Writers block is not what you think it is. It’s not something mystical that’s beyond the realms of comprehension and cure, it’s actually quite manageable. Every songwriter struggles with the symptoms of writers block at one point or another, where creative flow dries up and it’s difficult to write anything at all. It’s actually perfectly normal.
But that doesn’t mean that it’s fun, productive or useful. That’s why this article will give you 3 practical hacks that will help you beat writers block every time it threatens your creativity.
What causes writers block?
- Too much pressure
- Very personal or emotional content
- You’re not connected enough
- Burned out
- Distracted / laziness
- Lack of structure
- Fear (judgement, failure, rejection, success)
So what can help you overcome writers block and get creative once again?
3 powerful and practical hacks
HACK 1: Write a crap song.
This is my mantra! If ever I’m stuck writing a song, it’s usually due to perfectionism of some kind rearing its ugly head… I’m waiting to write the perfect song that people will love more than anything else and find life changing etc. In this case, I challenge myself to ‘write a crap song’ which reframes my expectations and high standards enough to get me started. If you’re only trying to write a crap song, then the stakes aren’t so high, right?
Here’s how to do it:
Use creativity techniques… To get started, use techniques such as brainstorming, mind mapping, stream of consciousness writing (noting down whatever comes into your head) or even the cut up technique that David Bowie famously used in the 1970s. Take less time, give yourself a deadline and just write without editing. You can come back to editing and perfecting afterwards.
Stick to it, and commit… Book time every day to write and make yourself do it. Overcome writers block by tackling this brick wall with a sledgehammer!
My favourite technique
As a top line writer, my process is to put the track I’m writing to on in the background, then press record on my phone and just sing. I completely make it up, singing different loops, lyrics, hooks and melodies over and over again. When I’ve recorded a ton of vocal ideas (sometimes these recordings last 20 minutes) then I listen to it all back, the whole thing, a couple of times round. When I listen back, I just notice what stands out. Don’t get me wrong, some of the ideas are terrible, but there’s almost always a spark of an idea that can be progressed from there. And if there’s not, I start again.
“I think the mistake that people make is in believing that there is some divine inspiration. It’s true when they say songwriting is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. In truth, what happens is, songs come through you. There’s nothing new under the sun. There’s something about an idea or a name or a word or a feeling that passes through you and you interpret as some musical event. It comes out as a line of a song.” Greg Lake
HACK 2: Change it up.
It’s easy for inspiration to dry up when you’re stuck in a rut, so shake up the usual routine to create some new ideas and thoughts. As Henry Ford said, “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got.”
It may be useful to adopt a two-step approach here.
The first step is to establish what specifically is holding you back. For this, take 30 minutes for some honest reflection on your current situation. Think about the following questions:
- What’s bothering me at the moment?
- What fears do I have about writing this song?
- How can I start to tackle some of these concerns and fears?
- What can I do differently to ensure I don’t get stuck in this same trap again?
Change up your instrument, standard process or technique. If you usually sing, then play a few keys on a piano to see if that triggers any additional inspiration. If you usually play the guitar, then hum a few notes. If you usually write the lyrics first, then try writing the melody first. If you usually produce using specific software, then experiment with creating new beats manually by tapping your pen against the side of your desk / pots and pans / partner… Whatever works for you.
You can also look to change your environment. In the documentary ‘True Stories’, Avicii explains how he decides to move his studio into a van. He gets together a team of creative friends, and collectively, they travel to the most stunningly beautiful locations. When they arrive in each location, they create music. Inspired by their new environment. Perfect.
In an article with Refinery 29, Adele confirmed that it wasn’t until she pushed herself to write outside the subject of heartbreak that she overcame writers block and hit her stride again in 2015. “I found it impossible [to write] for a while, I didn’t know what I wanted to write about … And, to be honest, what’s wrong is I wasn’t sad. I was overthinking everything. And when I chilled out, it came.” Adele
HACK 3: Forget about it.
Don’t stew on the problem. That can be all the fuel you need for more frustration, helplessness and a cloudy brain. Instead, open up space for inspiration in your mind by clearing it of the unnecessary clutter. Dump the song, and all the stuff that’s holding you back. This will help you to detach and create more space for inspiration. Headspace may be the one thing you need.
I had been trying for ages (and failing) to write a top line vocal for a track that I’d been sent and it was really stressing me out. But as soon as I forgot about it, a bolt of inspiration struck at the most unlikely time… When I was using the restroom on a high speed train travelling from Delhi to Jaipur, India. That was the first time I’d switched off enough to allow my brain to create, and I wrote the whole track in 30 minutes from that point!
Here are some activities that will help you detach and get your creativity back:
- Go for a walk
- Get some exercise
- Read some poetry
- Have a hot bath
- Do some yoga
- Attempt using the restroom on a high speed train from Delhi to Jaipur
- PLAY!!! Play is proven to reduce stress, stimulate the mind and boost creativity… Exactly what you’re after in this situation. So play games, have a night out with your pals, laugh, hang out with people that bring out your playful and lighthearted side.
“The best way is always to stop when you are going good and when you know what will happen next. If you do that every day … you will never be stuck. Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.” Ernest Hemingway
Always remember, writers block is in your head.
This means that there are practical steps you can take at any time to take charge of your creative brain and get yourself ‘unstuck’. Ultimately, the only way you can overcome writers block is by WRITING! Not avoiding, worrying or procrastinating. Take a bit of time to clear your mind or overcome blockers then jump straight into it.
What are your thoughts on the causes of writers block? Have you found any powerful ways to overcome this type of block when it comes to songwriting? We’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
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