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Songwriting: Writer’s Block

Brandon Drury —  October 25, 2007

Today, on the recording forum I had a member post about how he had writer’s block for an entire year. This blog is all about Writer’s Block is complete bologna. In fact, Writer’s block is just a figment of your imagination.

So you want to make music? You want to write a song but nothing comes out? Are you suffering from the destructive disease known as “Writer’s Block”? Guess what. Writer’s Block is NOT a disease. In fact, it’s nothing but a figment of your imagination. You’ve dreamed the whole thing up. You could sit down and right a song right now without any problem. Would it be any good? WHO CARES!!!! (This may be why you have imagined Writer’s Block and I haven’t).

Life is about tricking ourselves into believing something worth believing and to keep us motivated for things we decide we should be motivated for. It’s almost always a lie. (Check out the movie Momento for a great illustration of this). In the end, you have to trick your brain into being creative. This article will give you some help.

Writer’s Block Is About Setting Limitations
If you feel you have writer’s block, you have set limitations on your songwriting. You have X rule, Y rule, and Z rule. If you make a piece of music that doesn’t fit rule X, Y, and Z you come to a brick wall. A large theme in this article will be about removing this limitations and rules that you have subconsciously added.

Quite Feeling Sorry For Yourself
Some people really think they are “suffering” from Writer’s Block. Writer’s Block is not a disease. It’s a choice you’ve created in your own mind. You’ve put your brain in a position where it can not create. You are not a victim! The solution is simple, but the results may not be quite what you expected. You simply need to remove the rules you’ve artificially added to the equation.

You Don’t Have Writer’s Block If You Haven’t:

  • tried writing a bad song on purpose
  • watched Tenacious D and The Pick Of Destiny
  • tried to write a song titled “I Want Pound The Hell Out Of You”
  • tried to write a song called “Murder Should Be Legal”
  • tried to make a rap song
  • made at least on 4 on the floor techno song
  • tried tried to make your buddies laugh with a song

Thoughts That Stop Creativity
There are a billion different personality types out there. Some of us are going to try too hard to write the greatest song in the world. I remember in my younger band days, I’d stress myself to death trying to write the ultimate anthem for the universe. Of course, I never wrote the ultimate anthem. In fact, I didn’t write much music at all back then. I kept myself from writing because I was afraid it wasn’t going to be good enough.

Looking back, this was NOT the right way of looking at the songwriting process. I was using my brain WAY too much and not having fun.

What If Basketball Players Had Writer’s Block?
Let’s assume that when Micheal Jordan first picked up a ball he went to the 3 point line. What if he said to himself, “This one shot must be the best shot of all time! I’m competing with the greatest basketball players in the world”. He bet it all on this one shot. Then, when he missed (He’s only 8…he sucked back then!!) his world was shattered.

In the basketball analogy, it’s ridiculous to think that one shot means anything. You can take a thousand shots in a day. Who cares if you miss a few? That’s why you are out practicing.

The same applies to songwriting. You can write 100 songs per day. (Seriously, it can be done!). Just start writing and see what happens. Remember that there is nothing on the line with each song you write.

Possible Causes Of Writer’s Block
If someone asked me to write a 5-10 page Chapter 1 of a fictional story and if I finished Chapter 1, I’d get $1,000,000 I’d have no problem doing it. Hell, I’d probably do it just for fun. I’d start off in the 1950s (imagine the film was semi-old looking). You’d see the old cars. I’m thinking a field. Maybe a kid is playing baseball. Then a convict runs by in one of those hamburglar looking suits….. bla bla bla. You get the idea. I’m just brain storming, which we’ll get too in a moment.

The reason I could just crank out an idea for my story was because I had not pressure. It didn’t matter if I chose the 1950s or the 1450s. Who cares! There was no reason for my madness. I just grabbed the first idea that came along.

