WARNING: this blog is going to tell you something you already know. I just think it helps to hear it every now and then.
I think it’s a popular and convenient belief that if you attempt a creative endeavor too much, or too many times, that you’ll run out of good ideas. I hear it all of the time: “quality over quantity, better to write 1 good song than 10 bad ones, so I’ll just save my good ideas for the really good song.”
This thought persists across a broad range of creative activities, but I’m going to focus on song-writing because that’s the one I have a little experience with.
From what I’ve seen, this belief couldn’t be further from the truth. From what I’ve seen, quantity creates quality. Better to write 10 songs, because the 11th is going to be a little better, and the 12th usually a little better than that, and by the 100th, well then you’re really cooking with gas.
Every successful song-writer that I know writes songs constantly. Usually every day, if not multiple every day. Whether or not they started out more talented than the leagues of unsuccessful song-writers, I don’t know, but they’ve certainly become that way, through commitment to their craft
I was once told that the wildly successful song-writers, the ones writing all of the monster, radio-dominating singles, are able to write so many successful songs because they write SO MANY SONGS. An incredible song-writer gets maybe 20-30 great songs every year that are used. If you write a song a day, 6 days a week, excluding holidays, then you’re looking at 300 songs by the end of the year. That means that for even the best songwriters, only 10% of songs will end up great. Think you could hit that mark now? Imagine how good you’d be after spending a few years at it. Write that much that consistently over a couple of years and I’ll have one question for you: will you write with my band?
It’s important to not that they weren’t born with the innate ability to create chart-topping music. Dig into the past of most of the biggest names of the song-writing world and you’ll usually find a nice, garage-punk band they used to play in. Certainly an art form in its own right, but it doesn’t sound anything like the chart-topping hits they’re producing now:
From the producer/ co-writer of “Royals” and “Team” by Lorde: http://youtu.be/gLKeKqzRXL8
From the writer of writer of 16 billboard #1 hits: http://youtu.be/PAgfcHggwLA
Outside of creative endeavors, this is an understood concept. No Quarterback says “no, practicing won’t help me much, I don’t want to waste all of my good throws before the game.” No surgeon neglects trial runs because they don’t want to waste their good luck for when they’re actually operating on someone.
I recently read Ray Bradbury’s “Zen in the Art of Writing,” where he details his writing history and process. When he started, to press himself into the creative process, he set a personal goal of writing 1,000 words every day. At the time he was writing short stories, so it was 1 short story every week for 52 weeks of the year. For 8 years, he sold next to nothing, made almost no money. Time wasted? Of course not. He was learning to write, he says. And sure enough, not long after that, his luck came around when a collection of his short stories became “The Martian Chronicles” and a short story called “The Fire Man” became a novel called “Farenheit 451.” They both ended up being pretty popular books. Also worth noting that many of those stories written during his 8 years of being “unsuccessful” were later put in collections that sold hundreds of thousands of copies.
Creativity is an inexhaustible resource. Ideas are infinite. Your bones will get tired, your mind will grow stronger. If you want to create something beautiful, lasting, timeless, than you’ve got to start by creating something.
You already knew that though. So why aren’t you doing it?