Songwriters on Songwriting: Janis Ian

“Every professional songwriter I know — people who do it 100% for their living — is terrified every time they sit down to write.”

I wrote my first song when I was 14 years old. Over the years, I’ve composed hundreds of songs. It was that interest — music — that led me to take a year off from pursuing a doctorate and led me down the circuitous path that has been the rest of my life.

I don’t write songs nowadays, more focused on screenplays and writing about writing. But I can’t help but think at least some of who I am as a writer derives from all that time studying and composing songs.

Each day this week at this time, I will post insight from a songwriter about their craft in the hope their words may inspire you as a writer.

Today: Janis Ian.

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What is one of the hardest things about trying to write a song?

One of the hardest things of all is to start. Just sitting down and getting over your own intimidations. Every professional songwriter I know — people who do it 100% for their living — is terrified every time they sit down to write. You’re always convinced that your next song is going to be your last, or that it’s going to be your worst, or that you’ll never be able to write anything as good as your hit. It’s a constant terror. I think all artists live in a constant state of terror. And part of our job is to know our own chaos well enough to be able to make sense of it when you can.

Every professional songwriter… is terrified every time they sit down to write.

This statement seems kind of… you know… terrifying. For me, I find it comforting. Here’s why: It means I’m not alone.

Those feelings of fear. Self-doubt. Dread. That moment of terror looming like an ever-present shadow in the synapses of your mind whenever you sit down to write…

All writers confront that.

What’s that saying: Misery loves company.

It’s something like that.

The sheer knowledge that all writers face that terror when facing a blank page can actually give you courage to overcome the terror.

Others have faced it. Others will face it. So when you face the terror, you are not alone.

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For more of the Songwriters On Songwriting series, go here.

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