Trying too hard – Trying too hard puts your brain in “focus mode”. Focus mode is probably good for reading or hunting. It sucks for thinking creatively.
Trying to objectively complete some sort of goal – Are you trying to write a hit song? That’ the first step to writing a piece of garbage that no one wants to listen to. If I wanted to write a song like Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody”, I’d start out by writing a song more like Metallica’s “Master of Puppets”.
Analyzing – The part of our brain that allow us to troubleshoot problems in Windows, change a carburetor, or apply the Pythagorean Theorem is the exact opposite of the part of the brain needed to be creative. A lot of dumb people are really good at life for a reason. They don’t analyze things that don’t need to be analyzed. (Of course, it’s a double edged sword when they can’t analyze stuff that should be analyzed).

Losing the forest for the trees – Take any great song. I’m not talking about that crap you listen to now, I’m talking about the kind of songs that made you want to be a musician in the first place. I’m thinking along the lines of KISS or Nirvana or whatever simple, fun music you liked when you decided to get a guitar or whatever. I’m going with Bryan Adams today. Let’s say you wrote the riff to Summer of 69.

Let’s analyze that riff for a second. Uhhh..well….there isn’t a whole lot to analyze. It’s two chords that are palm muted. So what! Of course, I consider Summer of 69 to be one of the best songs in the world. If you don’t agree, you’ll understand. Summer of 69 was the universes way of balancing the holocaust. (Okay, maybe Summer of 69 wasn’t THAT good). Anyway, the point to make here is that it’s WAAAYYYYY to easy to over analyze just a small part of the song writing process. A bunch of small parts that inter-depend on each other can create a sum that is greater than the parts.

Imagine one of those Indian tent devices known as “Tepees”. They take a bunch of sticks and lean them onto one another to eventually create a shelter. (Once you put buffalo skin or a tarp on top of it). Imagine just pulling out one of the sticks and say “THIS STICK SUCKS!!!”. This sounds stupid (and it is). Grabbing just one stick out of a tepee and analyzing it is is about is silly as it is to over analyze the Summer and 69 riff and it is certainly not as ridiculous as over analyzing a riff to a song that hasn’t even been written yet.
Believing in Objectivity – Give up any notion that Bono is a better songwriter than you. (Assuming Bono writes U2′s stuff). Kurt Cobain wasn’t a better songwriter than you. Neither was Paul McCartney or John Lennon. Those guys just happened to write music that pleased a large audience. Will your music please a large audience? Who cares!
Over thinking The Future – I’m gonna guess that Kurt Cobain didn’t pace back and forth in a nervous rant every night while he chewed the tips of his fingers repeating “How am I going to be a rock star? How am I going to be a rock star? How am I going to be a rock star?” like he was a crazed Jack Nicholson behind a typewriter. I think Kurt Cobain just wrote songs because he enjoyed it. Remember that “Life is a journey, not a destination”.

Tricks To Beat Writer’s Block

Write 10 Songs In 60 Minutes – There is no more powerful way to completely shut off your Writer’s Blog problems any faster than sitting down with a stop watch and cranking out 10 songs (a verse and chorus at least). Try it. I GUARANTEE that you will beat Writer’s Block and you will come out with 1 song worth keeping out of the deal.
Avoid Your Genre – I remember reading a Guitar World article on Ozzy Osbourne. All of his favorite songs had absolutely nothing to do with “metal”. Metal was a genre he helped create. In other words, he just made noise and people liked it. He didn’t try to recreate his favorite music. He simply made his own. Our modern culture with all it’s genres implies that you are supposed to be a “rock band” or a “country band”. I recommend writing as many songs outside of your genre as possible. (Once you write 10 R&B songs. Post on the forum. I’ll help you turn them into nu-metal masterpieces).
Enjoy Writing Crappy Songs – Don’t just tolerate writing bad songs. LIKE IT! I’m serious. Writing ANY song should be fun. Again, we are focusing on enjoying the process of writing and not worried about the result.
Hum Soul Songs While You Cook – I always try to do my Aretha Franklin impression when I cook. It ends up sounding more like a bad dream with Prince, but you get the idea. I should definitely keep my tape recorder in the kitchen. This is where all my best melodic ideas come.
Listen to Greatest Hits Albums – Pat Benetar and Human League are some of the best examples. Why? Because they have some great songs and they have some the most disgusting, vile sounds ever captured on their Greatest Hits. This illustrates that it’s okay to write a bad song. It may end up on your greatest hits album some day!

