The process of songwriting is actually extremely easy. You write some words and stick a tune to it and you have a song. The trouble is, if the song is rubbish, what was the point! So the challenge is to write something that you feel is good enough for other people to hear. That’s much more difficult. I suspect that the best songwriters actually throw away as many songs as they write. And discarding something that you sweated over can be painful. But the more you work at it, the better you get at recognizing when things are going a bit astray. You can take a break, try again later, keep a bit and throw the rest away, or just admit it was a bad idea in the first place and bin it completely. In my case, it took me years to reach a stage where it now seems to come quite easy. Though I still discard ideas, I can usually extract something useful from whatever I’m working on. And I seem to get more ideas these days than I ever did 20 years ago.
It is all immeasurably easier if you actually have something to say. And the wider your experience, the more likely it is that you’ve something that you need to get off your chest.
Most of these songs came from a kernel of an idea. Usually a phrase that succinctly explained something I’ve wanted to say for a while. The feelings attached to that idea generate enough poetry and substance to justify the effort of a song. The trick is to say it gracefully. To try and say it better than it could be said by any other means. I try and write lyrics that stand up by themselves, without music. Once I’ve done that, it justifies my taking a lot longer to write a decent melody! I find writing words quite easy and melodies much more difficult. So usually I try and have a phrase in my head with a rough melody hung on it. I plot out the shape of the song in my head as clearly as I can and then take it to a guitar and try and realise it. Sometimes it comes out as planned. Other times guitar chords suggest something better and I settle for a combination of what I had and what comes up. I think after years of practice I can pretty well write a song to any decent phrase that I am provided with. So it’s just a matter of finding the succinct phrase, the hook that expresses the idea – the thing that bothers me. There’s so much bothering me these days that I’ve got more ideas than time. Enough to keep me busy for the foreseeable future.