Writer’s block

We’ve probably all experienced writer’s block at some stage. Sitting in front of the computer, keyboard or guitar, wishing an idea or inspiration would come. Instead, no music comes. It brings down our self-esteem, which further inhibits creativity. It’s a horrible cycle.

I’ve seen a a lot of advice about how to deal with this kind of situation, and it seems most of it is a variation on the theme of “doing something random”. That is, bringing an unexpected or unfamiliar element into the music. This ranges from using a new instrument, to limiting the song within certain parameters (such as time, key, instrumentation, style, etc).

I disagree with this advice. In my experience, this is not the path to productivity.

For me, the first step is to get some distance. Get out of the studio. By physically removing myself, I walk away from the (self-imposed) burden of having to force creativity. If the weather’s good, I like to take a walk. The fresh air combines with the physical activity, stimulating bloodflow and brain activity. I use this time to reflect on my current projects. What progress has been made on each, what further work needs to be done. I remind myself of the overarching creative direction for each project – what is the style of music? What is the style of working? What are the expected outcomes?

If you don’t have any projects, this is the time to begin planning one. Choose to embark on either an album-length (12 songs) project or an EP-length project (6 songs). Think about some music you’ve been listening to, and consider some aspects of the music that you find interesting or inspiring. Think about combining different musical approaches or trying new musical approaches. Think about a unifying theme.

If you already have a project that you’re stuck on, think about the bigger picture. What are you trying to achieve with the project? If you’re stuck for creative direction, think about aesthetic – colour and texture. If you’re stuck for lyrical ideas, think about the key message of the song. If you’re stuck for ideas for a new song, think about music you’ve always wanted to make.

Either way, don’t return to the studio until you have a plan. Don’t return until you already know what you’re going to do when you sit down in the big chair. Make sure that when you return you know exactly what you’re going to do.


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