Five tips to help composers writer's block

June 30, 2020

Writer's block is a topic that can split people's opinions. To some, you either get it or you don't. Personally, I believe that everyone will go through it at some point in their creative career. Here are some tips I've found work for me when overcoming writer's block:

 

TAKE A BREAK

 

Instead of staring at what you're doing, hoping that something inspirational will break through that wall which has built up inside your head, get up and do something else to take your mind off it. This could be a simple coffee break, a quick trip to the bathroom, or even going for a walk. The latter tends to be recommended the most and it's easy to see why. Where I live, there are country paths with beautiful scenery and melodious birdsong that spark up the creativity. Depending on where you live, it might be different. While the city landscape and soundscape might give off a sense of chaos, there is often a rhythm to it that I used to find stabilising for my creativity when I lived in Bristol.

 

CHANGE TACT

 

Instead of trying to continue with that track you were trying to finish, close it and try starting another one instead. Starting afresh on something different can sometimes be the catalyst that is needed and I've even found that once my creativity has started to flow on that new song, if I then change back to the old one I was stuck on, the juices keep flowing and I'm able to continue with that track without a hitch.

 

MASH-UP

 

There have been moments where even the above tip doesn't work and before I know it, I've got quite a few introductions of songs that don't go anywhere. What should I do with these? Keep switching between them and hope something happens? I could go for that walk but what if I have a deadline and I don't have time, or it's chucking it down with rain. How about taking two of those intros and trying to mash them together. If you're like me, you probably have a signature sound, a style that is your default. This can be used to your advantage because you may find that sticking two of your unfinished songs together and creating a bridge section that links them is just the thing you needed in order to get past that writer's block and finish the song.

 

PLAY YOUR INSTRUMENT

 

This tip assumes one thing - you write most of your music at your setup, which is probably a piano keyboard hooked up to your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW). Again, we're going to get up and do something else but this is still related to what we're trying to do. Most composers I know have a primary instrument. A lot of the time it's piano and, while we have a keyboard connected to our computer, it can feel different to sit down at a piano, away from the computer and just play around. For me, my first instrument is saxophone so I leave my setup and go to a different room where my saxophone is, press record on my phone, and just improvise some melodies. If I don't hear anything I like there and then while I play, after I've finished, I'll listen back to the recording I made and listen out for anything I might have missed that sounds good. I'll then learn what it was I did, notate it and return to the computer, figuring out a way to fit it in to the track I got stuck on.

 

SLEEP ON IT

 

Sleep is both essential and useful. The simplified version of this tip is that going to sleep and waking up later, whether it was a nap or overnight, can refresh your mind, clearing away that writer's block.

 

If that doesn't work though, the detailed version of this tip might help and uses two things while you're in bed. The first is that stage where you're trying to get to sleep but your brain is working overtime. I sometimes find that during these moments my creativity is at its highest. Because of this, a great habit is to have a notepad or a little manuscript paper and a pencil by your bed. When I'm tucked in, trying to sleep, suddenly an idea might pop into my head, so I write it down. Sometimes though, while I'm trying to write it down, thinking too hard about it can cause it to fade quickly from my mind. Again, try using your phone and recording yourself singing your idea. Whether you have good pitch or not, the idea you end up 'singing' will jolt your memory in the morning.

 

The second part of this tip comes after you've slept. Whether you have broken sleep in the night or can sleep through until morning, it's good to try and think about whether you dreamed during the night immediately after you've awoken. Some people would refer to this as a 'dream diary' but for me, it's a good way of figuring out some ideas I can turn into music or create lyrics out of, which can then help get past that writer's block and finish off that pesky song.

 

EVERYBODY IS DIFFERENT

 

Whether you struggle with writer's block daily or once in a blue moon, it can come in different forms and strengths. It affects everybody differently and we all have our own ways of coping with it. It's likely that not all of these tips will help but hopefully one of them works for you. Happy composing!

 

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© 2020 Ed Brown