Songwriting

The Fearless Songwriting Challenge FAQ

What is the ‘Fearless’ Challenge? 

The challenge: Smash though 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 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 walk 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 a 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 adjust to guidelines of the challenge 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  lots of people post their songs on the closed group created on Facebook for each challenge.  Taking part the community will help you get through the challenge.  Posting your songs often leads to feedback revealing your efforts are more substantial than you give yourself credit for.

Should I comment on people’s songs?

Yes!  People love hearing about your experience of their music.  Let people know what you’ve enjoyed and what moved you, what you found funny or inspiring.   Focus on a songs 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, idea  or image to start from, or they might ask a writer to focus on a particular facet of their craft, or of music.  Previous prompts have included: “Overnight”, “Relationship Triangle”, and even “Giant Squid”.  More musically oriented prompts have included things like; “write a two chord song”, “write an a cappella song”, or “use a different instrument than normal”.    

Who creates the prompts?

Often I reach out to people who have participated in the Fearless Challenge in the past or to other musician friends I know for the prompts, or I just come up with something myself.

Do I have to use the prompt? 

Prompts are a tool.  If they help, use them.  If they’re unhelpful, don’t.

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 might be a destination to aim for, or a place to start your travels.  Either way the prompts are merely a tool to help us get through the challenge, the goal of the challenge is write songs, not to write to prompts.

When do the prompts get posted?

I do my best to post the prompts between 11 PM and 12  Eastern Time for upcoming day.   

Do I have time to take on the Fearless Songwriting Challenge? 

This is a valid question––To complete the Fearless Songwriting Challenge requires about an hour a day for seven days straight; it’s not an insignificant commitment.  On the other hand, lots of people complain about spending too much time on the internet.  Others  are able to spontaneously generate six hour stints to watch Arrested Development.  Maybe you have more time available to you than you thought?   Is there an activity or two that you could give up for a week to make time for you writing? 

I’m moving, getting married, 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 at 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 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 at an experiment at once.    Inspiration is a creature of varied habits and there’s much to learn in shaking up a routine to see what will happen.   Some people who are slow writers try the challenge and find it helps them condense their process.  Most people who take part 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 process writing and revision.   

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.  45 minutes is a guideline––if you don’t finish that quickly it’s fine.  But try 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-flagelation.

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?

Please do.

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.  While we’re here, keep in mind a song’s chord progression and song title can’t be copyrighted.  So steal ’em all you like.

I’d like to support Timmy for organizing the Fearless Challenge, does he have a Patreon or something?

He sure does.  It’s right here: https://www.patreon.com/Timmyrmusic

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