7 Ways You Know It’s Writer’s Block

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Frustrated guitarist/songwriterDespite those who feel that songwriting is easy for them, the truth is that it’s difficult to keep being creative without some sort of break. The creative side of your mind can get “tapped out”, and when that happens, the solution is simple: stop trying to be creative. Give your brain a rest. That need for occasional stepping back from songwriting is not typically what we mean by “writer’s block.” Writer’s block is more insidious, and more of a long-term affliction.

If you’re normal, you’ll suffer from one of the symptoms of writer’s block at almost any given time, and that’s not writer’s block. That’s actually somewhat typical. Writer’s block should be suspected if you seem to be afflicted with several of them.

The good news is that identifying a symptom can also mean identifying a solution. In any case, writer’s block can make you feel an intense pressure to create music, and it becomes counterproductive and extremely frustrating. So songwriters should always be considering taking a break from time to time.

I’ve created a list below, in no particular order, of seven symptoms of writer’s block. Take a look:

  1. Your latest song sounds like previous song. If you can’t seem to generate new ideas, it’s time to step back and take the pressure off.
  2. You blame your inability to finish a song on a lack of inspiration. In fact, even though songwriting may feel easier when you feel inspired, you should be able to write even if you don’t feel particularly enthused or motivated.
  3. The ideas are there, but you can’t work them into a finished song. This is often the symptom that songwriters identify with writer’s block,  but in truth, you’ll feel this symptom often during the songwriting process, and you should consider it to be somewhat common. The solution is simple: take time to rest.
  4. Your lyrics are as interesting as your high school chemistry notes. Lyrics, for many songwriters, are difficult to write, and it can take a long time to work your words into something singable. There are things you can do to help, like making lyric lists, but taking a breather once in a while is the best antidote.
  5. You feel that the pressure of writing a song causes a sense of panic. There are times when you put a lot of pressure on yourself to create music, and that pressure can cause you to feel disorganized and uncreative. Try giving yourself short songwriting tasks (games, really) that take the pressure off having to create something full-length.
  6. You don’t have a songwriting procedure. A songwriting procedure includes setting aside a time that is your time to write, and also includes pre-writing rituals. Many songwriters, for example, begin the process of writing by listening to lots of music from lots of different genres. Others concentrate on performing for hours or days before starting their next set of songs. Find something that inspires you, and create a songwriting procedure that puts that activity front and centre.
  7. The joy of songwriting seems to be gone. When you feel that the joy you used to get from creating music is gone, the good news is that it’s usually not a permanent condition. Take a rest, get back to experiencing other writers’ music, and you’ll find the joy returning.

Just because you experience one of these symptoms, don’t automatically assume you’ve got the dreaded writer’s block. But if you find that you’re feeling several or all of the above, the best thing to do is to rest, give yourself smaller writing projects, and spend more time listening than writing. You’ll be back in the game before you know it!

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Written by Gary Ewer, from “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” website
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5 Comments

  1. Thank you, this post is very useful for me 🙂 Before I read this post, simply I felt like I had reach the end of my inspiration, later became frustrated.

    Yes, forget about writing for a while, then hearing other’s good music for 5-6 days, really help me to restore it.

    Thank you,
    Eka
    From Indonesia

    • Yes, so true. Taking a break does allow one’s brain to rejuvenate. And I’ve always found that listening to others’ music opens my mind up to all sorts of possibilities, and I become excited to get back to writing.

      Thanks,
      -Gary

    • Hey Eka, nice to see you here! 🙂

      For me, on the other hand, having a day job in the music industry that’s not related to me being a songwriter can also be exhausting on the creative batteries: so when I get home at night my ears are already saturated with music and I want to do something else (lately, this translates to playing video games – though I have no consoles).

      I do agree with Eka that listening to other people’s music is very rejuvenating – I just listened to Eka’s song yesterday and that recharged my batteries a bit!

      Cheers,
      Endy
      also from Indonesia

  2. I’ve already taken your advice to create a process. Now I really like the thought of having pre-writing rituals. Just finished “War of Art” and Pressfield wrote about his prayer to invoke the Muse. I think coffee and some inspiring tunes can be a bit of a pre-writing ritual for me.

    • Coffee sounds like a great ritual. For me, I get inspired when I hear other writers’ good music. So in a weird sort if way, I’m inspired by the hard work of others!

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