If you’re a carpenter and you like to build your own furniture, you know that your hobby is mainly two activities:
- Designing your project.
- Building your project.
There is a similarity between carpentry and songwriting in that both activities involve designing and “building”. The main difference, though, is that songwriters are often designing as they go. One of my composition professors from my university days told me that he would design an entire composition in his head so that by the time he was actually writing notes, all he was doing was putting it in writing; everything was composed by the time he picked up his pen.
But that’s rare. Most songwriters don’t design first, then compose. It’s a back-and-forth process of perhaps doing some preliminary designing (perhaps not), then generating a few ideas (a chord progression & accompanying rhythm, maybe a bit of lyric and/or a melodic bit), tossing out whatever doesn’t sound right, and keeping what does. In fact, many songwriters compose a bit first, and then design the song based on the direction that fragment takes them.
Because whatever songwriting process you use involves creating and redesigning as you go, there’s a greater danger of writer’s block. A carpenter rarely suffers from “carpenter’s block”, for one good reason: there are tons of examples of bookshelves, nightstands, cutting boards, or whatever other piece they’re trying to create. Uniqueness isn’t so important. If they want to design a bookshelf, they might design it from scratch, but they’re just as likely to go online and find examples from which they can borrow design ideas.
And more to the point, no one is going to accuse a carpenter of plagiarism because their bookshelf looks very similar to another one. In the world of songwriting, the pressure to be unique is much greater. People are going to accuse you of plagiarism if your latest song borrows ideas from another.
Let’s say that a carpenter goes through a time when they just don’t feel like building anything. On those days, they probably spend their time cleaning their workshop, sharpening or calibrating tools, or sorting through materials. Though they haven’t built anything, they’ve spent the day doing things related to carpentry, and those days can be satisfying in their own way.
As a songwriter, if you have days where the pressure to be unique has left you with a bit of a mild case of writer’s block, you might do the equivalent of what a carpenter does. And what are those activities?
Keeping Songwriter’s Block At Bay
The equivalent activity for songwriters is to try writing short song fragments. Bits of lyrics, bits of melodies and chords… Don’t worry that you don’t know how they might make their way into a song. These short ideas will be enough to make you feel creative on days when you just can’t manage to write a complete song.
When the pressure to be unique makes writing an unpleasant activity, it’s time to release the pressure valve. Allow yourself some lower expectations for those days. Eventually, those little fragments will become the materials for your next songwriting project, and you’ll be back in business.
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