how to cure writer's block
I love writing blog posts. I love to write blog posts almost as much as I like to write songs. They’re both creative outlets that I really enjoy. They’re obviously very different forms of expression, but they both fulfill an important need of mine, which is to express myself and connect with others. Despite the obvious differences between the two, they share a lot of similarities. Both forms of expression require consistent effort to get good at, and both require a certain amount of inspiration to do well.
It’s hard for to write a song if I’m not feeling inspired and it’s hard for me to write a blog post if I’m not inspired by a subject or theme that I want to write about. The last couple weeks I’ve lacked inspiration for writing a blog post. It’s not that I didn’t want to or didn’t feel like it. I just didn’t have any new ideas that I wanted to write about. It started to worry me a little. Normally ideas flow to me on a regular basis. Sure, I might go a few days without coming up with a new topic. But sooner or later, I always get inspired to write about something.
But the last couple weeks, whenever I would sit down to write something, nothing came. Part of this is probably due to the fact that I’ve simply been very busy lately. It’s hard to come up with new, creative ideas when you’re constantly thinking about the next thing you have to do. For me, I tend to be at my most inspired when I’m fairly relaxed with minimal distractions. Relaxation seems to breed creativity.
So over the weekend, when I finally found a couple hours to sit down and unwind, after a jam packed week of work, playing music and socializing, the idea finally came to me. As I sat staring at my blank computer screen, not sure what to write about or where to begin, the idea popped into my head… I should do a post about writer’s block I thought. I’ve been struggling with it lately, and I’m sure it’s something we all can relate to. As much as we would like to keep our creative channels open, sometimes, despite our best intentions, we get stuck, unsure what move to make or where to turn to get back to the well spring of creativity. Sometimes, to no fault of our own, we’re just not feeling it.
In today’s post I’m going to address writer’s block, why it happens, and most importantly, how to get out of creative slumps and move forward.
What Causes Writers Block?
For me, I tend to experience the most writer’s block when I’m stressed and busy. This state of mind seems to be counter-productive to creativity. When I think about the best songs I’ve written, I’m almost always in a relaxed frame of mind when inspiration strikes. By relaxed, I don’t mean that I’m in a meditative state or getting a massage or something, but just that I’m fairly relaxed without a lot of distractions or things on my mind. It’s hard for me to focus and allow ideas to come to me if I’m busy, stressed or worried.
Wikipedia has this to say about the role of stress as it relates to writer’s block:
“It has been suggested that writer's block is more than just a mentality. Under stress, a human brain will "shift control from the cerebral cortex to the limbic system". The limbic system is associated with the instinctual processes, such as "fight or flight" response; and behavior that is based on "deeply engrained training". The limited input from the cerebral cortex hinders a person's creative processes, which are replaced by the behaviors associated with the limbic system. The person is often unaware of the change, which may lead them to believe they are creatively "blocked".
Solutions To Writer’s Block
Since according to both my research and experience, stress seems to be one of the biggest causes of writer’s block, one of the first things I do to get out of writing slumps, whether it’s writing music or blogs, is to simply take a few steps back, relax and see what I come up with. If I’m writing music, I like to carve out a decent chunk of time, preferably a couple hours or more, to sit down and really allow myself the time to develop ideas I come up with. I will often do quick spurts of 15 or 20 minutes of playing and writing throughout the day. But to really let an idea develop and go where it wants to go, I need enough time for that to happen. Sometimes ideas come quickly, but usually it takes a little while to get relaxed enough that ideas start to flow. If you’ve ever meditated you can probably relate to sitting down and having a million thoughts bouncing around, outside of your control. It can take several minutes to slow the mind down enough to allow space for creativity to flourish.
Write Even When You Don’t Feel Like Writing
Sometimes we can convince ourselves we have writers block when we really don’t. We tell ourselves we’re not “feeling it” and that we’ll wait until we’re feeling more inspired. So we wait a day or two, we’re still not “feeling it” and so we decide to keep waiting. This sort of complacency can easily create a vicious cycle of feeling less and less inspired, simply because you fall out of the habit of writing. I find that writing music is sort of like priming a pump. The more we’re flexing our creative muscles, the more ideas tend to flow more and more effortlessly. I’ve written before about how when I’m in a really intense period of writing music I’ll often dream songs. It seems like the more I “prime the pump” of my creativity, the more and more it flows. But conversely, when I stop writing music, whether it’s due to my schedule or just laziness, the ideas stop coming as readily.
