Curing Songwriting Frustration With Some Mindless Activities

Let some mindless non-musical fun get you back to the enjoyment of writing music again.


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Jigsaw puzzleIt would be ridiculous to think that you should never feel frustration as a composer. When you write, you’re getting something to grow from a basic germ of an idea right through to a finished product. And there are bound to be creative hiccups along the way. While it’s probably true that some find it easier to write than others, everyone occasionally gets to the point where frustrations run very high. At those times, you may find it difficult to remember that writing is supposed to be, on some level, fun.

Is songwriting frustration killing your desire to keep writing? Are there days when you wonder if you’d get more enjoyment from doing something – anything – else? These are normal emotions, but when they build up without being addressed they can cause you to give up what used to be an enjoyable pastime, something that used to be a source of joy and pride.

I’ve mentioned many times that one of the best ways to deal with writer’s block and other frustrations is to break the task of songwriting down into small tasks. Sometimes the smaller the task, the quicker you’ll feel inspired and relaxed again. That’s because the accomplishment of a small assignment ticks a little box in our brain that makes us feel successful; it creates a “There! I did that!”- kind of moment that helps us feel satisfied.

I’ve been giving lots of thought lately to the issues surrounding writer’s block. Writing music requires us to bring together two skills: 1) the ability to create unique musical fragments; and 2) the ability to structure those fragments into completed musical journeys – songs.

Creating little musical games, as I’ve mentioned in several posts (like here, for example), certainly deal with the first skill.

But there can be value to engaging in activities that don’t require you to create anything, activities that simply require you to put something together. The activities I’ve listed below are mostly non-musical activities, and even the musical ones will possibly leave you wondering: Can this really help me with writer’s block?”

That’s because many of the activities below result in a “right answer.” In that sense, there’s not much creative about them. But the sense of satisfaction you feel from watching things click together properly gives you a small endorphin rush that makes you feel successful. Just as the musical games mentioned above can help you feel creative by focusing on creation, these activities below have a similar positive effect by focusing on structure.

So if you’re feeling frustrated, put your music away for a few days, and try some of the following “mindless,” but potentially very helpful, activities.

  1. Do a crossword puzzle.
  2. Assemble a model airplane or ship.
  3. Clean/organize your office or songwriting workspace.
  4. Do a paint-by-number.
  5. Build a castle with your child’s (or your own childhood) building blocks.
  6. Build a simple bookshelf.
  7. Explore preset loops and rhythms on your synth; improvise melodies.

There is research that supports the inclusion of “mindless” activities into a person’s workday as a vital part of staying creative. (Read the abstract to “Enhancing Creativity Through “Mindless” Work: A Framework of Workday Design“, by Kimberly D. Elsbach and Andrew B. Hargadon (both from UC Davis).

Those activities can actually lead to feeling more creative because they focus on structure, even if most of the activities require a “right answer”. The very act of following the rules gets the creative juices flowing, and it won’t be long before you’re dying to get back to what you used to like: breaking the rules in the most musical and fun way possible.


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