If you’ve read this blog for any time at all, you know that I believe that inspiration gets a lot of credit for starting the songwriting process, when in fact that kind of inspiration — the “ooh, that’s a good idea!” kind — is fleeting and rarely results in a solid songwriting process.
There’s another kind of inspiration — the kind that develops as you write. That kind of inspiration is healthy and useful, and it’s the kind that turns you into a solid songwriter. How does that work?
Inspiration That Comes From Hard Work
When you start a new song, your musical brain imagines some fragment of melody or lyric, or perhaps a bit of a chord progression. At this point, you may be excited by what you’ve written, but there’s no way of knowing yet if it’s useful or even good.
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So then you imagine a new idea to tag onto that original one. If this new idea works well, you feel a shot of excitement, and that makes you want to write more. That shot of excitement is the inspiration that comes from work. It’s a useful kind because you’ve generated it yourself!
As you create new ideas, you feel even more excitement. Each time you add to your original idea, you get more excited. You might generate an idea that doesn’t work, so you toss that idea out and keep looking.
Where Writer’s Block Comes From
Now let’s say that the ideas you’re creating to add on to your original one just aren’t working. As you toss ideas out, you feel a momentary twinge of discouragement, but you keep working. If you find that you’re tossing far more ideas than you’re keeping, a sense of fear may start to take hold.
The fear? It’s the “what if nothing I write ever works” kind of fear, and you’ve felt this before. Sometimes, you’ll find that you need to toss your original idea out, and start again. And then more fears settle in.
Almost always, a lack of inspiration is not the cause of writer’s block. That lack of inspiration you feel is the result, not the cause. The cause of writer’s block is fear. The cause of fear is too many failed ideas.
And failed ideas more often than not come from flaws in the technical understanding of good songwriting, not from a lack of inspiration.
If you’re a film-score writer, imagine telling the film’s producer that you can’t write today because you’re not inspired. You’d be finished; you can’t rely on that initial shot of inspiration. As a songwriter, your ability to create ideas spontaneously is usually not the problem when it comes to being able to write consistently. It’s your ability to write good ones that really work.
So if you find that writer’s block is too often a regular feature of your songwriting life, consider the following tips:
- Take more breaks. Staring at an empty page makes your sense of frustration grow, so get away from your guitar, take a walk, do something entirely different.
- Have other artistic activities that can serve as a creative outlet. Learn to paint, write poetry, get into dance, polish your singing abilities… All these activities can help you feel creative and will allow you to step back for a few days on those days when songwriting becomes frustrating.
- Talk to other songwriters, and get their advice. Every songwriter deals with frustration, but many have overcome those problems, and have great ideas to share.
- Make writing a regular, almost daily activity. Don’t just write when the feeling hits you. Schedule your songwriting activities and “gently force yourself” to write.
- Study songwriting. Treat songwriting like a subject that can be studied. Learn the basics of good songwriting technique.
Remember that the kind of fear that often results in writer’s block is a common affliction for even experienced songwriters. The more experience you have, the more psychological tools you develop to cure the problem.
And of the five tips listed above, I think the ones that will work the best for you in the short term are the first two: to take more breaks, and then to find other artistic activities. Sitting in your room and feeling miserable because you can’t get anything to work is a sure-fire way to build frustration. Find other ways to stay creative!
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