Your Songwriting Frustrations: 8 Thoughts to Mull Over

What is your favourite writer’s block solution?


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Frustrated SongwriterThe creation of good music is based on certain principles, and not so much on rules. At times, though, when writer’s block has left you unable to come up with anything good to write, you almost wish there were rules. Then at least you could follow a set of steps and you’ll be back to writing again in no time. Kind of like fixing a car; for someone, like a mechanic, who knows what they’re doing, there are many possible causes for the break-down, but a mechanic following a list of steps can usually fix it.

One of the problems with songwriter’s block is the lack of consensus among composers regarding definition of the term. It’s normal to have songwriting ideas dry up after you’ve been working for a while, but that’s not necessarily an indication of writer’s block.

You might spend 3 hours working on your song, and only have a few seconds of actual music to show for your efforts. Again, that’s not at all an indication that writer’s block has set in.

Here’s a list of eight statements that pertain to songwriter’s block. Most of them are points that I truly believe. It is my opinion that if you agree with these 8 statements, writer’s block doesn’t grab hold of you very often. What do you think?

  1. Inspiration should not be a requirement for writing.
  2. The creative process starts with writing, and inspiration then quickly follows.
  3. Songwriters need to create a daily, or almost daily, schedule that is their time to writeno distractions, and no exceptions.
  4. Waiting to feel inspired is not the best way to cure writer’s block.
  5. A normal writing session should be 20 minutes to an hour in length.
  6. Having ideas dry up during a writing session is normal, and not an indication of writer’s block.
  7. Feeling uninspired is not a reason to avoid writing.
  8. When you feel unable to create musical ideas, try other art forms, such as painting, short story writing, dancing or listening to music.

Of all the statements listed above, I believe point #3 is the most helpful one. Songwriter’s who create for themselves a daily schedule of writing, where “daily” means 5 or 6 days per week, benefit from the discipline that songwriting usually requires.

Please feel free to comment below – I welcome your thoughts.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.

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  1. Pingback: FEATURED ARTICLE: Your Songwriting Frustrations: 8 Thoughts to Mull Over | Creative Music | Inspiring Musical Creativity

  2. Very useful approaches here to this common “ailment”. I do wonder about your thoughts on what causes writer’s block. You’ve said in other posts that the misplacement of waiting for inspiration BEFORE writing is a trap; but are there other causes you have come across? I’m interested as I have a friend who I co-write with at times: he never seems able to finish a song on his own though and cites writer’s block but I am floored by this as he always has brilliant off-the-cuff ideas but they never come to fruition. I have to work really hard to come up with melody lines, hooks or lyrics he can create in an instant. I have forwarded him many of your blog posts and encourage him weekly but can’t seem to crack his essential negativity. My thoughts on the causes this particular person’s writer’s block are:

    – self-criticism, believing he’s ultimately not talented or not good at it
    – over-comparison to others’ work, believing his ideas aren’t good or original enough
    – lack of musical understanding, hence I send him your posts to help
    – laziness, unwillingness, “too busy-ness”
    – lack of motivation. Another friend opined once that he maybe just doesn’t care about it enough. But he is genuinely talented!

    Anyway, just thought you may have some advice. Read your blog every day, thanks for keeping up the quality and the seemingly limitless trove of hints and ideas!

    • Hi Stephen:

      Thanks very much for writing. I’m currently writing a book about writer’s block, and I was surprised to see how little academic research had been done in this area, specifically as it applies to songwriting. Lots of studies done regarding writer’s block as it applies to authors, journalists, and other writers of words, but precious little with regard to songwriting. It seems that most of what people learn about songwriter’s block comes from the anecdotes of other songwriters. But I have found that one can extrapolate from the research done in the field of writer’s block as it applies to authors. Several researchers listed “fear” as the first and most debilitating cause of writer’s block – a fear of failure, and fear that the writer will discover that they’re actually not very talented. That lines up exactly with what you put as 1 and 2 in your list: self-criticism and over-comparison.

      I think it might go without saying that musical composition is not for the faint of heart. It does require courage. One idea that your friend might try comes from Dorothea Brande, author of the book “Becoming a Writer” (an old book – ©1934 – but still highly regarded). She said that writers should start each day by “speedwriting”. Her instruction was to wake up, and before you even are out of bed, grab a pen and start writing – anything! She insisted that you not look back at what you’ve written, just get writing. She believed that this exercise had the dual benefit of 1) training the brain to be creative, and 2) reducing the fear that comes from second-guessing everything you write. I wonder if your friend might try that as an exercise and see if that helps diminish the sense of self-criticism.

      That’s one thought I have, and of course, I am a believer in reading and studying as a way of improving anything we do.

      Hope that helps,

  3. Gary, the writing isn’t the hard part for me, it’s the commitment. when i commit to writing regularly (a small blog post every day, even just a line, a riff, anything on the guitar), the stakes for each thing i write go down. there’s less and less pressure to be great all the time. the amazing truth is that not everything an artist makes is brilliant. but when enough things are, he leaves his mark. tony

    • You make a very good point, Tony, and it’s something I deal with every day: writing a new blog post, and trying to make it the best that I can. The truth is, as you say, that not everything one does has to be brilliant. A home run king does not hit a home run every time he goes to bat, but as long as he’s hit more of them than his teammates, he’s the king. Committing to doing something on a daily basis, whether blog writing or songwriting, is hard to do, but it’s bound to raise the quality of work over the long term.

      Thanks very much for writing.

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