In the craft of songwriting, perfectionism is a double-edged sword. It can motivate songwriters, pushing them to polish their songs and reach for high-quality output.
But there’s a dark side.
When perfectionism runs wild, it can stall creativity, leading to self-criticism and the setting of impossible standards and at the end of the day, this relentless pursuit of the perfect melody, harmony, or lyric does more harm than good.
This paradoxical role of perfectionism in songwriting presents a real problem for us songwriters.
How do we strive for excellence without falling into the trap of perfectionism? This question is crucial, as the wrong balance can hinder the artistic process and even damage a songwriter’s output.
In this post, I’ll delve into the complexities of perfectionism in songwriting plus I’ll explore its impact, how it manifests, and offer some guidance on managing its influence.
My aim is to help songwriters strike the right balance, fostering creativity, embracing imperfections, and ultimately escaping the curse of perfectionism.
Understanding Perfectionism: A Double-Edged Sword
Perfectionism is deceptive in its nature and sometimes it even masquerades as a beneficial trait.
It’s natural for songwriters to strive for the best, working tirelessly to perfect their lyrics, melody, and rhythm and in reasonable amounts, perfectionism can serve as a motivational force, driving a songwriter towards refinement and improvement in their craft.
It can lead to fostering meticulous attention to detail, helping to elevate a song above the ordinary however, there’s a tipping point where perfectionism stops being beneficial and starts to create problems.
When the desire for perfection becomes a relentless quest, it can lead to a constant state of dissatisfaction with one’s work. The songwriter may find themselves caught in an endless loop of editing and re-editing, never fully content with their output.
It’s here that perfectionism evolves from a constructive influence to a destructive force. This leads to songwriter’s block, stalls creativity, and often results in an overwhelming fear of failure.
The pursuit of flawlessness can discourage risk-taking, a vital component of any creative endeavour, as the songwriter becomes apprehensive about making mistakes or trying out new, experimental ideas.
Understanding this double-edged nature of perfectionism is the first step towards navigating its challenges.
It’s important for songwriters to recognise when their drive for perfection is fuelling their creativity and when it’s hampering their progress. Only then can they start to tackle the problems that unchecked perfectionism can cause, breaking free from its grip and reclaiming their creative freedom.
The Tyrant That Is The Inner Critic
The inner critic is an intrinsic part of the songwriter’s toolbox but it’s in itself, heavily fuelled by perfectionism.
This self-critical voice often sets the bar impossibly high, leading to a constant feeling of inadequacy, despite one’s talents and achievements. It is this inner critic that pounces on every perceived flaw, magnifying minor imperfections into major shortcomings, thereby obstructing the creative process.
The inner critic’s voice can be especially loud during the songwriting process, criticising every line and every note. It questions the originality of your ideas, the effectiveness of your lyrics, the catchiness of your melody. In its most extreme form, it can even question your worth as a songwriter.
Under the unrelenting scrutiny of the inner critic, songwriters often feel paralysed, unable to move forward with their ideas.
This critical voice, while initially a mechanism designed to improve our work, can become overly negative and stifling when fuelled by excessive perfectionism. It creates an environment of fear and self-doubt, which can lead to creative blocks and prevent the completion of songs.
In the worst cases, it may even lead to a loss of enjoyment in songwriting altogether but the good news is that recognising the inner critic is the first step to silencing it (or at least becoming friends with it).
Understanding its origins and its links to perfectionism can help songwriters develop strategies to keep it in check, fostering a healthier, more productive mindset. By learning to tame this inner critic, songwriters can liberate themselves from its oppressive hold, freeing their creativity and reigniting their passion for their craft.
Shifting Paradigms: Embracing “Done Is Better Than Perfect”
One effective strategy to mitigate the negative effects of perfectionism is embracing the philosophy of “done is better than perfect.” This principle encourages songwriters to prioritise completion over endless tweaking in pursuit of an elusive ideal of perfection.
Many songwriters (me included) are plagued by countless unfinished songs, as they continually seek to refine and perfect their creations. However, continually chasing after perfection often leads to stagnation and lack of progress.
This is where the concept of “done is better than perfect” can be a transformative one.
This approach is not an excuse to produce substandard work or to settle for mediocrity. Rather, it encourages songwriters to recognise when a song or a piece of music is complete in its current form. It suggests that there is value in producing a fully formed piece of work, even if it may not live up to one’s idea of perfection.
Adopting the “done is better than perfect” mantra enables songwriters to break free from the constant cycle of editing and reworking. It allows for a sense of achievement and progress, which can be incredibly motivating. It also encourages songwriters to take risks and experiment with new ideas, knowing that not every song has to be a masterpiece.
