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Six Lessons from Writing a Song a Week Through 2017

6 Lessons illustration by Josh Quick

Illustration by Josh Quick.

This year, I made a New Year’s Resolution: Write a song a week and document the inspiration, process, and end product in a web series. To my amazement, I’m past the eleven-month mark of my goal. I feel proud (and surprised) that I’ve stuck to it—this commitment feels really good. I might not stop at 52.

Here are six lessons I’ve learned over the last year.

1. I have time.

When I worked full-time, I thought I didn’t have time for the things I cared about. I was tired when I got home from work. I may have found time to watch entire seasons of Orange Is The New Black after work, but that was because I needed to recharge after the weird emotional demands of dysfunctional office life!

Nowadays, I have a few different part-time jobs, which have allowed me to rewrite the story about how much time I have to do the things I want to do. As I’ve worked on ‘How To Write A Song,’ I’ve begun to see the inconsistencies in my narrative: there have been weeks when I’ve worked more than full-time hours, and I no longer have paid vacation time. And yet!

There has only been one week so far where I was late to post my episode. On that particular week, I had procrastinated to the last day and then got food poisoning. All Wednesday, I was puking my guts out. All Thursday (the day I usually post), I felt like roadkill. I still put the episode up by Friday.

2. Liking my idea is reason enough to do it.

Since January, I’ve been asked why I’m doing this. I’d reply that I want to build a larger audience for my music, I want to write more consistently, and I want to be a better video editor. Those explanations are true, but felt a little hollow. There was an undercurrent of embarrassment, trying to justify why I’m devoting 8-10+ hours a week to this project that not that many people even watch.

A few months ago, I got asked the ‘why’ question again. My embarrassment escalated and changed into anger at feeling misunderstood. Later, I had an epiphany: I’m doing this because I had an idea, I liked my idea, and it feels good to do my idea.

That’s it. While the other reasons are certainly a part of my motivation, they are not the main part. I just fucking liked my idea. So I’m doing my idea.

3. Collaboration is magic.

Sometimes I’m leery about collaborating. When I’ve invited other musicians to work with me on projects, I get self conscious about whether they feel that they’re wasting their time working with me—I take any slightly negative offhand comment they make as proof that they regret doing me the favor of collaborating.

This project has been different. I’ve been collaborating by interviewing friends and taking inspiration from our talks. Then, I ask them to add to the final song if they have time. When they’re able to, I’m delighted! If they don’t, I’m still so grateful for their part in inspiring the song. So many song ideas have come from asking people simple, open-ended questions. Collaboration doesn’t have to hold such high stakes.

4. It is possible to write when I don’t feel like it, and sometimes the result is even better than when I do feel like it.

There are so many reasons to not write. Depression, apathy, general weirdness of mood, distractedness, hopelessness. Five trillion more. Infinity. Depression has always been a big excuse for me, even though I am 100% aware that writing or playing the guitar will make me feel better when I’m stuck in sadness. I’ll sit in front of my computer, watching YouTube shows about ex-Scientologists or reading blogs about someone’s haircut.

I consume whatever media I can to try to turn off my mind, knowing, I would be happier and more fulfilled doing something else—MAKING something of my own. I still get in that spiral, but now I have homework to do. Every week I must write, so every week I do. I’ve written through depression, apathy, distractedness, hopelessness. Some of my favorite songs were written in these less-than-ideal moods. Let me say thank you to those weird feelings: I am grateful for them.

5. What is normal changes so fast.

I’m always impressed by people who seem so productive. I have sometimes asked them, How? I have been in awe of them and told them so. Weirdly, since doing this project, people have had that reaction to me. ME??

Very quickly in the process of this ‘How To Write A Song’ madness, it became part of my routine. It’s is in the category of riding my bike, feeding my cats when I get home, checking Instagram. While I’m proud of the fact that I’ve made nearly fifty episodes so far, I’m not amazed by it. It has become normal. Now, I crave more projects. My normal has shifted.

6. There is always another idea.

I used to be scared every time I finished writing a song that I liked: What if I don’t ever write anything ever again?? Through this process, that worry has become ridiculous. Every time I interview someone, new things come out. Every time I sit on my blue couch in a weird mood and pledge to write a song, something happens. I don’t love every song I’ve written, but I like all of them, and I do love quite a few. There are infinite reasons to not write; there are infinite things to write about.

* * *

I’m a little worried that I’m jinxing something by reflecting on this so much. The mind sets so many traps. I see the trap, I laugh, I go around it. Here’s hoping I dodge my way to 52 (and perhaps beyond).


Jenni Lark is a singer/songwriter and actor originally from the Bay Area and based in New York City. Her music is available on iTunesSpotify and most places like that. You can watch her write nonsensical songs on her couch at YouTube.com/JenniLark and see more at JenniLark.com.