Contrary to popular beliefs, songwriting isn’t a completely organic process.
Rome wasn’t built in a day and John Lennon and Paul McCartney didn’t write the majority of the Beatles song in one sitting (actually I’m not sure about that one…)
Some days, words and melodic ideas flow out of you without you having to make much effort, but on other days, you stare at an empty page, blank-minded. It can leave you with a sense of defeat, frustration and even fear about coming back to writing afterwards. Writers block happens to everyone and can occur at anytime. Don’t let it put you off!
Here’s your guide to how to overcome songwriter’s block.
Step 1- Collaborate
Collaboration is always a good idea whether you are stuck on an idea or want a fresh approach to songwriting. It is also a very good way to learn how to compromise and to learn how to not get too attached to ideas while standing up for the ideas worth fighting for. Everyone you will write with will have different approaches. Therefore, if it doesn’t work out with one individual, just move on to the next person! A great way to find people to collaborate with is to be apart of music groups online, or being apart of the social feature of Jellynote. You could also contact up-and-coming acts in your area and suggest a writing day.
Step 2 – Research
Another thing you can do is research. Don’t limit yourself to the internet and google search. Read books and go to a library, listen to music (live and recorded), go to museums, watch movies, meet with friends and listen to their stories and current life situations. Anything can be source of inspiration if you look hard enough. The fact that you are struggling to write is already a story and a starting point for a potential song. That feeling of fear, not being good enough and doubting yourself is a universal theme that everyone goes through at some point. It is something people relate to and that can lead to great songwriting.
An important part of researching is listening to other people’s songs. Need some inspiration? Check out our list of 7 moments that made music history.
Step 3 – Allow yourself to “suck”
The reason we block ourselves is because we feel the need to write the best song ever every time we write. It always needs to be better than the previous. By doing this, we begin to doubt our capacities and doubt blocks us, hence songwriters block. Another trick is to consciously decide to write something you would usually consider “bad”. Allow yourself to create your worst work.
There is always something to you can edit and improve on a page full of bad lyrics, however, on a blank page, there is nothing you can work with.
Step 4 – Try something different
One of the biggest challenges as a songwriter is to constantly be reinventing ourselves and our approaches to songwriting. The best way to do this is to try something different. If you usually start writing with lyrical content, mix it up, try starting with some chords or a beat. If you usually write on a guitar, try a different instrument like a piano or bass. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone.
You can also use different writing techniques. For example, David Bowie used a “cut-up technique” which consisted in him cutting up words from a preexistent written work and then mix-match them by hand. He almost left it up to fate which can be very liberating when you usually choose every single word meticulously.
Step 5 – Get the words out
The most important thing to do is to get the words out, even if they don’t make much sense at first.
Have you considered free writing? It’s a process where you write down anything and everything going through your mind. It can include single words, or sentences, or anything you’d like. This is a very interesting exercise as your subconscious will take over and lead, hopefully giving you a starting point or theme to write a song.
Why not true playing “The Minute Game”? It’s where you choose four evocative words (i.e. memory, friendship, dawn and new) and write about them for different lengths of time. Take five minutes for the first word, three minutes for the second, one minute for the third and 30 seconds for the last.
Write about every word that comes to your mind in each allotted time period. At the end, revisit the words and keep an eye out for anything you could use as a potential song lyric.
While you’re still here…
Check out this beautiful version of Sondheim’s “Move On” from “Sunday in the Park with George”, which perfectly captures the sense of hopelessness we experience from creative block, and teaches us how we can move on from it.
So…what are you waiting for?
Now you’ve learnt these tips, get writing!
The Jellynote Team x