20 reasons you won’t finish that song…

…or learn that instrument, write that book, complete that screenplay make that drawing or climb that mountain of passion in whatever form it may be. Here’s the deal, this is largely confessional. When I look at what kinds of impediments get in the way of my creative urges, I see patterns. Where I fail and learn, maybe you can benefit. There are probably more than 20 reasons, and these are not all my own, but feel free to have a look and see if you notice anything familiar here that inhibits your invention / destiny. After all, if we compare notes and can learn from one another, maybe we can both defeat these hostiles below with greater efficiency.

1) No time.
Really? Last time I checked we all have 24 hours in the day. Almost everybody I know that is productive finds ways to be despite their circumstances and schedule. If days go by and you are not setting time aside for your song / instrument / goal – you will obviously not make any progress. It is usually the hardest in the beginning, but as you develop new habits and experience growth you will find inertia setting in and real milestones taking place. You ain’t gonna shine if you don’t do take the time. There is no magic boat ride to songwriting Saturday. Make time now, carve out that sanctuary of study, fight for your right to write… even if it is only a few minutes every day.

2) Composing, practicing, writing (your passion) is W-O-R-K.
So does that mean a person is not carried along on a non-stop dose of perpetual inspiration? Surely you know that writing is a blissful state of unadulterated enjoyment. It seems to me one of the writer clichés is someone sitting by a piano – dreamily looking out the window as dewy winged notes flit down from heaven. Ahhhhhh. Right. Well – maybe sometimes there is inspiration, but mostly it is an act of discipline to sit down and “work” on music. While I enjoy writing as a rule…sometimes it can be downright unpleasant. Some days it’s fun. Some days it’s harder, but still satisfying. Some days it’s sweat and sting and willpower with little else. Songs are elusive little creatures. Music is an art with a science. We were told way back in the garden our work would sweat our brows – so roll up your sleeves and get to it…WORK that is! It really is a relentless work ethic that prospers.

3) No discipline.
The word discipline is actually from the word disciple. Latin disciplina “instruction given, teaching, learning, knowledge,” also “object of instruction, knowledge, science, military discipline,” and I know there are non-Christians that read this blog, but I take my walk with the Lord serious, and if I am to be called a disciple I am to take most seriously my walk with Jesus Christ. Do you notice any flab in this definition of discipline? Discipline comes from repeated and intense action. Discipline is lean and mean day in and day out (at the very least daily…even a little). Create / practice / write (fill in) – over and over – and you will improve. Discipline is focus and drive regardless of how you feel. Intense discipline is a lifestyle.

4) Many distractions.
Facebook, twitter, texting, video games, aimless internet wandering, TV, squirrel, that shiny thing… knowhatimean? I used to have my favorite video game on the same computer my DAW (digital audio workstation) was on. I can’t tell you how many times I would sit down to “play a few rounds” and suddenly 2 hours are gone and my muse is suffering from “headshots”. Now don’t get me wrong – I love me some of this technological age we live in…but seriously, you will not get far in acquiring new skills and abilities if you are constantly sidetracked into the trite and mundane. What’s it going to be? You stroking those howling distractions – or you discovering your quest in life?

5) Not a priority.
This could go along with many distractions, but this is not about being caught by a distraction…it is about a longer larger choice where we place everything else above our writing…We gotta eat, gotta check out the new vid, gotta hang with my friend, gotta cut the grass, gotta hit that game, gotta do almost anything under the sun except the thing I know I should do regarding my song / book / script. Why is it that one of my deepest joys falls so precariously in my list of “to-do’s”. I really should make music my priority 1-10. When writing / creating / practicing (you fill) is last – it will never get done. I know – we all have responsibilities outside of the song / instrument / passion of choice. All I am saying is you need to make the thing a priority…it needs to be on top of your daily to do.

6) Other bad habits.
To a large degree your body is like a machine. Treat it well and you will likely have many good years of productivity from it. Abuse it, and you may not. Eat too much and don’t exercise and you may get fat, your heart may stop, your veins may plug…drink too much and your liver may quit…smoke like an oil fire and your lungs may clog and cancer…drugs? Do you have to ask? I don’t know what it is about the arts, artists, entertainers, the muse in general and shortened life spans, but we all know of a few stories here, and many tales are of brilliant lives cut tragically short. Be smart, know your limits, and if something you are ingesting is obstructing your creative spark…fix it! Habits are mechanical and come by repeated effort. The sooner you develop healthy and creative habits, the sooner you will reap the rewards of proper conditioning.

7) The blues / depression.
There might be a connection between being creative and the blues. I’m talking emotional melancholy…or worse, depressed. To be frank I have not ever really struggled with this one. It is one of the few on the list I don’t “get”. I think it is just a matter mostly of genetics in this case…I have other demons that rise from my hell. If you ever thought there was confusion and conflicting ideas about politics in Washington DC, you should check out the varying opinions on diagnosis and treatment of depression. If you suffer from this, get help. It seems from those that I know that have suffered from depression cite action “regardless of feelings” especially in the initial stages. Inactivity seems to breed more inactivity…kind of like an object inert stays inert. Some folks say that harnessing their dark moods opened doorways to expression of said dark mood. Whatever the case may be here, the solution will not likely be easy, but it is absolutely necessary.