However, shifting from a perfectionist mindset to a “done is better than perfect” approach is not always easy. It requires an acknowledging that perfection is an impossible standard and that it is okay, and even necessary, to make mistakes and learn from them.
This shift can be vital for fostering creativity, enhancing productivity, and ultimately, achieving personal and professional growth in the field of songwriting.
The Domino Effect Of Perfectionism
Perfectionism doesn’t operate in isolation; it has far-reaching impacts on various aspects of a songwriter’s life and craft. This domino effect can create a complex web of challenges that extend beyond the songwriting process itself, infiltrating your overall workflow, time management, and even your self-esteem.
As mentioned earlier, one major impact of perfectionism is the accumulation of unfinished projects. When perfection is the aim, it becomes increasingly difficult to deem a piece as complete.
This often results in a myriad of half-completed songs, each waiting for that final perfect note or lyric. This collection of unfinished work can be overwhelming and can create a backlog that hinders your ability to focus on new projects.
Perfectionism can also skew your sense of time. The endless tweaking and editing can make the songwriting process exceedingly time-consuming, leaving less time for other important aspects of your life and career. It can result in missed deadlines and opportunities, creating additional stress and pressure.
Furthermore, unchecked perfectionism can lead to a decrease in self-confidence. When your own standards are impossibly high, it’s easy to feel like you’re constantly falling short.
This can create a negative self-image, where you perceive yourself as a failure, regardless of your actual achievements and this can be particularly harmful, potentially leading to anxiety, burnout, and a diminished enjoyment in your craft.
Acknowledging this domino effect is an essential step in managing perfectionism. By understanding its broader impacts, you can take measures to mitigate its negative effects, create a more balanced approach to your work, and foster a healthier relationship with your craft.
Taming Perfectionism: Strategies For Songwriters
While perfectionism can be a formidable obstacle, it is not insurmountable. Here are some strategies that songwriters can use to manage perfectionism and foster a more balanced, productive approach to their songwriting process.
Set Realistic Goals: Setting achievable targets is a healthy way to strive for excellence without falling into the trap of perfectionism. Understand that every song you write doesn’t have to be a chart-topping hit. Sometimes, the goal can be as simple as completing a song or experimenting with a new style.
Embrace the Process: Songwriting is a process that involves trial and error. Embrace this process and allow yourself the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. Remember, it’s through these missteps that you grow and improve as an artist.
Practice Self-Compassion: Be gentle with yourself when your work doesn’t live up to your expectations. Understand that it’s natural to have off days and not every song you write will be your best. Learn to appreciate your efforts and the progress you’re making.
Adopt “Done Is Better Than Perfect”: As mentioned earlier, adopting the “done is better than perfect” mindset can be a game-changer. This doesn’t mean settling for mediocrity, but rather understanding that a completed work has more value than a perfect, yet unfinished piece.
Seek External Feedback: Sometimes, your self-critical voice can become so loud that it drowns out objectivity. In these cases, seeking feedback from trusted peers or mentors can provide a fresh perspective and help you see the value in your work that you might be overlooking.
Mindful Breaks: Perfectionism can often lead to burnout. Make sure to take regular breaks to clear your mind and refresh your creativity. This can also help reduce the stress and pressure associated with perfectionism.
By implementing these strategies, songwriters can begin to loosen the grip of perfectionism on their creative process. This can lead to a more balanced, enjoyable, and ultimately, successful songwriting journey.
So, in conclusion perfectionism, often seen as a natural companion to any artist, can prove to be a significant hindrance in a songwriter’s journey. While it may inspire us to achieve higher standards, unchecked perfectionism can stifle creativity, breed self-doubt, and obstruct progress.
Yet, the battle against perfectionism is not lost. By understanding its nature, recognising its detrimental effects, and adopting strategies to mitigate its impact, songwriters can turn the tides on this subtle adversary.
The philosophy of “done is better than perfect” serves as a guiding light in this endeavour, encouraging us to value completion and progress over elusive perfection.
In taming perfectionism, we learn to embrace imperfection as an integral part of the creative process. We begin to appreciate the beauty of each imperfect note and lyric, understanding that they contribute uniquely to our artistic journey.
Through this, we can silence our inner critic, reclaim our creative freedom, and rediscover the joy and passion inherent in songwriting because in the end, the goal is not to completely eliminate perfectionism, but rather to harness it effectively, striking a balance that fosters growth, creativity, and fulfilment in the art of songwriting.
After all, it is in this balance that the real magic of music lies, allowing us to create songs that truly resonate and touch lives, perfectly imperfect as they may be.