In an interview with Billboard, producer Patrick Leonard talks about writing “Like a Prayer” with Madonna.
I like to start really early in the day. She would come in about 11 and I would have the musical idea on whatever piece of gear I was using. I think it was just a Yamaha sequencer or something at the time. [...]
I would just put the track, the chord changes, some kind of drum beat, bass line — something simple — and say, “here’s the idea, here’s what I have for the day.” She would listen, then we would talk a little bit. Oftentimes I’d say, “here’s the verse, and here’s the chorus,” and she’d say, “no, it’s the other way around, switch ‘em.” So I’d switch ‘em. This thing is an hour old, it’s not etched in stone.
Then she would just start writing. She’d start writing lyrics and oftentimes there was an implied melody. She would start with that and deviate from it. Or if there was nothing but a chord change, she’d make up a melody. But, a lot of the time in my writing there’s a melody implied or I even have something in mind. But she certainly doesn’t need that.
She would write the lyrics in an hour, the same amount of time it took me to write the music (laughs). And then she’d sing it. We’d do some harmonies, she’d sing some harmony parts, and usually by three or four in the afternoon, she was gone.
That’s how “Like a Prayer” was written, and then the next day we wrote “Cherish,” and then the next day we wrote “Dear Jessie.” And that’s how it was. We wrote the album in less than two weeks.
This recap demonstrates something I’ve often found to be true: a large part of making art is showing up to work.
As a writer, yes, sometimes you get flashes of inspiration and genius, but if you sit around waiting for them, you’re unlikely to get much accomplished. Most screenplays are written a scene at a time.
One of the great things about writing with a partner is the ability to hold each other accountable. When working with Andrew Lippa on Big Fish, we had limited days — sometimes hours — to get stuff accomplished. So we buckled down and tackled items one-at-a-time. This song. This moment. This transition.
That’s how you finish things.