One of the top questions I get asked as a pro songwriter is “how do I beat writer’s block. The worst part of the whole writing experience for many writers is just getting started. It’s those times when we sit down to write and nothing comes out that is most frustrating. We feel like we have nothing to say. But, It really is all about creative flow. And here are 9 techniques I’ve used to permanently eliminate writer’s block and free up creativity.
1. Work on your songwriting every day.
Songwriting has much to do with momentum, flow, and confidence. Therefore, we feel more confident when we do something every day. We get into a creative groove. I’ve often noticed that after I return from a vacation and sit down to write is when I struggle the most. So, I have to get back into that groove.
2. “There is no such thing as writer’s block for writers whose standards are low enough.”
American poet William Stafford gives this advice to writers who suffer from Writer’s Block. Although this sounds really bad at first, it’s very true. Writer’s block is really that inner critic that says to us “This is junk” “I can’t write today, I’m not inspired” or “Nothing I write is interesting today”. Therefore, when we set the bar too high it is impossible to be creative. We must learn to turn off that inner critic and give ourselves room to explore.
3. Always be on the lookout for ideas.
Even if you can’t sit down every day to write, you can carry around a small pocket-sized notebook or PDA device that you can jot down bits of conversation you hear. Bits you might later develop into a song. Write down that line from a movie you are watching, or that book you’re reading. Are use voice memos on your phone to record melody bits. So, by always collecting ideas you keep your mind in a writing groove and will have lots of ideas to pull from when you do sit down to write.
4. Physical activity.
This is so important! If you get stuck on a line or melody, take a break and go for a walk around the block. It has been proven in many studies that the human mind not only works better while our bodies are moving. Therefore, we learn and retain knowledge better as well. I’ve known many writers that pace the floor while they write. Garth Brooks used to bounce a tennis ball off the wall as he wrote. (Beware, this could annoy others in the room if you are co-writing!) The point is if we sit too long we won’t be creative. So, MOVE!
5. Skip around….
Another trick I use is to skip around to different sections of a song. Ever find yourself writing a verse to a song and getting stuck on that one line? Try skipping ahead and writing the chorus first and then come back to that line that gave you fits in the 1st verse. There are no rules for what order things have to be written. By writing another part of the song you give your subconscious a chance to work on the problem area while you work on another part of the song.
6. Try this rut busting writing exercise…
Set a goal of finishing 1 song in 1 hour. No matter what!!!! This does wonders for getting you back in the groove of writing. And, you don’t have time to over-think or second-guess everything that comes out. You shouldn’t be concerned with the quality, though often you will be surprised with the results! The objective here is to put down whatever comes to mind and get back in the groove of writing. Remember, it’s an exercise.
7. Be a lifetime learner.
Early on in my career, I was set-up to co-write with a Hall-of-Fame songwriter. He had to leave our writing session to go to a songwriting class he was taking! I was blown away. He said he never wants to stop learning. It inspired him to be more creative. I’ve never forgotten that and always followed that lead in my own writing. Years later I see it working in the songwriting classes I teach at SongTown. Personally, I’ve always found books to be a great source of inspiration as well. Here’s a list of my top writing books.
8. Try working on more than one song at a time.
Often if I get stuck working on a song, I put it down and work on another song. Then when I come back to the first song I have a new perspective as my sub-conscious mind had time to work on it. Often, I will come back to completed songs weeks after I’ve written them to see if any changes are needed. It’s all about pulling back and gaining perspective.
9. Pretend you are NOT writing for an audience or potential publisher…
Write for someone close to you- a mother, lover, or brother. (Of course, I know those rhyme. But I’m a songwriter!) This can often create a whole new path for your song to take. This also has the extra bonus of keeping your song’s message clear and to point.
So, here are my 9 tips for overcoming writer’s block. Try them next time you get stuck and get back to what you really love to do: Songwriting!
Write on! ~CM
Clay Mills is a 16-time ASCAP hit songwriter, producer, and performer. He is the co-founder of SongTown and has 2 Grammy nominations for “Beautiful Mess” by Diamond Rio and “Heaven Heartache” by Trisha Yearwood. Clay is also the co-author of Mastering Melody Writing and The Songwriter’s Guide To Mastering Co-writing.