What is the ‘Fearless’ Challenge?
The challenge: Smash through our fears and inhibitions involved in songwriting. The method: write seven songs in seven days.
Can anybody take part?
Everybody is welcome.
What if I’m not a Fearless Songwriter?
You don’t have to be fearless to take part in the challenge. Most people aren’t. I’m certainly not. Fear is a guide toward the meat of writing. So, in a sense, the goal isn’t to shed fear. The goal is shedding the aversion to fear. The goal trusting fear as a guide to our best work.
“There’s no way I can write a song in 45-minutes. I’ve never done that! How do you do that?”
In his songwriting class, Peter Himmelman suggests a thought experiment:
“A person walks up to you with 50,000 dollars in hand to write a song in the next half hour; would you write it?”
Of course, you would. So what’s really stopping you from writing a song?
Would you like an example of how? This Youtube video shows Nate Barofsky (formerly of Girlyman) putting together a song in about 15 minutes. : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYYfXLiA2-g
What counts as a completed song?
My definition of a completed song is a set of lyrics set to a melody (usually with instrumental accompaniment) that’s been recorded. A second definition is a rough draft I’m confident I can return to and work on in the future if I choose to. Your definition may differ.
I started a song a week ago … Can that count for the challenge?
Using songs you’ve started previously isn’t in the spirit of the challenge. (That said, people have been known to adjust the challenge’s guidelines to suit their needs).
What skills should I have to join the Fearless Songwriting Challenge?
The Challenge requires more attitude than skill. Children and parents write songs. So do drunks and lovers. If the challenge excites you, take it on. If the challenge overwhelms you it’s unlikely to be productive.
The only way I have to record my songs is on a cheap digital recorder (or whatever). Is this good enough? Do I have to record my song in a studio?
Most participants post simple recordings. I record my songs with an iPhone.
Do I have to show my songs to someone? Or is this on the honor system?
You don’t have to show your songs to anyone, but many people post their songs in the Facebook Group created for each challenge. Joining the community is excellent support for getting through the challenge. Writers can be pretty self-critical; the feedback you receive from others often reveals our efforts are more substantial than we give ourselves credit for.
Should I comment on people’s songs?
Yes! People love hearing about your experience with their music. Let people know what you’ve enjoyed and what moved you, what you found funny or inspiring. Focus on a song’s strengths. Offer sincere encouragement. Writers often feel insecure and/or conflicted about their songs. They may have no idea they’ve written anything of worth. Let them know where they’ve succeeded. Since the challenge asks us to share work that is fresh and potentially vulnerable, criticisms and suggested revisions are discouraged unless explicitly asked for by the artist for a specific song.
What’s a prompt?
Prompts offer writers a single word, phrase, or directive as a starting place to help focus and prime people for their writing. A prompt might offer a subject, an idea, or an image to start from. It might also ask a writer to focus on a particular facet of their craft or music.
Who creates the prompts?
The prompts are often lines or phrases I snag from poems or songs I like. Sometimes I’ll choose a single artist or even a single song as the source for all the prompts. (It’s a game for some participants to see if they can figure out the prompt’s source). There are also times when the prompts are solicited from friends and artists.
Do I have to use the prompt?
Prompts are a tool. If they help, use them. If they’re unhelpful, don’t. This blog post dives into how I approach writing with prompts.
I started working with the prompt but now my song seems to have nothing to do with it, is that ok?
That’s fine. The prompts are a place to start your travels. You might stay in that place or go somewhere else. Either way, the prompts are a tool to help complete the challenge. The goal of the challenge is to write songs, not to write to the prompts.
When do the prompts get posted?
I do my best to post the prompts between 9 PM and midnight Eastern Time for the upcoming day.
Do I have time to take on the Fearless Songwriting Challenge?
This is an important question––completing the Fearless Songwriting Challenge requires about an hour a day for seven days straight; it’s not an insignificant commitment. On the other hand, many people complain about spending too much time on the internet. Other people can spontaneously generate six-hour stints to binge [a current, popular show]. You might have more time available than you thought? Is there an activity or two that you could give up to create space for your writing?
I’m moving, getting married, or going to China the week of the upcoming challenge. Should I participate?
You may not want to mix major life events with the Fearless Songwriting Challenge. The week requires substantial effort and commitment of time. Be sensible and kind to yourself on the other commitments you have during the week.
How can I best set myself up to successfully complete the challenge?
1. Create a space for your writing for the week. As much as possible have everything you need set up in that space before you sit down to write. It’s best to have a notebook, pen or pencil, recording device, musical instrument at the ready.
2. Decide out what time you’ll write each day and stick to it. Consistency is best; I’m going to start writing at 8:00 AM each day for the next seven days and have a finished song by 8:45 leaves little room for argument or equivocation. If you can’t write at the same time each day plan what time you’ll write each day in your calendar. Then sit down and write.
3. Create an invocation to your muse requesting humility and productivity. My favorite example comes from an article in the New Yorker*:
- get an egg timer and every day set it for one minute
- everyday kneel in front of your writing implements in a posture of prayer beg the universe to help you write the worst sentence ever written.
- When the timer dings, start typing.
Maybe you’ll prefer a less ostentatious ritual. That’s fine, figure out what works for you. NO matter what you do the aim is to lower the bar and write a lot.
*The complete article is available here: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/03/21/110321fa_fact_goodyear
I write slowly, can I take part in the challenge?
I encourage all songwriters to take on the Fearless Challenge as an experiment. Inspiration is a creature of varied habits, and there’s much to learn in shaking up a routine to see what will happen. Some slower writers try the challenge and find it helps them condense their process. Most people who participate in the challenge will continue to revise their songs even after they’re “done.” That said, I know of many great writers who thrive in their commitment to a slow, deliberative writing and revision process.
What if I don’t finish the song in 45 minutes?
They say that a goldfish will grow to the size of its fishbowl. The same goes for songwriting. Forty-five minutes is a guideline––if you don’t finish that quickly it’s fine. It’s also sensible not to spend all day wrestling with your song. You’ll drive yourself batty; I always do.
What if I don’t complete the challenge?
John Wooden said it best: “Success is the peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction that you have made the effort to do the best of which you are capable.”
Are you satisfied you gave the week the best effort you’re capable of? Then take pride in your effort. Do you feel like you might have done better? Then you might consider, objectively, what circumstances or emotions kept you from making your best effort. If you’re someone who tends to beat themselves up, (and what songwriter isn’t?), go easy on the self-flagellation.
Learn to recognize the places you can improve, but keep in mind self-denigrating helps no one, especially not yourself. Seriously, there’ve been studies on this sort of thing––guilt and shame weaken resolve.
I don’t play the guitar. Can I still take part in this challenge?
Oh no! I just stole the structure and chord changes from Don’t Stop Believin’! Is that allowed? You won’t tell anyone will you?
No one has to know, and I’ll never tell. Borrowing, homage, and outright theft are time-honored traditions in the world of art. In point of fact, we’re all stealing something. Also, keep in mind that a song’s chord progression and title can’t be copyrighted. So steal ’em all you like.
Where is that Facebook group you mentioned so I can post my songs?
You can join The Fearless Songwriter Facebook Group is here. For each individual challenge, I create a smaller group for members doing the challenge.
I’d like to support Timmy in organizing the Fearless Challenge. Does he have a Patreon or something?
He sure does. It’s right here: https://www.patreon.com/Timmyrmusic