Here’s a re-post of an article I wrote a few years back on Overcoming Writer’s Block. I was going through some of my notes, and found this helpful in getting past the blank page. Hope you find it helpful, too!
Songs just don’t materialize out of thin air – most of the time. For most great lyrics, someone has spent considerable time writing, revising, gathering feedback and rewriting to build their masterpiece. Writing is work, and it’s not always easy.
I’d like to say I work as diligently at all my songs as the great songwriters of our times. The sad fact is that I usually have trouble getting the initial draft out of my head and onto the page. I’ve fallen victim to the mythical Writers’ Block more times than I’d like to admit, and I typically end up stuck without a draft, rationalizing my way out of the work of writing.
All that being said, I have to say that I don’t believe in Writers’ Block as an actual state or condition. I’ve come to believe that in most cases, we have a series of lame excuses for not honing our craft that we tend to BLAME on Writers’ Block.
Why can’t we just come out and say the things we want to say? The following is just the starter list of a series of lame excuses we use (ok, that I use) to avoid doing any actual work toward refining my song craft.
Lame Excuse # 1 – Laziness –
- For many of us not-quite-published songwriters, Writers’ Block is sometimes a code word for just plain laziness. So many times when I sit down to write, I never get beyond step 1 because I’m just too lazy. Too lazy to think through exactly what I want to say. Too lazy to come up with a clear song vision, or jot down a simple melody or one of those (seemingly great) hook lines that pop into my head from time to time.This is perhaps the easiest excuse to get past. All it requires is a commitment to taking a first step toward your final destination.
Lame Excuse # 2 – Anxiety –
- More times than not, this one’s a bigger culprit than laziness, and is sometimes the root cause of my laziness, lurking just beneath the surface. Insecurities about exposing the fruit of our labor into the marketplace are very real and sometimes very intimidating.We become vulnerable each time we put ourselves into our craft. What if someone doesn’t like my ideas? What if they do, and they act on them? What if the world thinks I’m just plain nuts? What if? All these things could happen, but we’ll never know if we don’t get beyond that initial draft. Unless we get beyond our initial drafts consistently, we’ll probably never get the opportunity for the world to hate us at all! People can’t hear the music in our heads. If we don’t put it out there, we also forfeit the opportunity to share a really great song with the world.
Lame Excuse # 3 – I Got Nothin’ to Say –
- From time to time, I sit down to write, only to discover that I have nothing to say. Nothing really grabs me enough to motivate me to write. This is perhaps the most common, and quite possibly the lamest excuse for not writing. Unfortunately, great writers don’t become great writers by writing during a few brief moments of inspiration. Songwriting is a craft. Developing these skills takes time and lots of practice. Writing itself – about anything at all – can motivate us to write. We just need to lose the lame excuse and get started.
The Cure – 5 Steps to Curing Writers’ Block
Here’s where the rubber meets the road. I’m about to share with you a few techniques for slaying the demon of Writers’ Block. While I can’t guarantee you’ll win a Grammy within the first year of practicing these techniques, these techniques can help you get closer to completing an initial draft. You’ll actually have SOMETHING to revise! SOMETHING to craft into a potential masterpiece!
Great songs are like diamonds. They can take quite a bit of time to develop. To create that rare gem, we have to continually press and polish all the coal we’ve got laying around in our heads, discarding the rough edges and molding it into a fine gemstone.
Hopefully these techniques will provide you with a large piece of coal that just might become a diamond over time – if you work at it hard and long enough.
Step #1 – Feed Your Brain
- If you’re having trouble coming up with a topic, salvation from Writer’s Block may be as near as your coffee table. Pick up the remote control and turn on the tube, or pick up the paper and read. The news can be a great source of material for songwriters.Comedians often comment that the real life is funnier than anything they could have come up with on their own. There is a certain universality to many things that happen around us that makes for great lyrical content. Whether they affect the entire world, or just the people on your street, real-life events can be a great inspiration.
Step #2 – Write Down Your Reasons For Writing
- Knowing why you want to write something (this doesn’t just apply to songs) can be very useful. It can help you set an initial direction and begin to gain momentum. Maybe you’re writing to express the deep-seated love you have for fly-fishing. Maybe you’re outraged at the local Sonic Drive-in for NEVER giving you enough napkins without your having to ask. Ask yourself where you want the song to go. If you’re writing about something personal that you don’t care to share with the world, (maybe a purely therapeutic exercise to help you get over a lost love or pet), you don’t have to worry as much about building a universal appeal. If you want to appeal to a specific audience, this could influence the direction your writing takes as well.
Step #3 – Write Anything!
- The best way to get the creative juices flowing for me is to simply begin writing about ANYTHING. It doesn’t have to be a focused stream of beautiful melodies that get it all said in perfect form. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t even have to be a lyric. I typically pick a subject and write down a 1/2 page stream of consciousness babble about everything that comes into my head when I think about it. When I’m done, I usually have a few good starting places for a song. A hook phrase might stand out from my random babblings. I might not use any of the content, but the rhythmic patterns of certain word combinations might spark an idea for a melody I can develop for a song about something totally different.
Step #4 – Brainstorm
- If your writing tends to take an immediate direction when you write in complete thoughts and sentences, you might come up with a larger variety of content by brainstorming short words and phrases. Just like in the above exercise, pick a subject. Set a timer for 10 or 15 minutes and begin writing down words and short phrases that have to do with your subject matter. Don’t stop writing until the timer goes off. Make a conscious effort to keep the pen moving as much as possible during the exercise.
Step #5 – Develop a Clear Song Vision.
- By using the above techniques, you’ve probably developed nice broad base of material that you can use to start many songs. The next step to take is to develop a clear Song Vision.A truly great song says one thing and says it well. A song vision is simply a brief statement that says what you want to say as concisely as possible. The entire song should communicate your song vision. Anything that takes away from the vision makes the song less powerful. Think about what you want to say, and articulate it in a few sentences before trying to write all the lyrics. It’s ok for your song vision to change as you work out revisions. Just make sure that every piece of the song communications the vision clearly. Keeping your song vision in mind will help you maintain direction and focus, or change the song’s entire direction as you discover something different you might want to say.
This is Just the Beginning. Once you’ve developed your song vision, you’ve almost conquered the demon Writers’ Block. You now have something to say. Now just get to work and say it!