8) Oversized expectations.
Your work isn’t a hit? Not a masterpiece? Not generating a ton of interest? Not wowing the masses? You are still working on some basic musical building block? Still slogging away at the fundamentals? Still barely able to get your idea out in any recognizable form? Reality biting you? Reality? Who needs it? You will need to meet reality head on regularly if you expect to get anywhere worth being. Adjust the “bar”, and if need be manage or lower your expectations. The battlefield is littered with egos that refused to accept reality, and thus abandoned their dream. So what if you are not rich and famous. Seriously is that why you are doing this? Focus on your project / song / book / movie. Day in and day out…work on the thing until it is done. Focus on the now, the one thing you have control over. After all, if you don’t finish the song / book / rudiments / screenplay…you are effectively driving the nails into the coffin on that particular passion. Stop putting so much pressure on yourself and just do it!

9) Comparing yourself to others.
On one hand it is useful to look to those that have blazed the trail in any particular endeavor, and learn from them. Some of this is healthy. Sometimes, though, comparisons can be made that distort and defeat your efforts. Good comparison inspires and prods us to work hard, while bad comparison stops us dead in our tracks and instills a sense of futility. Be especially mindful if you are in the earlier stages of demo / draft / idea and you compare it to a fully edited finalized polished piece. Watch out for that shoulder shrugging feeling of “what’s the point”. The point, at least initially is simply to express and in the process better your skill set or understanding of a medium. Learn! You know the old saying; “man’s highest calling is to reach higher”!

10) An unrealistic view of the process.
True, there are those that seem to constantly turn out fabulous, brilliant material. It seems effortless, and they appear to have no off switch. They are prodigies, whether writing a song, playing an instrument, hitting the ball or painting an image. It is just profoundly good on a regular basis. I am of the opinion this is a result of mastering the medium (so a lot of basement hours went into what you see). However, what you see appears easy, and you may expect the same for yourself. Be careful. The “greats” that I know of put in long hard hours. While there will always be a mysterious and magical element to all “co-creative” processes, the “one and done” is rare, and, if it happens at all, certainly not an expectation you should have for a regular way of working – or process. Give yourself permission to write imperfectly. Experiment, fail, try various methods, be open, rewrite…and your “wow” or way of working will reveal itself over time, and in all likelihood be something that offers a life-long of discovery!

11) No plan.
What is it you are trying to do? Is there a goal involved? Is there some measurable benchmark for progress? How can you tell if you are going in the right direction? Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? Is it a tunnel? Are you on a bridge? Where are you anyway? Some folks can get by without preparatory work. Some just seem to instinctively know where to go. Some could use goals. Some can use a mock up or model to try to emulate. If you find yourself lost in the woods and wanting to give up, consider outlining (from where you are) what it is you are trying to express or achieve. There might be just the jolt you need in a “map”. Perhaps a little organization is all that is necessary to get back on track. Ask yourself what is this about? Why am I writing this? Why will anyone care? Asking yourself some fundamental questions before you begin your project might help you feel a settled in purpose.

12) Your 6th sense says something is off.
Something isn’t jibing. Something is screwy. The vibe is, as they say, off. That thing that enhances your particular creative experience is out of whack. What happened? How am I supposed to know, it’s your thing! Don’t let this stop you. Dig in and find out what your intuition / subconscious / x factorization already knows. Your work needs fixing so go fix and don’t stop until it is fixed. You know the old saying “when you are going through hell, don’t stop”. Break on through to the proverbial other side.

13) That other song / manuscript / drawing I was working on is better.
Believe me when I say this might be my single greatest creative flaw. I mean the one where one eyes right and left at various other ideas, and slowly with hands in pockets moves over there, over yonder to have a look see. Next thing you know your current idea is abandoned for the flashier, sexier, more interesting idea. This happens ad nauseam – or ad altusum…whatever…the original idea is left behind, perhaps forever. Finish!

14) The idea / song / book isn’t ready.
Here I have to be careful because depending on who you talk to there does seem to be a consensus that certain ideas have a gestation period. Much like the birthing of a baby…if approached too soon the idea will not be mature enough, ripe enough or ready to work out. I dunno, my view here is that you will simply be working through another draft. Obviously in regard to certain activities rudiments, chords, basic syntax should be a comfortable environment in which one dwells before seeking the deeper waters. Which brings us to;

15) You have bitten off more than you can chew.
So you have never written a song? Don’t attempt a double album worth of free jazz. First book? Maybe a space science fiction trilogy is for later. Learning to drum? How about a steady 4 on the floor instead of mad polyrhythms? If you are overwhelmed maybe you are trying too big too fast. All creative endeavors take a long time before we can do them well consistently. Baby steps. Walk then run (then fly?), take your time and learn how to do it “right”.

