It is feared and as notorious among writers as it is among songwriters: writer’s block. A barrier that makes it very difficult to work constructively on your work. In this article, let’s take a closer look at Writer’s Block/ Songwriting Blockades and find out how we can possibly overcome this state of apathy, if it should occur one day.
- 1 The key to songwriting success
- 2 What is Writer’s Block?
- 3 Work your way to the beginning
- 4 Remove pressure
- 5 Don’t think anyone will listen to this song
- 6 Don’t think commercially
- 7 Leave out the instrument
- 8 Have a songwriting archive
- 9 Read the CVs of other songwriters
- 10 Have someone to be envious of
- 11 Don’t get frustrated
- 12 Use dictionaries, thesauruses and rhyming dictionaries
- 13 Make a musical brainstorm
- 14 Give your music meaning
- 15 Start a songwriter insider meet-up
- 16 Summary
The key to songwriting success
Of course, how seriously you want to take songwriting depends entirely on your own goals and aspirations. If it’s just a hobby for you to impress your friends, you can take it a little easier. But if you want to make a professional career out of songwriting and earn money, you should take songwriting as seriously as other jobs.
Your life should revolve around songs from now on. As you walk through the world, you should pay attention to melodies that come into your head or that you pick up somewhere and immediately record them on your mobile phone or a voice recorder.
You should also pay special attention to your surroundings. If you are walking through a subway, you should no longer just rush through headlessly, but rather keep your eyes on the situation. What do you hear? What do you see? Who is there? What impression does the lighting make on you? Is there graffiti on the walls? If so, what kind? What does the floor look like? What is it made of? These are all lyric writing strategies that you need to get into the habit of using to train your expression and fill an idea book. So write down particular situations that you think might help you later on in a song.
The third and perhaps most important point is that you need to do something for your songwriting every day. Just like any other job, you have to work on your success every day. And above all: write many, many songs. Not every one has to be perfect. Not every song has to be produced. Here, it’s more worthwhile to pay attention to quality. But you should have enough song concepts at your disposal.
They say you have to write 200 songs to really understand what songwriting is all about. Make songwriting a daily routine. Whether you feel like it or not. Allow yourself time for your creative work and work regularly.
What is Writer’s Block?
Writer’s Block means nothing else than writer’s block and you will soon get acquainted with it, if this has not already happened in the past. It’s a bit like burnout. You just can’t write any more. The creative flow is no longer there.
Billy Joel, according to Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard Books, 1992 once said about writer’s block:
“The thing you don’t have control of is writing. You have to pull it out of yourself. You pace the room with something like the dry heaves, having no control over the muse, horrified that it won’t come. All that’s out there with you is the piano, this big black beast with 88 teeth.”
– Billy Joel
Now you might say that you should just take a break from writing. But this is not advisable because, firstly, such writer’s block can drag on for a very long time and, secondly, it can be overcome relatively easily if only you have the right tools at your disposal (compare also the suggestions in the category: Songwriting).
Work your way to the beginning
Creativity (and the desire to do something) often comes after you have already started something. Surely you know this too: you have to force yourself to start something. But once you have started, you often don’t want to stop. Examples of this are jogging – once you have finished, you feel such a sense of well-being that you resolve to do it more regularly (which then fails again because you can’t bring yourself to do it).
When learning the new songwriting techniques on allihoopa.com, you might also find that you have to pull yourself together to read an article. But once you’ve done it, it’s (hopefully) interesting and informative and you find it fun. The same goes for tidying up, which you often put off and which then even turns out to be a fulfilling pastime. Besides the fun you have doing all these things, you also have a good conscience and – this is probably the most important thing – you get results in the end. The flat is clean. New songwriting techniques successfully learned. The pounds lost and the fitness built up. And … the song written.
By the way, this also applies to the business side of a songwriter’s existence. Many low- to moderately-successful songwriters do just that: Write songs. But you should focus about a third of your time on the business side. Sending out demos. Maintaining your website. Building up contacts and keeping them alive. Doing taxes and bureaucracy and so on. Only when business and songwriting are in harmony will you achieve success. Because you are still working in the musicbusiness.
