6 Ways of Dealing With That Dreaded Scourge: Writer's Block

Songwriter at workNo matter how proficient a songwriter you are, it will happen. You’ll go through a protracted period of time where the ideas just seem to dry up, and you can’t seem to get beyond a few unrelated musical thoughts that go nowhere. Writer’s block hits everyone, but the good news is that there are things you can do to limit the effects, and come close to actually making it a thing of the past. But solving writer’s block takes a fair bit of personal organization. Here are 6 tips that will help you become a more productive writer.

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  1. Establish a Schedule. Set aside a regular time that is your time to write. If at all possible, don’t let anything get in your way. Treat it like a job: no matter what else happens in your life, you’ve got to show up to work. This can be anything from a half-hour to several hours a day, whichever works for you and your family.
  2. Become a Listener. A lack of musical ideas is not actually a big reason for writer’s block, but you’d be surprised how much more easily the ideas will happen if you make it a regular practice to listen to other songwriters’ music. It increases your musical vocabulary and expands your musical experiences in very important ways.
  3. Create Songwriting Games. When ideas are hard to create, take the pressure off, and create little imaginative games. They’ll allow you to be creative without feeling like you have to create a complete song. Some ideas: Set the timer for a ridiculously short time (2 minutes, for example), and try to create a verse melody, or a chorus melody, or a short lyrical fragment. Or create a random list of words, then find rhymes in the shortest time possible. These games simply motivate the imagination, and relieve the stress of having to create complete songs. And you’ll likely stumble on something that you could use in your next song.
  4. Create Melodies to Fit a Chord Progression. Choose a simple chord progression, play through it a few times, then try to come up with as many short melodic fragments that fit that progression as possible. The benefit is that you’re brain has only one musical task to deal with, and your imagination is stimulated by the task. Keep melodic bits that seem to work, and simply toss out the others.
  5. Create Melodies from a Limited Tone Set. Choose two, perhaps three notes, and see if you can create a working melody that you can add a simple progression to. A good example of a 2- or 3-note melody is Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin'”, but don’t pressure yourself into having to create a hit song. The idea is simply to get the creative juices flowing in a way that doesn’t necessarily require you to produce a gem.
  6. Record and Listen to Yourself. You’d be surprised how much it can help the songwriting process to spend a good deal of time listening to yourself. It’s a much more productive exercise than simply playing and singing. Listening to a recording of yourself gives you an opportunity to hear yourself “from a  distance”, and you’d be surprised how much that helps.

Do you have other ideas that songwriters can try that have helped you through the songwriting doldrums? Why not share them here.

-Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website.
Follow Gary on Twitter.

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