Earlier this month I read and loved a post by Adam P. Knave over at Stop Motion Verbosity about being a writer. More precisely, it’s about addressing the question that every professional writer gets at some point, which is basically “How do you become a professional writer?” Even though Adam writes comics and novels and short stories rather than songs, a lot of the same points apply.
Obviously, if you want to be a writer, you need to be writing. This seems like a no-brainer but I’ve met a ton of “writers” who spend their time perfecting the image, poses, and attitude of a writer without ever putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. These people are not writers. In fact, most of the professional writers I know don’t have very much in common with these “writers”.
Not everything you set down in words is going to be lovely. Most of it probably won’t be. But if you aren’t writing it down, you can’t call yourself a writer yet.
Adam also makes the point that you should “read every type of book, comic and non-fiction you can, see movies and listen to music. Don’t ignore any source of story.” This is absolutely essential for songwriters too! A lot of your inspiration will come from unexpected places, so read as much as you can, explore different genres of music, go see a film you would not normally seek out. If you have the same experiences over and over again, your well of inspiration will dry up pretty quickly. Go experience the world and different art forms and you will not be able to keep ideas away.
My favorite part about the post, the thing that really struck me that I feel is not said enough, is the part that I feel separates songwriters who are hobbyists from the professionals. “Act like a professional.”
For songwriters, this means showing up on time, doing the work, following through, etc… And the most important ingredient in that for me is always gratitude.
Gratitude means thanking the person who set up the show for you, thanking the fans who show up to listen, profusely thanking someone who gave you good advice on a song, appreciating all of the folks who allow you to make (even a little) money doing something that you love.
It also means remembering people you’ve met at conferences, following up with email/twitter/facebook contact to say hi, not starting drama with other musicians/songwriters for no reason, and going out of your way to help someone who is just starting out. People remember things like that, and they know whether or not it’s from a genuine place.
To me, those are things that show me someone is a professional, regardless of how much money they have or haven’t made with their music.
Anyway, my thanks to Adam for always giving me something to think, laugh, or write about. And my endless gratitude to you, my readers, for sticking with me through my posting drought!