First of all, writer’s block is often due to pressure you put on yourself. This is not about the pressure to write something every day, but about your own expectations. If you think that every song you write has to be a hit, you will quickly overexert yourself to such an extent that your body will enter a resistance phase. It wants to avoid the pressure and simply shuts down completely: “Writer’s Block”. This supposedly solves the problem from your body’s point of view. However, the further lack of hit songs actually increases the pressure you put on yourself and thus causes even more stress.
It is therefore important that you define the songwriting process for what it is: a creative process. Get comfortable when you write songs. Admire the blank sheet of paper in front of you, full of possibilities and open to anything you want. You can create a world. You can create a work that has never existed before and never will. And it doesn’t have to be good. Remember that you write songs regularly. This song doesn’t have to be your masterpiece. Even if you take the work on it so seriously, of course. That you are striving to write a masterpiece and not just going to scribble something.
Do a relaxation exercise if that helps you in the creative process. Drink a cup of cocoa or coffee. Snuggle up in a blanket on the sofa. In front of the fireplace or go to the beach or quarry pond if there is one nearby. Go for a swim or take a shower. In short, do everything you can to take the pressure of success off yourself.
Don’t think anyone will listen to this song
As songwriters, we are in a situation where we express emotions. These can be – but don’t have to be – our own. So you might find yourself in the situation of being in a committed relationship or happily married, but have seen this young girl who had such a crush on her favourite star. Your ideas are bubbling and this could be a really good song – if it wasn’t for your relationship. What will your partner think of you if you suddenly come up with a song about heartbreak and finding an unattainable star to fulfil your deepest love wishes?
As songwriters, we always reveal something about ourselves. Even when we write about other people or make up stories. After all, we are the narrator and our words are instrumental in the song. This can be limiting. Not only related to the relationship or marriage, but also to friends, acquaintances, family. What are all these people supposed to think of you if your song is about you (or better: the literary me your song is about) hating life and wanting to die (“I hate my life and want to die” (Kurt Cobain)).
The solution is to get rid of all that. You must not be influenced by such thoughts. So when writing the song, assume that no one will ever hear it. Let the creative juices flow freely and forget about any kind of shame. Finally, you can really make sure that no one will ever know that you have written this song. For example, you can choose a pseudonym/performer name and not show it to anyone you know. You can also tell them that the lyrics were written by someone else and that you only wrote the music. And who knows, maybe in the end you are so proud of your song that you want to share it with others and publish it under your real name.
Don’t think commercially
Commercial thinking also limits us and can cause writer’s block. While we always stress that you shouldn’t lose sight of the commercial aspect of songs either. But that shouldn’t stop you from breaking out of it. Be open to new things. Dare to break the rules. Forget about the requirements you might have been given. What will the music publisher think? What will the singer think? It’s all irrelevant. Because you don’t even know yet if they will ever get to hear this song. The decision is yours alone and therefore you should not limit yourself artificially. And in the end, you can simply rework the song in a later step and make it sound more commercial.
Leave out the instrument
Often the process of songwriting is to sit down at your instrument and just play away. While there is usually nothing wrong with this strategy, in times of writer’s block or when you feel that nothing really new is emerging, it can be useful to leave the instrument out.
Often we play the same or similar things on our instruments all the time. We have our chord progressions, fingerings and melodies and we use them in always similar variations. It can therefore be very refreshing not to sit down at the instrument, but to let the melody develop in your head. So simply hum different melodies to a sequence of chords and then record this on a mobile phone or voice recorder and only later play it on the piano/ appropriate instrument (see: Intuitive approach to finding melodies).
Have a songwriting archive
As mentioned in the first paragraph, you should have an archive of song ideas. If the crucial hook arrives at night after a sweaty nightmare, don’t hesitate to grab your phone or voice recorder and sing it. If you come across it while walking, record it immediately. The same goes for lyrics. These archives can (and will) help you if you have writer’s block or need to write a song under time pressure.
Read the CVs of other songwriters
If writer’s block is getting to you, it can help that you suck new energy from the CVs of other already successful songwriters. It’s very interesting and educational, first of all. And secondly, motivating. You see that other songwriters were once in the place you are today and that they made it to the top against all odds.
