Imagining That Your Unfinished Song is Actually Already Finished

When every song you start seems to grind to a halt, and finishing it seems difficult or impossible, you’ve got the makings of writer’s block.

Your musical imagination can help you through a creative block. But you’re likely thinking, “HOW can I use my musical imagination to help me, since it’s my lack of imagination at this particular time that’s causing the problem.”

The fact is, it’s not often a lack of creativity that causes writer’s block, but fear: the fear of not being able to sustain the creative process. In that sense, writer’s block is often a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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The fear of failure is powerful. When you start a song, everything tends to go well at the beginning. Ideas come together quickly, and you feel excited. It’s normal for the creation of ideas to slow down, though, and when you get to the point that you’re tossing more ideas than you’re keeping, that’s when fear sets in.

Mainly, it’s this kind of fear: “The last few ideas I tried to add to my new song didn’t work. What if all the ideas I create fail? What if this song never finishes itself?” As I say, the fear of failure is powerful.

But your musical imagination is also powerful. It’s what has gotten you this far, and you need to remind yourself that your present inability to write doesn’t mean that your imagination has gone missing. You simply fear that it’s missing, and that’s a different thing.

When I’m feeling stuck, here’s something I do: I play through what I’ve written so far, imagining that the song is already finished. Once I get to the part where I got stuck — where I stopped — the solution to moving forward will often pop into my mind.

Sometimes the solution is just a short idea… the next phrase, for example. But just getting the next phrase will clear out the logjam, and new ideas will start to flow again.

This is a psychological tool, and it can take a while to hone it and make it work for you. If you try this, but it doesn’t work, put your guitar down, have a cup of coffee, and then come back at it a few minutes later, and try the technique again.

Soon, you’re going to discover a way to play through the bits you know, and then, with greater confidence, stride into the part of the song you don’t know.

And most of the time, if all it gives you is one more line — one more idea — it’s often enough to get past that spot. The good thing is that if you can do this before you get hopelessly mired, you can avoid a creative block entirely.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter

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