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One of the most common causes of moderate or severe writer’s block is the fear of failure. It usually begins this way: you start creating song ideas (bits of melody, chords, lyrics), and then you try but fail to make those ideas grow into something bigger.
That’s normal for every songwriter; writing music is a back-and-forth process of creating ideas, then creating new ones to attach to the original ones, tossing the ones that don’t go anywhere, creating new ideas… and so on. The new ideas stimulate your imagination, and you create even more ideas, glue them together and eventually wind up with a finished song.
But fear starts to creep in if you find that most of what you’re creating isn’t working. A little voice in the back of your mind sticks its nose into the process, saying, “What if you never finish this?”
That sense of doubt is also normal, and all composers of music deal with it. But just like a batter who starts to doubt his abilities, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The fear of failing at your latest attempt has a way of freezing your creative mind until you seem unable to do anything.
If you find that you are prone to this sort of negative thought pattern, why not change the way you think about what you’re doing when you write songs. Instead of labelling what you’re doing songwriting, why not simply think of it as composing ideas.
Since all songs are a chain of musical ideas, all partnering together to produce a coherent musical journey, you can do a lot to lessen the stress and fear that causes writer’s block simply by taking a break from writing songs, and focus instead on writing ideas.
A musical idea can exist in many forms:
- A drum beat/pattern/groove.
- A bass line with a rhythmic pattern.
- A small melodic idea.
- A short 2- or 3-chord progression with a rhythmic pattern.
- A line or two of lyric.
I strongly believe in working through a creative block. In other words, don’t let fear get the best of you. But there is a way of keeping frustration to a minimum. Here’s a process I’d strongly recommend when you feel frustration interrupting your songwriting sessions:
- Set a daily writing schedule. Set aside time every day (or almost every day) that is your time to write. That should be a standard procedure for all writers.
- For the purposes of getting writer’s block under control, split your writing time into two sessions. It’s best if you’re able to have at least a half hour or so between sessions. So if you normally write for an hour, create two half hour sessions, with a good amount of “head-clearing time” between each session.
- Use the first session to work on short ideas. Don’t sit down to write a song. That’s what’s been frustrating you. Simply come up with short ideas with no commitment to working them into a song. You’ll love the sense of freedom and musical relaxation this gives you.
- Use the second session to work on songs. You’ll have a treasure trove of short musical ideas from your first session that you’re able to use as material, if you’d like.
- If frustration or fear takes over, switch back to composing ideas.
The benefit to this way of working is that it becomes easier to keep your moderate or severe block under control. You’ll love the shot of confidence you get by simply committing to writing short ideas. It frees you from wondering how to finish your latest song.
And the release from fear will usually allow the creative process to strengthen, and y you’ll be back to writing freely in no time.
“Beating Songwriter’s Block: Jump-Start Your Words and Music” (Gary Ewer) is a hardcover book available from Amazon, Backbeat Books, or any other online bookseller.
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle packages look at songwriting from every angle, and have been used by thousands of songwriters. How to use chords, write melodies, and craft winning lyrics.