How and Why Bad Song Design Brings on Writer's Block

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Guitar chordAny time a songwriter goes through a bout of writer’s block, you’d probably make the assumption that they’re lacking inspiration. That’s the common belief, but it’s usually wrong. The end result of writer’s block is the reduction or elimination of inspiration. But that’s not usually how it starts out.

In fact, many or most cases of writer’s block are the result of fear, brought on by the fact that the musical ideas you’re generating are consistently weak over time.

Here’s a bit more about how this happens. Tossing out musical ideas is a normal part of the creative process, and it’s not an indication of writer’s block when you do that. After all, once you’ve got one good idea, you need to be able to match it up with something that works well with it. So throwing out ideas is to be expected, as you select ideas that work well together.

Writer’s block starts to kick in when your percentage of kept-versus-tossed ideas gets too high. Once you see that most of what you’re brain is generating is getting tossed, you start to worry that you can’t do anything right. Fear, especially the fear of failure, is a crucial element in the beginning stages of writer’s block.


Beating Songwriter's Block - Gary EwerBook review: Gary Ewer’s “Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music”


All this may come as a bit of a surprise to you. The traditional understanding by most songwriters is that writer’s block is the result of a kind of lethargy, brought on by some random bout of lack of inspiration. This is usually not the case. Since the writing of music itself is the normal generator of musical inspiration, it’s usually a problem in the actual writing stage that causes writer’s block, not some nameless sense of artistic ennui.

And so the most valuable solutions to your songwriter’s block is to look at why your musical ideas are failing, not at why you lack inspiration. Most blocked songwriter’s are going to benefit from a good hard look at how they put their songs together.

To give you a more exact example of how bad song design can lead to writer’s block, imagine that you’ve started to write a song by creating a lyric. You’ve got a verse lyric started, all about how lousy you feel now that your girl has left. You’ve tried to move on to something that might form a chorus, but you get stumped. You don’t know how to proceed.

The problem with this design is that a verse shouldn’t be used to emote, it should be used to describe. You’ve started your song with telling the world how bad you feel, when you should have been laying a foundation, telling the world how you got into this predicament. So because you can’t easily proceed from that verse problem, your sense of inspiration takes a nosedive.

Here’s a short list of other problems that can quickly lead to writer’s block:

  1. Your melodies have a random up-and-down feel.
  2. Your melodies lack the crucial organizing element of repetition.
  3. Your lyrics don’t resonate with listeners (or with you, likely!)
  4. Your lyrics have problems such as forced rhymesmixed metaphors, or generally lack imagery.
  5. Your chord progressions don’t use a tonic chord as an all-important tonal anchor.
  6. Song energy and musical momentum feel disorganized or random.
  7. Your song’s topic is too general, or simply uninteresting.

There’s so much more, but the point is this: if you’re suffering from songwriter’s block, the best solution is to look at your songwriting technique, more than looking at ways to inspire yourself. Once you get your songs properly structured, you’ll find that inspiration, and the joy of artistic creation that comes with it, will quickly come back.


Beating Songwriter's Block - Jump Start Your Words and MusicGary Ewer is the author of “Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music”, available through Amazon.comBarnes & Noble, and Hal Leonard Books. He has also written “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” 6-eBook Bundle. Read more..

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