifle your best ideas and make getting anything done a challenge. Even before the age of smartphone notifications, the non-stop news cycle, and social media, distractions were a significant challenge for music-makers. But today, they can become a major problem if you don’t have a plan for carving out distraction-free time and space to create in. Here are five tips for creating a songwriting practice that’s free of distractions:
Separate yourself from tech that doesn’t help you make music
If you keep your phone on or laptop open while you write, there’s a good chance the majority of your time will get sucked into social media feeds, news stories, and text threads. Instead of thinking about tech-related distractions as a potential problem during songwriting time, start seeing them as an inevitability and plan accordingly. Remove all tech that doesn’t help you make music from your process. This can mean putting your phone on airplane mode or leaving devices in the other room. If you’re constantly fixated on notifications throughout the day, this tip is especially for you. To fully engage with inspiration and creativity, you need to devote your entire focus to the songwriting process, not just the times between checking emails and social media notifications.
Create in the same place at the same times
I’ve said it dozens of times on this blog, and I’ll say it again: creating a songwriting schedule is one of the absolute best things you can do for your music-making practice. If you’re a serious musician that wants to create serious work, you’ll need to devote as much structured time to the songwriting process as possible. Sticking to a schedule doesn’t mean just making music at certain times. It means that during those times, the only thing you do is create, explore, record, practice, or produce music. If you only write when you feel like it, then the time you manage to pencil in for music will probably be chock full of distractions with uneven results.
Create boundaries with family or roommates
This might come as a surprise, but you can’t effectively parent, hang out with your partner, or socialize with your friends while deeply engaging with the songwriting process at the same time. Inspiration is constantly surrounding us, but it’s our job to stop and recognize it. This can’t happen when other people are spending time with you in an uncollaborative way while you write. Once you have a songwriting schedule set up, politely announce boundaries with the people in your life that depend on you or that you share a living space with. You’ll probably find that not only your time making music will be richer, but that your relationships will be as well.
Get disciplined about focusing only on music during writing sessions
The truth is that even without devices and other people, it can be hard to focus on songwriting during writing sessions. When times are good and creativity is easy to access, focusing isn’t something we have to worry about. But when we run into dead ends and tough creative decisions have to get made, there’s a tendency to lose direction and intention. Songwriting takes discipline in ways we don’t think much about as musicians, but our efforts will be more successful if we can face problems like not knowing what to do with an idea or not having any ideas at all with patience, curiosity, and bravery.
Have a list of goals to refer to
Coming into your writing sessions armed with a list of goals will help you to stave off distraction. Whether it’s as broad as “Write three new songs for new upcoming album,” or something more specific, goals provide positive and clear direction that can keep you focused and inspired. The key is to work with goals in a way that leaves room for spontaneity. It’s perfectly fine to start out a writing session trying to work towards a goal and finish by doing something completely different, as long as what you’re doing aligns with your broader mission of creating and exploring music.
Songwriting isn’t easy, but you probably already knew that. But by doing everything in our power to remove distractions from our unique processes, we’ll have a much better chance of creating in impactful ways.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.