Have someone to be envious of
Envy is one of the most powerful motivational boosters in the world. Find a person who has achieved what you still want to achieve and be envious for all it’s worth. Be envious of their fame, their success, their money and get motivated to be better than them. Ideally, this would be a person with whom you are (in an abstract way) in some kind of competitive situation anyway. A sibling, for example. Or people who went to the same school as you or whom you otherwise knew before their success. If there is no such person, pick someone you don’t know but who is successful. For example, songwriters who are younger than you and already extremely successful. What they can do, you’ve been able to do for a long time! So sit down at the table in front of your white sheet of paper or at your instrument and show it to everyone out there.
Don’t get frustrated
Writer’s block often occurs as a result of frustration. You’ve invested so much in your career and worked hard and the fifth music publisher doesn’t get back to you… life is hard. And every rejection from music publishers costs you a bit of motivation and belief in yourself and your abilities. But it’s important that you don’t get frustrated and keep going.
Think of the stonemason who hammers his stone a hundred times. The stone doesn’t 99 notice anything at all. Not a sound. Not the slightest crack. Absolutely no result. But at the hundredth blow, it suddenly breaks apart. And this breaking apart was not due to the 100th blow, but also to all 99 blows before that. Always keep that in mind and believe in cause and effect: If your songs are good and you put enough work into the business side, sooner or later you will have to succeed. So don’t ever get frustrated or demotivated, but keep at it and keep hammering away at the stone until it finally breaks apart.
Use dictionaries, thesauruses and rhyming dictionaries
As we have learned in earlier, the art of lyric writing lies in a use of figurative, vivid language. A thesaurus can help us replace “common”, “worn-out” words with more vivid ones. The dictionary can be used to accurately delineate their meaning and rhyming dictionaries can – it was obvious – help us find rhymes. It is important not to misuse any of these three tools and just write lyrics on paper that rhyme or sound nice but don’t have a common thread. They are merely good tools that should be used wisely. By the way, this does not only apply to cases where creativity is at a dead end.
Make a musical brainstorm
Similar to a normal brainstorming session where you simply write down terms on a certain topic without evaluating them and only evaluate them in a second step, you can also do it with music: Just play around and make as many “song concepts” as possible in a fixed time frame (e.g. within 30 minutes). Then evaluate the resulting ideas in a second step. Even if much of it is of course unusable, perhaps one or two groundbreaking song ideas will emerge.
Give your music meaning
It’s often the case that writer’s block welcomes us as a natural reaction to a lack of success. If no music publisher has responded to you yet again, or the response has been negative, this can quickly rob you of your desire to write and can be incredibly demotivating.
“Is anyone interested in my music at all?”, “What am I doing this for?”, “It’s all pointless. I’m good but not good enough”. These are the thoughts that involuntarily run through your head and cause the blockade.
A very good strategy is therefore to give your music a meaning. Look for an application for your music. That means, for example, find a regional band that plays your song regularly and listen to their concerts.
Or look for no- or low-budget films and ask if you can contribute a song. You won’t get any money for it, of course – but you will notice that your songs are good and useful for something.
Start a songwriter insider meet-up
Get together with other songwriters and have a small party where you listen to each other’s songs and tell each other what’s good and what needs improvement. If you manage to get several songwriters together, you can also do this regularly and maybe even combine it with tasks. Along the lines of: “We meet every week and everyone brings at least 5 newly written songs (and a six-pack)”.
This way you all make a commitment. And of course you also want to impress your colleagues. You could also listen to the songs “blind” in this case. So just randomly choose the songs so that no one knows whose song is being played and then rate it, etc.
The creative input, the commitment to write something and the certainty that someone else will listen to your songs and even give an informed opinion can melt away the songwriter’s block like the August sun melts a slippery finger.
Writer’s Block, or in German, writer’s block, is bound to haunt you sooner or later in your life as a songwriter. Be prepared for it and don’t give in to it. With the tips and strategies on allihoopa.com you should be well equipped to overcome the block quickly and effectively.