Listen To Inspiring Music
One of the things that inspires me the most, is simply listening to great music that I find inspiring. First and foremost, I’m a music fan and music lover. I started writing and performing music because I love music. I enjoy a diverse range of music. Everything from heavy metal to jambands to singer/songwriters to classical music and everything in between. If I’m lacking inspiration, often times just listening to an artist I like will be the catalyst for coming up with new ideas. This exercise works especially well in the context of licensing, because supervisors tend to look for songs that sound like someone else. Listening to other popular music can inspire you to write your own original songs that are in the style of music that is contemporary.
If you’re a regular reader of my blog you probably know that I read a lot of books. I find that reading books and blogs that I’m interested in, often lead to insights that make their way into both my music and blogs that I write. The ideas I get from books and articles I read often inspire me to write about my own take on existing ideas, or lead to insights that generate entirely new topics. None of us exist in a vacuum and connecting with others through their writing and music is one of the best ways to get inspiration for your own creations.
“Once in awhile you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right”.
Find The Beauty In The Mundane
I think one of the most common reasons for writers block is simply failing to find inspiration in your circumstances and surrounding. It’s easy to become jaded and cynical as you move through life and fall into a routine where you’re failing to see all the potential sources of inspiration all around you. I recently heard an interview with Jerry Seinfeld where he talked about coming up with the idea for his hit sitcom, Seinfeld. Jerry said when he was initially called into his meeting with NBC about possibly doing a sitcom he was asked if he had any potential ideas. He replied he didn’t have any ideas at all but simply had always wanted to have a meeting with high powered executives.
A few weeks later he was in a deli with his friend and writer Larry David and they were making comedic observations about simple, mundane day to day things. It was this moment, Jerry recalled, that the idea for Seinfeld was born… a show about nothing. But of course it was about much more than nothing, it was about looking at the simple day to day things we all experience in a fresh and humorous way. Seinfeld’s genius, in my opinion, is his ability to find and articulate humorous observations about things in life we can all relate to.
Everything is potential fodder for creative ideas. Everything. Even writer’s block itself can be a source of inspiration, as this post is evidence of. Most of us have similar experiences in life. We all long for the same basic things and we have more in common than we have differences. Great art articulates and expresses these commonalities in unique and creative ways. Often times we experience writer’s block because we’re simply failing to see all the potential sources of inspiration all around us. Take a deep breath, relax and look closely at this amazing world you’re a part of. Then, start writing.
8/5/2015 12:37:23 am
I like to play with different chords on the guitar or piano. I learned how to play the song a standard called “I wish you love” which my girlfriend sings beautifully . The first chord is D6. One day I put a capo on the 4 fret and strumming that chord and words started to come out like this “I Knew I’d Be With You”
8/5/2015 01:19:46 am
Well, Aaron. I am the exact opposite. When I am relaxed and have nothing to do, I tend to not write at all. I actually write better when I have no time and am under pressure. Film and game scoring are a good match for me because they have deadlines. I wrote a full length score for a Gettysburg documentary (still play I might add) in a weekend. It was a hard deadline because the final edit needed to be done by Tuesday because the anniversary of the battle was Wednesday. Writing license music, I have a have a project with an imaginary or real deadline. Otherwise ,I would do nothing. I can't even do that daily 9-5 routine like Richard Rogers. I wrote 50+ songs for my last big band but I was inspired and on the road all the time. We only did 20 of those songs. ;)
8/5/2015 02:50:41 am
That makes sense. I guess for me it's a balance between having down time and having projects that motivate me to keep going forward. I'm playing in a new group now and although that keeps me very busy i'm playing much more and am improving as a result. But, if I'm so busy that I feel stressed out, I find my creativity suffers.
8/5/2015 03:50:59 am
I guess I just never have writers block. I am either writing or not writing. I will be facing a lot of free time when my wife gets her settlement and then we will see how I respond. I have always had to shoehorn my creative music pursuits in between work and family. All my kids are grown and I will not working a day gig sometime in the near future. I guess then I will get really busy and join 3 bands and take on lots of projects so I don't get bored.
8/5/2015 12:26:47 pm
Writing for me comes in waves, both for music and a novel I'm working on. This is my newest song: Pieces
8/6/2015 03:36:11 am
Good advice and interesting comments. I recently saw another post that I like about the same subject: http://blog.sonicbids.com/10-simple-songwriting-strategies-from-studio-pros
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