Fear of failure isn’t the only source of writer’s block, but it’s often the toughest one to solve.
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But if a day or two away from being able to write songs becomes a week or two, or even more, you’ve got the beginnings of writer’s block. It’s never pleasant, but it is almost always solvable.
There are two main causes of songwriter’s block; one psychological, the other technical:
- Fear of failure.
- Constantly violating principles of good musical composition.
The first one is probably the worst one. It’s a panicky feeling that whatever you try to do is going to end in failure. You fear the possible negative comments from whoever might hear your music. You fear being criticized by fellow musicians. You fear letting your audience down.
The second cause is a bit more mysterious at first, because you slowly start to notice that your last few attempts at writing a song have ended in failure. In that sense, it sneaks up on you because you aren’t really aware at first that your failures are caused by breaching basic songwriting principles.
But the second cause can be every bit as debilitating as the first one. While a fear of failure is obvious and comes on rather quickly, it may take some time to identify flawed writing technique as being the reason you aren’t completing any songs.
Violating principles of good musical composition is generally easy to solve once you know that your writing technique is at fault. Getting some basic songwriting instruction will usually do the trick. Bu the first cause, the fear of failure… that’s a trickier one to deal with, because psychological problems have the potential quickly to become debilitating and deep-seated.
If you experience an uncomfortable fear of failure as a writer, it’s important to nip that in the bud as soon as possible. Here are some tips for getting your courage back:
- Give yourself permission to take a break from songwriting. Take a day, a week, or even longer, and declare (at least to yourself) that you’re “on vacation” from songwriting. Giving yourself that kind of permission will feel like a big weight of responsibility to create has been lifted.
- Switch to a non-musical creative activity. Try anything else that still allows you be imaginative, like drawing, carpentry, dance, writing poetry, and so on.
- Write a letter to yourself. This activity isn’t necessarily for everyone, but it can sometimes help to write yourself a “fan letter.” Pretend that you’re writing to your creative self. Tell yourself what you like about your music, how it speaks to you, and how it makes you feel great. Then when you feel especially depressed about being unable to write, take out the letter and read it. It sometimes works to have this kind of reminder of the fact that as a songwriter, you are doing something important, something worthwhile.
- Make songwriting a daily activity. Once you’ve taken a good break away from writing, it’s time to get back at it. Make songwriting a daily activity, but don’t feel that you must create a complete song every time you sit down to write. Take the pressure off, and allow yourself to take on smaller writing tasks.
- Play through your song repertoire. Any time you feel particularly discouraged, start singing through music that you’ve previously written. Just hearing songs that you’ve completed before may get you feeling encouraged again.
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