Helping Songwriters Where It Hurts

iDoCoach Blog

I’m always looking for new creative solutions to common songwriting problems for my clients. Sometimes this takes me pretty far outside my own experience and beyond songwriting resources to explore how other creative types deal with their particular road blocks.

One of my go-tos over the years has been Twyla Tharp, the famous American dancer and choreographer. Her book “The Creative Habit” is full of some useful info that easily translates for songwriters and artists.

Lose Track Of Time

One of hers that I adopted early on was choosing a set amount of time, maybe a week and picking one possible distraction in your environment, removing it and seeing how it effects your creativity. She chose clocks. Seems like a small concession but I was amazed how many times I relied on some kind of clock to measure how long I’d been at it when it was way more effective to “lose myself”.

The Help Hurt List

One of my favorites and, although I attribute it to her, I may have picked it up somewhere else is a Help/Hurt list. Here’s how it works: take a large piece of paper and draw a vertical line down the middle. Now a horizontal line at the top. Now you have two columns. Top left write the word “Hurt”, top right, “Help”.

At some point in your writing time think about what’s working well, what’s making it a good songwriting day. Take a second and enter those on the “Help” side. It can be as simple as getting up extra early, before the distractions of the day. One of mine was not stopping to eat. Do the same thing for things that seem to slow you down or de-rail you. Getting on the internet is one of mine. Others are running errands, interrupting a session for a call. Enter these on the “Hurt “side. I’m sure you can find a bunch of helps and hurts of your own to fill the page over time.

The beauty of the idea is that you can eventually pick out the things that contributed to a good writing day as well as the things that got in the way. 


Once it’s easier to see them it gets easier to recreate the good ones and ditch the bad ones. Ups your chances for success next time.

There are so many great songwriting related books out there but I’d also encourage you to check out the things other types of artists practice to be the best they can be on a consistent basis.


Mark Cawley

Nashville, Tennessee

June 16, 2015

Image: Shutterstock

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About Mark Cawley

Mark Cawley is a hit U.S. songwriter and musician who coaches other writers and artists to reach their creative and professional goals. During his decades in the music business he has procured a long list of cuts with legendary artists ranging from Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross to Wynonna Judd, Kathy Mattea, Russ Taff, Paul Carrack, Will Downing, Tom Scott, Billie Piper, Pop Idol winners and The Spice Girls. To date his songs have been on more than 16 million records. Mark’s resume includes hits on the Pop, Country, R&B, Jazz, and Rock charts and several publishing deals with the likes of Virgin, Windswept Pacific, and Steelworks/Universal. Mark calls on his decades of experience in the publishing world, as an artist on major labels, co-writer with everyone from Eliot Kennedy and Burt Bacharach to Simon Climie and Kye Fleming, composing, and recording to mentor clients around the globe with iDoCoach. He is also a judge for the UK Songwriting Contest, Nashville Rising Star, a contributing author to  USA Songwriting, Songwriter Magazine,  Mentor for The Songwriting Academy, sponsor for the ASA, judge for Belmont University's Commercial Music program and West Coast Songwriter events , a popular blogger and, from time to time, conducts his own workshops.Born and raised in Syracuse, NY, Mark has also lived in Boston, L.A., Indianapolis, London, and the last 20 years in Nashville, TN.