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Songwriting Habits that Work

A. J. Croce exposes the close relationship between creativity and hard work –says Petra Tool

His music has been compared to that of John Lennon, Elvis Costello and Van Morrison.

Son of Jim Croce, A. J. Croce has been a non-stop force in writing and performing songs in various genres, from jazz and blues to pop.

Each time he fuses these styles (think dr. John meets Elvis Costello), he produces a song that goes straight into my soul.

When I met with A. J., he turned out to be a sympathetic man and a patient model, taking the time to play, sing and pose for me (see my full sized painting below).

What is the secret behind the ability to write so many powerful songs?

Daily Writing Sessions

A. J. is committed to a daily practice – no matter what the results: “I write every single day. Songwriting is as much about the exercise of doing it, as it is about finding that perfect song. In the process you will write good songs and bad songs. I write terrible songs sometimes. But no one has to hear them.”

Keeping an “Inspiration Notebook”

A.J. is unceasingly collecting ideas he might be using in a song one day: interesting remarks and phrases from other people, his own thoughts and feelings… All of this ends up in his little black notebook (see photograph). His jottings are a constant source of inspiration whenever he composes at his piano or guitar. Every now and then a song flows out effortlessly, like the witty song about a young boy’s encounter with a female stripper: “I had a horn riff in my head, and when I played it on the piano, my co-writer started to sing: “She climbed on to my street car”. I instantly responded with: “Just before it turned St. Charles” -we wrote Texas Ruby within the hour.”

Fearless Editing

But most songs aren’t such an easy birth. The secret is not to give up when it doesn’t come easily. When A. J. isn’t satisfied with a song, he rewrites it or steals the best parts to be used in another song. He loves watching his songs evolve. To him, the editing stage is “the real process”.

A Perpetual Student

New influences keep A. J. creative. Anything from a beautiful tango to Keith Richards can absorb him. He was recently enthralled with echo effects. “You know the echoes in early Ike and Tina Turner records and in The Everly Brothers? I can spend 5 songs trying to capture that sound.” In his receptive nature and his desire to learn from whatever inspires him, lies his power to keep producing fresh new songs.

Your Own Songs – Now.

Listening to A. J. made me realize that songwriting – or any creative endeavor – is within anyone’s reach as long as we don’t neglect the habits.

The main enemy is not an absence of talent – it is that old foe: procrastination.

Just spend a little time writing, editing, studying or collecting ideas – today. Repeat it tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. Keep going until it becomes a habit and you do it naturally.

Don’t be discouraged if you slip one day, or when you write a couple of lousy songs. We often need multiple attempts. Just keep trying.

After a month of consistent writing, take stock of the results. You’ll probably be amazed…

Petra Tool is a Dutch artist and artist’s coach. A gifted portrait artist, she explores the personalities of gifted performers, interviewing them about their talent, passions, the problems they face, their insecurities and secrets of their success. You can find more information on her website.

Useful Links:
AJ Croce:
Live in Amsterdam
Full interview with Petra Tool

More articles by Petra Tool:

The Road to Your Vocalist Dreams
Living With Critics
Moving Beyond Covers
Create Audience Magic
Laura Vane’s Shameless Self-Promotion

Painting: Mellow – 70×95 cm – watercolour – Petra Tool

  • Lindsay

    There is a wealth of knowledge to learn from in this article. Thanks for the great piece, and for the valuable insight into an inspiration writer

  • Thank you so much for the inspiration!

  • keith

    Loving the doing of it; the process. That’s where the truth comes from. Thanks for the inspiration

  • hattonhall

    I don’t have to rely on writing songs to earn a living, it’s just a hobby. But, I do know what it takes in terms of time, commitment and also the ability to become something of a hermit far-removed from others and outside influences in order to get things going and done!
    That’s why we all need genii like Mr.Croce ….else we soon run out of new songs!
    Aah Music! ….on the one hand a possibly momentary ever-appetisingly mind nourishing gem, on the other, a presence that can totally possess the mind and soul and never let it go!
    I just spent a week on and off, re-arranging Love me Tender and Time After Time for guitar.
    Phew..I’m mentally whacked!…………but what a beautiful result I got !!!!!

  • SweetLittle Bloodhound

    Great tips from Aj, thanks for sharing Petra. As a songwriter who was great about my discipline of writing a little over a year ago and then have gone from studio to album promotion- have found it hard to rechannel my energy back to writing as I constantly feel overwhelmed with all that there is still to do everyday. But in truth I find it is my stronger asset, so I must get back to writing daily and I have begun today!