When I recorded my first EP 15 years ago, I chose the songs from a list of 35. It wasn’t a shortlist, I had only finished 35 songs. That was the whole and complete experience of myself as a songwriter at that moment.
I knew the quality of what I wanted to create but I was not experienced nor skilled enough to create this. And this led to perfectionism and a whole lot of unfinished songs.
Looking back, I didn’t have any finely-tuned songwriting skills. Whilst I was a trained and professional musician earning a living from performing and teaching music at universities, the reality was, I was a beginner songwriter. And I desperately wanted to write great songs!
Many world-class and top-earning songwriters, including one of the most successful modern-day songwriters Ed Sheeran, say that to write great songs you have to write a lot of songs. And this was the philosophy I went with when I started my practice – writing consistently – and through the volume of learning, growing, research and development going on will result in really good songs over time.
And after 400 songs in 400 weeks – which is 7.5 years of consistent writing – I feel so incredible about my songwriting AND my songs. Here’s how that all developed.
Songs 1 – 100 (Sept 2014 to Aug 2016)
Prompts, deadlines and guidelines helped me finish an album
The first major change from my new songwriting practice was the simple weekly themes, time limit and deadline that got me writing again. The first 30 songs in 30 weeks really shocked me. I had never written so many songs in such a short timeframe and some of those songs were able to complete a long-unfinished album that I had been stalling.
I started learning a new instrument that I’d always dreamed of playing…
I’d always dreamt of playing the guitar and had been telling myself that I didn’t have the time to learn. That was a lie. The truth was that I wasn’t resilient enough to be okay with struggling to learn.
But writing songs every week – where some were good, some were okay and some were crap – supported me to trust the process of learning. And so I wrote my 35th weekly song on guitar as I taught myself some chords.
Playing guitar was a game changer as I was no longer confined to my piano at home. I took my guitar to the beach, to the park, on tour, and wrote anywhere and everywhere.
…and this changed how I approached my melody writing.
Because I was a beginner guitarist, I needed to focus more on what my fingers were doing. I kept the chords simple, repetitive and also I didn’t change chords as frequently – all contributing to a different harmonic landscape to create melody over.
The biggest takeaway from my first 100 songs was that my skills were not fixed.
Songs 101 – 200 (Aug 2016 to July 2018)
These next 100 songs presented a new opportunity for growth for me personally. Many people who start this songwriting practice tend to stop when things get challenging in their life – when there are other demands that take precedence.
When my dad was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I chose a different path. I chose to write through this experience. I chose to make 1 hour for my songwriting each week despite everything that was happening around me.
Songwriting as my father was dying helped me process everything that I was feeling
The songs were like a diary entry of how I was feeling each week. But more so, those emotions didn’t get stuck within me – they were given a space each week to be released.
My father and I had been estranged for 9 years, so sharing my songs with him each week was a hugely healing time for us both. There was a shared connection, love and feeling of peace, which healed everything that had come before.
This experience taught me in a conscious way the power of creative expression and how it is so nourishing and healing to write regularly.
Songs 201 – 300 (July 2018 to June 2020)
Creativity strengthens your intuition – and this took me global!
Something I learnt from the first 200 songs was to follow my intuition unconditionally. I was doing it every single week in my practice. An idea would come and I would act on it, never doubting that I would arrive somewhere by the end of my practice.
As with all learning opportunities, if it is learnt in one part of your life it can be applied in other parts. And I started following my intuition in other ways.
I followed the seed of an idea to travel to Paris. To write a show about Paris. To perform this show in Australia, in New Zealand, in Paris. I had been in training for this and so following those creative ideas was something I was in tune with.
Songwriting on a new instrument will eventually make you good on that instrument
I wrote each song on guitar when I was on the road, and when it came time to play those songs, the concert was performed on guitar. This was a huge step for me. I was now a guitarist! This instrument that I had always dreamed of playing, I was now playing on stage.
This songwriting practice opened me up to access something that I would have previously cut down, overthought, doubted and not followed through with. But here I was acting on each inspired idea – taking inspired action and creating a magical new reality for myself. And by writing songs each week.
Writing a lot of songs will change how you feel about yourself
I stayed on the road for quite some time – songwriting, running songwriting workshops, speaking at music industry conferences. When I came home to Australia in early 2020, I realized just how much I had grown as a songwriter.
I could clearly articulate what I wanted to say. I trusted and could reliably write well-crafted songs. I was a guitarist. I could write anywhere, I could write no matter how I felt. There was zero resistance to writing. Instead there was a new belief about myself. I knew that I could write songs that I would love. Not every song I would love, but I knew that I WOULD. It would happen.
I had become a resilient, flexible and open human.
Songs 301- 400 (June 2020 to May 2022)
Co-writing teaches you so much about songwriting and yourself
My experience with co-writing before this time wasn’t really fruitful or enjoyable. Upon reflection, I wasn’t flexible and open enough to be able to do this. Co-writing showed me new ways to write. It showed me my strengths and it showed me where I could still learn more. It showed me my gaps in my learning and helped me paint a picture of where I wanted to go next. And it held me accountable to edit my songs in ways I had not done before.
Editing songs is so much easier to do when you write regularly
The ability to edit and write multiple versions of songs was something that I had zero tolerance for before I started this journey. It took me 300 songs before I could open the door to crafting at a higher level.
Whilst melody and harmony is still my strong suit, I am able to stay open and trust that by the end of the song, I will have crafted something special and magical – from the rich pool of experience and skill that I am now in consistent alignment with. And that if I want to change that, to distill the idea further, I am able to get back into that space and write more, rewrite, change it up, cut complete ideas out – without any fear.
I know I will continue to write songs. And continue to write even better songs. I feel so excited for just how much better I’m going to become as a songwriter by continuing to write songs each week.
Writing 400 songs will make you a great songwriter!
When I go to write songs I often feel like I have no idea what I’m going to do, which is no different to 400 songs ago. But where the huge transformation is, is in the trust of myself. That as I start to write, I will be shown what is next. And I will not know it a moment before that time.
I can surrender to the process and trust that I will be provided for. I have faith in my songwriting.
I wrote those 400 songs with the support and friendship of some really special people who have listened and have given me feedback along the way. And a big part of my ability to grow has been because of them. So I want to thank each person that I’ve shared a songwriting group with in I Heart Songwriting Club.
This journey of 400 songs is really the journey of my growth as a human. This journey will be different for everyone. But who you become by writing songs week after week is there for you to discover. I never imagined I would ever feel this assured and confident in my songwriting. And I never imagined I would be a clear, joyful, and purposeful human having access to so much magic and wonder in this life.
I wonder what that journey would be like for you…
Episode Show Notes:
Get your creativity, confidence, and songwriting output flowing. Join The Club and receive the support and structure to write 10 songs in 10 weeks and get feedback from a private peer community. This is THE essential writing practice that has changed the careers and lives of 1000s of songwriters worldwide.
Just getting started on your songwriting journey and need more hands-on support? Establish a firm foundation and develop your musical and lyric skills with our Beginner Songwriting Courses. They are the perfect place to begin and cover everything you need to know to write your first songs. You’ll receive lessons from Francesca directly!
Don’t struggle to write your next album – write an album a year with ease! Watch our Free Songwriting Masterclass.
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Podcast theme song: “Put One Foot In Front Of The Other One” music and lyrics by Francesca de Valence
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