Last updated on November 18th, 2022
As artists, being pragmatic isn’t our favorite approach to the things we create. We like to explore our own little worlds and pretend that the very real one right in front of us doesn’t actually exist. Maybe that’s an overstatement or a gross generalization, but if you’re a songwriter like me, odds are you’d rather spew out some hot lyrics onto a piece of paper than read in depth about SEO or social media algorithms. Unfortunately, you can’t have play without work, and that’s been a big focus of many of my previous pieces.
However, if you’re not creating art, it’s hard to call yourself an artist in the first place – let alone one who can produce a consumable product. With Muze, you can attack your dream of becoming a successful musician from plenty of different angles by networking as much as you possibly can and by making various connections in the industry. We’ve got you covered there, but this week, I want to offer some tangible tips for overcoming that dreaded beast of stagnation that we all abhor so deeply – writer’s block.
Let’s start by stating the obvious. Writer’s block is terrible. Really, it’s awful. It feels like you’re trying to squeeze juice out of a mashed up orange that doesn’t have a single drop of nectar left to extract. It’s tedious, it’s exhausting, and it’s discouraging. I’m with you there.
Is there an exact formula for generating creative fodder when it’s time to sit down and write? Sadly, I can’t say that there is, but there are certain ways to nourish that part of your brain that yearns to create something great, even when you feel that your artistic tank is running a little dry. While it is indeed one of the most frustrating things a songwriter can encounter, writer’s block is not something to panic over. I know I personally tend to attack myself when I feel uninspired and am unable to produce lyrics that I’m actually proud of, but the fact of the matter is that EVERYONE suffers from writer’s block from time to time. It’s the unfortunate price we pay for speaking through the conduit of song: sometimes, it just doesn’t seem like there’s much of anything to say.
Still, I stand by the notion that there are plenty of ways to harvest ideas and creative momentum during those slow periods. Whether it’s material you’re bringing to a cowrite or it’s for a song you’re writing all by yourself, here are a few things you can do to keep that artist muscle nice and toned throughout your songwriting journey.
Listen To A Lot Of Music
When I want to write a particular kind of song, I’ll often gravitate toward the musical genre that best represents it. Say I’m looking to write something dark and brooding – odds are I’ll kick back and spin a Nick Cave record from start to finish and just let the waves of song wash over me. Or if it’s a love song I’m after, maybe I’ll spend some time with Norah Jones or Ray LaMontagne.
If you find yourself unable to create something when it’s all you want to do, don’t stew in your own frustration. Go listen to the music that you love and really listen to it. Pay attention to small words and phrases. Observe melodies and key changes, song structure, themes, etc., and consciously parcel the things you admire most. Later on, you’ll notice similar little tactics cropping up in your own music, and as long as you’re not blatantly plagiarizing someone, you’re bound to produce something fresh and vibrant.
Consume Other Forms of Art
I also highly advise taking in other forms of art as well, be it movies, books, poems, paintings, etc. These are all progenies of the creative mind, and while they may not be songs, they still possess the capacity to inspire a streak of artistic enthusiasm in a way that a song might not be able to. If you’re an avid reader like me, you probably extract a lot of creative energy from books. I like to absorb different writing styles, phrases, and word pictures that could prove useful in crafting my own lyrics. The same goes for poems. If it’s a movie, pay attention to the dialogue, the settings, or the underlying themes that play into the overall construct. All in all, immersing yourself in different forms of art is a great way to keep yourself inspired and excited by what the mind can create.
The Three Minute Exercise
This one’s actually a lot of fun. At very least, it’s a way to clean out the channels in your brain and sort of refurbish a creative dialogue. I was taught this trick a long time ago, and in trying times when I’ve really wanted to write but couldn’t seem to summon the wherewithal to do so, it’s really come in handy. Essentially, what you do is put pen (or pencil) to paper and DO NOT stop writing for three whole minutes. It doesn’t matter what words come out, how nonsensical they may seem, how many times you repeat a phrase, or how little structure there is – just allow yourself three solid minutes of stream of consciousness without any calculation or expectation. Maybe you look back and notice a line that stands out to you and can be used to build a song or an idea, or maybe you just relieve yourself of that daunting pressure that tells you to sit at a desk until you’ve mapped out something immaculate. It’s easy to exhaust old methods, and when it comes time to expand on those methods, we tend to tell ourselves that it’s because we’re no longer creative and that the artistic well has run dry. That’s simply not true. If you’ve ever been on a rigorous workout routine, you know that you’re not supposed to repeat the same exercises over and over again. You have diversify your approach in order to achieve good results. The same rings true for songwriting.
Give Yourself A Break
Honestly, one of the most important things I’ve learned throughout my own songwriting journey is that sometimes, there just simply isn’t a song to be written, and trying to force it will do nothing but frustrate you and drain the process of all its fun. There comes a time when you need to put the pencil and the guitar down and allow yourself space to recharge. I’ll make another workout analogy – you can’t hit the bench every single day with maximum weight without taking some time in between to recover. I’ve personally found that allowing myself a rest period lets my brain regenerate ideas and re-establish a sense of fluidity.
Bear in mind that this is not the same thing as giving up or becoming complacent – it’s simply acknowledging that you’re a human being and not a machine. Calm down, put the pen down, and let yourself off the hook for a little while. No matter how staggering my bouts of writer’s block have gotten in the past, there’s always been a great song waiting on the horizon. These are just a few ways to make that time in between a little more manageable and useful.