by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website:
Writer’s Block: When You Just Can’t Write Good No More
Every songwriter suffers from it from time to time. The ideas just don’t happen. And even when they do, you don’t know what to do with them. Writer’s block is curable if you really understand what causes it.
There are two forces, or abilities, at play for every one who writes, whether you’re talking about writing songs, novels, speeches, drama, or any other area of the arts. The first, and possibly the most obvious one, is the creative imagination. This is the ability of a writer to come up with that original idea: the snippet of melody rolling around in your head, that neat chord progression, that ingenious little turn of a phrase that might serve as the basis for a lyric.
The second area of ability is what is usually called craft. It is the ability to take those original ideas, and formulate them into a functional song. This is the less artistic area, the aspect of composing that relies on one’s knowledge of how music works,the “nuts-and-bolts” of how to get those ideas organized.
Writer’s block, if it’s a particularly bad case, will clog up the creative imagination to the point that you can’t even come up with anything to put together. Forget being stuck at the craft stage – some people’s writer’s block keeps them from feeling anything creative at all.
But if you are like most people, writer’s block is more a case of not being able to fashion anything out of the musical ideas you’ve got. For most of you, you can come up with ideas; you just don’t seem to know what to do with them. How you know that this is your particular affliction is that you probably have a notepad with dozens of bits of songs started, with nothing finished. This means you’re stuck at the craft stage.
So what do you do? I love a particular quote by music critic Ernest Newman, who once said, “The great composer does not set to work because he is inspired, but becomes inspired because he is working.”
A problem at the “craft” stage of composition usually means that you are missing some basic information about how good songs work. So you need good information. You need to study how and why the best songs of the past few decades work so well, and use that knowledge to create your own songs.
But if nothing is coming together for you, and your brain just feels stuck, what do you work on? Here are some little writing exercises that can help open the floodgates:
Exercise 1: Find a text, or make one up (don’t pressure yourself here… just come up with a sentence or two that makes English sense: “I walked down the street and saw my friend John / He smiled and waved, and I moved on…” Then, set a timer for a short 5 – 30 minute period, and then… start composing. See if you can set the words to music. You’ll hate the result, but what eventually happens is that you start to see there is a way that melodies, chords, and lyrics all work together. With this exercise you are not stimulating the imagination as much as you are honing your craft.
Exercise 2: Give yourself 3 notes, and try to compose a melody that uses only those notes. This takes the pressure off you to create expansive melodies, and forces you to think about those three notes and come up with a workable contour.
Exercise 3: Write a short (4-8 note) melodic fragment. Try harmonizing it in as many different ways as you can. Some won’t work at all, and some will be… interesting.
The poitn of these exercises is that it takes the pressure off you to create a full, working song. That pressure is another major cause of writer’s block. Keep in mind that every time you sit down to write a song, there’s no rule that says you have to come up with an entire song. Writing bits of songs – little melodic fragments, little 2-chord progressions, one or two words that sound interesting together… these are small ideas that will eventually coalesce for you.
If you want to read about how to solve your songwriting woes, get Gary’s suite of 5 songwriting e-books at a “bundle discount” price. Click here to learn more..