Banker’s Hours And The Vanity Of Writer’s Block: David Bazan On Songwriting

Once you have young kids, your time belongs to someone else. How has having kids altered your writing schedule?

My arrangement with my wife even before we had kids was that I had to keep banker’s hours. Before we came to that agreement, we’d be sitting down to dinner and I’d leave the table to go write if I suddenly got an idea. And she’d just be sitting there alone. So finally she said, “You’re not going to do that to me. I’m not going to be with you if that’s the case.” And so I asked her how we could work it out, and I’ve kept banker’s hours for years when I’m at home.

I write when I’m on tour [just like the Beatles!]. Especially when I’m struggling with something like the last line of a verse and I can’t seem to get it, those lines tend to come to me when I’m driving. So having kids hasn’t really changed that. When I’m home, I’m theirs and I work hard at not having any ideas for songs when I’m with my family [just like Phillip Glass!].

What do you do when you get writer’s block?

When I get writer’s block, I feel like it’s a lack of vocabulary and that I need to recharge. So if I’m really stuck but I still want to stay actively engaged in songwriting, I’ll learn four or five covers. I’ll get inside of them and digest them. That will give me a renewed vocabulary and fodder for songwriting. Because if you think about how stuck you are, you’ll just get more stuck. I don’t want to just walk away and not participate in songwriting. I want to stay engaged, and learning covers really helps me. The next thing I know, I’ve got tons of song ideas.

Anthony Doerr told me that writer’s block is a failure of courage and that you can’t be afraid to write badly. That’s why people get stuck.

I agree. There’s an element of vanity to writer’s block. It’s usually because you don’t like what you are writing, not because nothing is coming out. I feel like each song I’ve written that I’ve really liked is a coup, in a way. It’s almost like I feel like I’m a sh***y writer who has managed to make 25 songs that I really like, so I totally agree with that. It’s me thinking that I’m a bigger deal than I really am when I get super discouraged.

I have a sanctuary notion in the early part of my writing process. I never know if I’m going to like something that I’ve written until way later anyway, so I prepare a sanctuary in my mind where my editor is just banished. He’s not allowed in. It’s like I’m just puking words onto the page. I’m actively trying to make stuff up, but I don’t allow myself to judge my writing during that initial period. Then later when I come back, most of it might stink. Given distance, I can tell what lines really work. But when I first write, I can’t tell the difference between what’s good and what’s bad.

David Bazan speaking to Ben Opipari. Read the full interview at Writers On Process

David’s song Magazine remains one of my favourite songs of the last few years. Check it out here.

About mattblick

Songwriter/Singer from Nottingham, UK. My 2nd EP, Everything In The World Is Fighting Everything In The Sky, is out now. I'm blogging (& podcasting) through the entire Beatles catalogue at Beatles Songwriting Academy. In my spare time I wish I had some spare time.
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