When Writer’s Block Goes From Mild to Moderate to Severe

Everyone deals with creative blocks in the world of songwriting. Unfortunately, it’s part of being a human; we all have creative abilities — a kind of creative reservoir — but like a literal pool of water, that reservoir can get depleted from time to time. It’s normal.

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So mild or moderate writer’s block is something we all learn to live with, and if you’re going through a dry period right now, you are probably doing the things you need to do:

  1. Take a day or two, or perhaps a week, away from trying to be creative.
  2. Turn your attention to other creative pursuits like painting, writing or reading good literature, even dancing, or polishing your instrumental skills.
  3. Make your daily writing sessions short, and keep your expectations from ramping up too high.

Those will work whether you’re going through a mild case or something longer term, like a moderate block that might last for a couple of weeks or so.

But what about severe writer’s block?

What is a Severe Creative Block?

When writer’s block becomes severe, it’s not just that you find it difficult to write — there is a psychological aspect that arises, and is perhaps more debilitating than the creative block itself.

That psychological aspect has this effect: you begin to doubt that you’re actually a songwriter at all, and you wonder if perhaps you’ve been pretending all this time.

A severe block usually starts as something mild and then progresses, usually in this way:

  1. You find on a particular day that you’re having difficulties coming up with song ideas.
  2. As difficulties continue for a few days, you start to worry that you may not come out of this block easily, and so the block deepens. (Most blocks are driven to a certain degree by a fear of failure, and that fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.)
  3. After a few days or weeks of feeling unsuccessful you imagine that perhaps you were lucky with your previous songs, and that you’re not really a songwriter at all.

Once you’ve hit that stage, it’s no longer just an issue of trying to come up with new ideas… you now need to turn your head around and get thinking in the right direction again. You need to solve your psychological issues as a first step to getting back to writing.

If you think you’re wallowing in a severe creative block, here are some ideas for getting things turned around:

  1. Listen to your previous songs, and write a positive review. Imagine that you’re listening to someone else’s song, and try to find every positive thing you can say about those songs. Leave any negativity aside and focus on the positive. (This helps to remind you that you’ve written some good stuff in the past.)
  2. Analyze some of your favourite songs by other songwriters, writing down why you think they’re successful songs. (This helps to remind you that you know what good music is, even if you’re having troubles writing.)
  3. Find ways, if possible, to help other less experienced songwriters with their own problems. Being a teacher is a great way to organize your thoughts and processes. (This helps to remind you that songwriting is part art, part craft.)
  4. Keep your mind in the musical world in a way that doesn’t require you, at least for a short while, to be a writer. Keep playing your instrument, or learn a new one, or help others with their own playing. (This helps to remind you that there are lots of ways to be creative in the music world.)
  5. Keep your daily songwriting projects small and easy. Once you venture back into songwriting after some time away, even something like vamping on two simple chords and humming some improvised melodies will help. To feel successful, you don’t need to write complete songs. Just improvising short, catchy melodic ideas that don’t have to be written down or recorded can be enough to get you feeling positive. (This reminds you that not every songwriting session needs to result in a full song.)

If you’ve been dealing with a severe bout of writer’s block, remember to step back, take whatever time away from writing you need, and then get your brain thinking positively by acknowledging your previous songwriting successes. Small successes will eventually turn into larger ones, and you’ll be back to feeling creative!

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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