songwriter - guitarist

Does Your Sense of Creativity Ebb and Flow? That’s Normal.

Some songwriters seem to be able to come up with something singable practically every time they sit down to write, while for others, it feels more like hard work, and it can take many sessions to finish a song.

Both of those scenarios are normal, in the sense that there is no particular “normal”. But even though there’s no one specific situation that’s normal, you can feel deflated if you’ve got a songwriting friend who can seem to churn songs out at will.

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So the first piece of advice here is this: don’t compare yourself or your songwriting output to others. It’s not worth the stress you create for yourself, and how much you might be able to write is not a metric you should be focused on.

But there’s another issue that comes up regarding creativity, and it’s the normal ebb and flow that occurs within one songwriting session.

Creativity is complex. It’s not like a runner who goes on a jog, saying to themselves, “I’m going to run for 5 miles, and then I’ll be finished.” You can start out with great ideas and excitement, and a mere five minutes later feel that the ideas have dried up already!

In any creative activity, there is a natural ebb and flow of ideas. One minute you feel almost overwhelmed (in the best sense of the word) with ideas, and suddenly… practically nothing.

And even though the ebb and flow of ideas is normal, what do you do about it? You might have a deadline approaching, and you don’t have time to sit staring at a blank page!

Some thoughts on the matter that I hope you find helpful:

  1. Even with a deadline approaching, taking a break is important. As you feel frustration setting in, it can be best to get up and leave the room! The problem with frustration is that it’s a feeling that never just sits there: it either grows or diminishes, and if you’re focused on a deadline, I can almost guarantee it’ll grow. So go have a coffee, and if you still feel frustrated, leave it until tomorrow.
  2. Listen to good music. Stop your songwriting and focus instead on listening to some good songs. You’ll tend to feel inspiration building as you listen to songs that speak to you.
  3. Embrace your slowness! Leonard Cohen had no qualms at all telling people that he was a slow songwriter. It’s just the way it was for him. The fact that a song might take only fifteen minutes, or as much as two years, is irrelevant to how good it is. It’s just the way it is.
  4. Keep several songs on the go. And when you feel frustrated with one of them, switch to one of the other ones. You’ll soon discover that in many cases of mild writer’s block, a change is as good as a rest.
  5. Play your older songs for yourself. Most of the time, you’ll find it inspiring. Sometimes all you need to do is to remind yourself that you really are pretty good at this. But we’re often so focused on what we need to get done that we forget that we’ve written lots of songs before. So give your ego a shot of confidence and listen to the songs you’ve already written.

There are lots of ways to keep your musical mind occupied when you’re feeling frustrated with your songwriting. Try focusing on your playing for a while, or work on being a mentor to others. Anything that keeps you thinking musically will inspire you, and you’ll probably find yourself feeling creative again in short order!

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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