What heavy metal taught me about being a better writer

I’ve been in a prog metal band for over 20 years. When I tell people, they’ll usually say, “Cool. How many albums have you guys produced?”

My answer, much to my shame, is, “One album with 4 songs… and a single”.

You could probably say we have a major productivity problem.

We keep telling ourselves that it’s because we play a complicated style, so the songs take longer to write. But that’s really bullshit, and later in this article I’ll tell you why, and also share with you a great tip I learned, to help you become creative on demand.

But first, here’s the story.

About a month ago I got super fed up with the band. I went in there and told them I was gonna quit because we weren’t functioning at all as a band. Our track record was dismal. We were spending months —sometimes even more than a year— on one song, just writing, re-writing, fixing, editing, changing etc. By the time we finished the song, it would start sounding old and boring and we’d end up scrapping it.

So, we had a lengthy discussion just as we do roughly three times a year, but I knew the same discussion wasn’t gonna lead us anywhere.

That’s when I decided to put my foot down. “From now on, we will NOT spend more than 3 rehearsals on one song”, I announced. Thankfully, they listened to my suggestion and it’s really bearing fruit. We’ve already written a number of cool songs, and we also have a queue of ideas for new ones we want to create! Plus, the morale in the rehearsing room is at an all-time high.

So, how does this work, and how can you apply the same concept to becoming a better writer?

Writing music, as with any other discipline, requires practice. In the case of my band, we simply weren’t producing enough material to get better at it. But now that we’re producing one song every three rehearsals, we’re getting better at the process, and also at the quality of what we produce.

More importantly, in a few months time, we’ll have so much material that we’ll be in a position to discard the good and keep the great!

The same thing applies to us as writers. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a beginner or a veteran. As you produce more stories, you’ll find that you’re writing faster AND crafting better quality material.

Yes, it IS obvious, but that’s just the FIRST part of the puzzle.

The SECOND part of the puzzle, is setting yourself deadlines and limits for producing the work. You don’t necessarily have to be brutal. Make them realistic. But make sure you have them.

For example, I write one flash fiction story every week. The word limit is 1000 words. The word limit keeps me disciplined so that I make every word count. The writing frequency keeps me productive, but also ensures that I produce enough material to be able to discard the good and keep the great.

Now you might be thinking, “I don’t want to restrict how long my novel will be, or tie my story down to a word limit, because it might stifle it”. You do have a point. But be very careful, because having an open-ended goal puts you at risk of never finishing. Because remember, there’s always going to be something more to fix, a little more spit and polish to add, a little more editing to do, and a little more back story to add. And soon, you might find yourself stuck in a vicious circle, with your story never seeing the light of day.

You need to learn when good enough is good enough!

I know it’s a hard pill to swallow, but in releasing your work, you become better for the next project. So, set yourself limits and deadlines, stick to them, and get that project out so you can move on and produce more. It’s the only way you’ll ever be able to produce the kind of writing you want.

As for my band, we’re doing pretty fine with our song writing schedule. So, if this method worked for a group of chronically productivity-impaired musicians such as ourselves, it’s definitely gonna work for you!