Songwriting and Parenting: 5 tips for stoking the songwriting fire

What’s that you say? Yes! I did write a blog about Parenting and Songwriting. It was inspired by a late-night conversation with Annie Mack after her closing, Saturday night performance at the Great River Folk Festival in La Crosse, Wisconsin. You can read it here

I know this sounds the same, but I swear, this post is different. It is about Songwriting... and Parenting. Last time I was focusing on keeping the balance. We talked about how find a way to keep writing while still recognizing your important role as a parent. This time it’s all about business. How do you keep that creative songwriting muscle going when are also juggling the responsibilities of a parent? With kids in the house, the days of staying up late working on songs while tipping back another beer are fewer and father in between. Quiet mornings with a hot cup of coffee, your guitar, and a pad of paper on the porch are basically non-existent. So how do we as songwriters keep finding time to chase that song and feed our creative soul? 

We do it intentionally and with a few tricks up our sleeves. I tried to narrow down my top five tricks and hacks for keeping the lyrics flowing and the creativity candle burning. 

1. Make/schedule time – I feel like this is an oxymoron when you have children. I mean, essentially, your time is their time, right? Early mornings? Nope, the kids wake up early and are jumping on the bed. Nap time? Maybe, if you have littles, but mine are older and they just get grumpy at about 3pm but don’t sleep. Even if they did nap, I’d probably be napping too at that time. Or catching up on dishes, laundry, or toy cleanup. On the potty? Nope. The kid’s fingers are practically reaching beneath the door.  So when the heck will you be able to carve time out of your day to write poetry, prose, or music? If you are struggling with this question, here is the key: Do an inventory of you time. I think most of us have some time during the day that is being occupied with something elective. Streaming a show? Social media? Podcasts? Staring blankly into space as you eat lunch? If you are missing songwriting, I’d suggest finding something to cut. Maybe the thing is sleep, and this means waking up 15 minutes before the kids usually do. Maybe you don’t really need to watch the 20th season of the Great British Baking Show. Try to look at how you currently spend you time and see what can give and swap it with you art. After a few weeks, if you really miss your old ways of doing things the old way, then you have your answer. Songwriting isn’t as much of a priority at this time in your life, and that is okay too. 

2. Write, discard, and write again – We are already acknowledging free time is a luxury that leaves us when kids are in the house. When free time returns, you’ll probably want the kids back, so for now, I think there is much value in writing just for the sake of writing. If you sit down once a week for a year, you’ll probably get 40 crap ideas, 8 ones you kinda like, and 4 you’d play in public. And I, for one, think that ratio is pretty darn phenomenal. As such, don’t be afraid to write and toss. Of course, there is something to be said about persevering and finishing a song, but with kids, sometimes just finding a nice melody worth humming is a win. Don’t get discouraged by songs that don’t fly. The  simple act of writing is valuable. Write a bit. Trash em if you don’t like it. Play with your kids. And write some more. 

3. Keep the recorder handy – I already touched on this, but having a recording device handy (ie. Phone) is key. That and a pad of paper and pen. Keep one in your bag, car, purse, bike satchel, whatever. Let your mind wander and capture those little golden nuggets as they come to you. It kinda comes back to seizing the moments as they arise. If you have something handy to write down the lyric or record the melody, you’ll be ready when the muse dances through your window.  

4. Find a prompter – Social media has light and dark sides, we all know this. One of the gifts is the networking in song groups. I like to jump in and out of these from time to time as they add some extra nudges of pressure and encouragement when I need to write. Additionally, many of these groups come up with prompts for you to practice the craft of songwriting. Though I love to write from moments of pure inspiration and personal experience, the ability to just work on song structure, style, and practice new things has been so important as I strive to become a better writer. Groups that encourage me to write around a prompt have be great for me. My favorites: Fearless Songwriter: a quarterly group on facebook that asks you two write a song a day in 45 minutes for one week straight. It is a difficult task, but it jumpstarts your creativity button. I do it after the house is asleep. The other has been a great group that started this year called Mulvey’s Elephants – a weekly group started by the amazing writer Peter Mulvey (find the group here on his patreon page) where we are given a weekly prompt and all share songs and provide feedback. It was a great group to belong to during this pandemic year. So there you go. When you feel stuck, find someone to give you a nudge, or in this case, a prompt. 

5. Find a friend – this is the last tip I have for the songwriters who are also wading the high waters of parenthood. I love songwriting. But when it is just me late at night, and I find a song I’m totally excited about, I often have to find someone to share it with. If I try to play it for my kids in the morning, they ask me to be quiet and leave. They don’t have any interest in it. I don’t blame them. I’m not that interesting unless I’m being silly. As such, for me, writing songs can quicky become a lonely task. Music is mean to be heard and shared. I want to tell stories and engage with others. So, what do it do when I don’t have weekly gigs to whine and moan and shout out lyrics? I send drafts of my songs to friends. I’ve systematically blasted folks enough to have figured out which ones come back at me with a good mix of critiques and criticisms. Sometimes I send one out just to share, but finding a pal who really enjoys editing and working on a song is super valuable, and I recommend you find a few folks like that. Having someone respond to your latest effort with encouragement can help fight off the “what’s it all for?”-voices that creep into your tired parent mind from time to time. 

So, I don’t know if this is helpful, but as you fight to keep that songwriter alive while reading Frozen for the 30th time or giggling at Captain Underpants jokes (they are pretty funny, afterall), employ some intentional techniques to set yourself up for success. Be loose with your lyrics and let go of the bad ones. Keep the recorder handy and do an inventory of your time to see when you’re most likely to give your craft attention. Join a group where others provide inspiration, and find someone thoughtful to be your audience. 

Parenting is hard. Songwriting is hard. But they are also fun and awesome. You can’t always do both, but there are ways to keep the muse close enough to grab when the time presents itself. 

Good luck. Now go enjoy your kids. 



Next up: Prepping for Nanowrimo2021

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