16) You don’t care.
At different times I have started working on ideas that seemed like a good idea to begin with, but as I rolled up my sleeves and got to work I felt that I wasn’t personally invested. The project was not resonating. I have had this writing songs alone and in collaboration, I have had this drumming in a number of scenarios, and I have had this outside of music. I believe that this is a bit tricky as I am not implying everything should be blazing passion or out the window it goes. We might find ourselves going through the motions on any of a number of levels…flat / bland / watching the clock / uncaring. The solution is to abandon the project completely, or figure out a way to get yourself to care. Often times the answer is to dig deep and make it more personal somehow.

17) Writing commercial.
If you write for a market, or only for the money you may find yourself feeling a bit like a sell-out. Being commercial is deaths knell for many an artist. Being commercial in this case is writing something purely for the sake of making money, and having nothing personal invested in the matter at hand. I know there are those that read this that will disagree. They will say something like “if a carpenter is making a chair, he does not need to make it personal.” And I would respectfully disagree. A good carpenter wants the chair to be a functional and stable and enduring piece of quality work, his name depends on it. It should be a work he does, and in a style that is his. His attention to detail in that matter is my attention to story or “world within a world”…my work should be personal and reflect my personality. If the story is simply “buy this because I say so” the art will likely suffer in time, and perhaps die eventually.

18) Maybe its you.
Sometime ago I shared a quote from Carlisle, it was something like this; “our wishes are presentiments of our capabilities” which means that if you have a wish or desire for something, that may be a way destiny is guiding you. You just may be capable of that wild thing you dream of. You just might climb that impossibly high mountain…you just might perform in front of those multitudes…you just might get that project financed and make a good living from your passion. Then again you might not. Sometimes we think we are cut out for something and we try it and say mmmmnaaaaah. Mmkay? No problem. Lots of folks have multiple career changes. Lots of folks start something new late in life and find that THIS is it! Lots of folks don’t necessarily discover their spiritual destiny from the get go. AND a lot of times going toward one thing we discover something else we would have never found if we weren’t walking in this general direction. You should have some bliss, some excitement, some passionate flair in the very essence of the thing you do…if all of this is completely absent, maybe you should look for your bliss elsewhere. OK.

19) You are a quitter.
This could be the single most dangerous roadblock to you discovering your dreams and passions. You quit. You give up. Who? YOU! You wave the white flag and just decide it’s easier not wrestling with all that these challenges and struggles entail. You simply ease into not doing anything to develop your idea…you quit taking creative notes…you quit practicing…you quit dreaming…you quit fantasizing…you quit hoping…you quit imagining. And you know what? An important part of you will die. You will become a cog in the world’s machinery. Mechanical. Life may become in one sense easier – but that sense of adventure and possibility will be strangled down as your voice is silenced. Far too many people have lost the child like wonder that should be with us until our dying day. Far too many simply exist. One key component to enlivening this voice is to breathe life into your dreams…step into your fantasy…embrace the adventure that life offers you…pursue your passion and do not quit!

20) You are afraid.
What are you afraid of? Who knows – you are the hesitant one. Maybe you are shy and the idea of people hearing you sing, seeing your painting, reading your deepest thoughts put into word just seems too vulnerable. Maybe you are afraid of failure, or success…derision…criticism. Maybe you are simply afraid of the unknown and you like it here where everything is the same day in and day out. No unfortunate changes in your schedule, responsibility, expectations or accountability. Perhaps you don’t really believe in your ability to make something someone else would be blessed, encouraged, moved or challenged by. From what I have seen few creators knew ahead of time the full impact of their creations. JRR Tolkien had no idea his story would be perhaps the best, most important fantasy / fiction work in the history of the English language (Lord Of The Rings). He just enjoyed making up languages and stories. Talents? You have them, don’t bury them.

There it is. 20 reasons you will not finish your song / project / invention.. Are there more? Would you add anything?

About Author

musician, videographer, new media specialist, producer, imaginator

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This is a high quality post! Motivating!


Hmmm how about writers block?



Good post. I am not sure I agree on the commercial point. I think as musicians needing to make a living we will have to do a lot of things musically we have no personal investment in. Heck, a lot of music success is based on copying the latest hit style. I know this sounds very utilitarian, but to use your analogy, a plumber succeeds when the pipe is cleared. I succeed when the music I write is a piece that achieves the required emotional effect…feelings from me or no.


thanks for reading
richa – legit – I thought of this one too, but it’s another I don’t really get so I passed…

andrewmig – right on – yeah – I guess I was trying to come at it from the all commercial view, but your point is well made!

david patterson

there are a million reasons why you didn’t finish something but they all boil down to, ‘you didn’t finish it because, you didn’t finish it.’ Those first few chords and maybe some words, just seem to pop into your head and then you’re playing them. After that everybody is in the same boat, you have to work those bits and pieces into a complete form of some kind. What’s that famous quote about invention, “ten percent inspiration, ninety percent perspiration”

Nice blog, by the way, is it finished? lol


good stuff david, agreed…I wanted to put a cap on the number 20 though…yeah the blog is a work in progress…thanks for stopping by and giving your feedback!

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New Song! hear the drum