If you do research into songwriter’s block (which I’ve done, and have the book to show for it), you’ll find out that one of the biggest causes of this common problem is a fear of failure.
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That may come as a surprise to you, because you’ve probably been thinking that it’s just a basic case of not having any great ideas. And of course, feeling your ideas drying up is the main feature of songwriter’s block.
But how it typically happens is this way:
- You come up with a great idea for a song.
- You create some more ideas to tag onto that first great idea, and you feel the excitement growing as the song takes shape. (That excitement is called inspiration).
- At some point, you find your ideas drying up, so that you can’t finish your song.
- Everything you try just seems to not work, and a fear starts to develop: what if I never break out of this state of mind… what if I never write anything good again?
- At that point, the fear that you might never solve this logjam becomes larger than the problem itself.
And that’s the beginning of a fully-fledged problem with songwriter’s block. To you, the problem is that you can’t write anything. But in fact, the real problem is that you’re afraid that you won’t be able to ever write anything.
That fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. You want to write, but your fears are keeping you from moving forward. One researcher has described it as trying to drive a car with one foot on the gas and another on the brake.
It’s fine to realize that your creative block is really a problem with fear, but how do you solve that one? How do you get past the fear and start writing again?
There’s no use in trying to convince yourself that you’re never going to fail. Every songwriter has written a dud. And it’s not just a fear that you won’t be able to get back to writing again: you fear that when you finally write something, it’ll be a failure as a song.
Here’s how I view being a creative person: You have to get comfortable with the notion that failure in the creative arts is honourable. It means that you’ve tried something entirely new, and it took an immense amount of courage.
The fact that the song didn’t work out should be seen as a simple fact not worth dwelling on. Sure, we want to learn from our mistakes, but some songs are better left alone so that you can get on with something new.
Sometimes the best way to break out of a creative block, if it really seems to have you in its grip, is to stop trying, at least for a few days. Turn your attention to other creative pursuits (playing, poetry, dancing, etc.), and take the pressure off.
If you’re in the middle of a bout with songwriter’s block, remember this: it’s practically never a permanent condition. You will get past this problem, if you learn to embrace failure as a companion.
And you’ll find that the more you’re willing to embrace failure, the less failure you’ll experience.
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