Brainstorming
When you open your brain all the way up, it’s amazing what happens. When you have no care in the world whether you are wrong or right, not dealing with ambition or ridiculous assumptions, and simply get your brain to go go go, you can do miraculous things. It’s important to just open up and let loose. HAVE THE BALLS TO BE WRONG! It’s okay. Write a terrible song and laugh about. Then write a funny song about how you wrote a bad song on purpose (it sounds like something that Tenacious D would do).

Conclusion
Writer’s Block only has as much power as you want it to. In almost every case a person is over thinking there situation. There is no correlation between success and over thinking. (That’s why it’s “over thinking” and not just think”thinking”). Simply don’t over thing it!

Reduce your rules down to a minimum. During the creation process, a song doesn’t have to be X length. It doesn’t have to be X genre. It doesn’t have to have a guitar solo. It only has to convey some sort of feeling.

Brandon Drury

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Brandon Drury quit counting at 1,200 recorded songs in his busy home recording studio. He is the creator of RecordingReview.com and is the author of the Killer Home Recording series.
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7 responses to Songwriting: Writer’s Block

  1. This was a very good article. I sometimes have felt like I suffered from writer’s block b/c the current song I was writting wasn’t as good as previous songs. I have to say I like the basketball analogy, it definitely puts things in a different light.

    I believe one too many times we compare ourselves to other writers to the point we feel we aren’t adequate enough or we are not putting for par. I love Dylan, Lennon, Cash, Sting and Springstein and sometimes you want to have the same impact as those you admire, yet we fail to realize they may have written, as you say, 100 songs prior to creating the song that inspired us the most.

    The only point you made that I disagree with is the statement that “You haven’t had writer’s block unless you’ve tried to write a rap song.” The issue I have with that statement is that most musicians believe “rap” music requires zero talent, yet most of them have never taken out time to discover the talent behind the artist and music. Where most musical talents lie in the music itself or the unique vocal talents, rap music is all about delivery. You have to not only rhyme words but they have to make sense as well as be delivered on rhythm(RAP=Rhythm and Poetry). I love a lot of different types of music and I get bothered when blanket statments are made about other styles and genres. I dont like everything out but I will at least give credit where credit is due, whether I like that particular style or not. Overall I like the posted materials.

  2. I find it interesting that you call my statement about trying out a possibly different genre of music interesting, but you go on to say imply that rap music requires no talent.

    Of course, that’s a ridiculous notion because if it required zero talent, I’d be up there winning Grammies.

    I guess it’s possible that you’ve taken the defensive route and missed the point of what I was trying to say. I’m saying that no person can begin to claim they have writers block until they have taken the time to try writing a song in a totally different style.

    I was recommending that people try writing a rap song.

  3. Good article. I started writing again after decades of writer’s block. I wish someone had written an article like this 30 years ago for me.
    I also found two good books that carry this same theme and have some fun ideas. The first is The Frustrated Writer’s Handbook by Coryat and Dobson, and the other is 6 Steps to Songwriting Success by Jason Blume. I think it was Blume who said you after kill the editor voice that you hear in your head and just write. I’ve been writing 3 or 4 songs a week on average now, and am having fun with it. I write a lot of songs with Christian lyric contents, but use different genres. The songwriting fits in great with learning to use my recording equipment. I post my “gems” and some of the not so great songs every week at http://www.soundclick.com/jerrybradley.
    I want to get some opinions that will help my recordings. I’ve picked up a lot just by reading other’s comments on the recordings that others have uploaded. I used some of those ideas including the idea of “widening” to help improve my song “In Your Name”. Sorry about getting off topic. On days I can’t seem to write much, I’ll just try writing titles, or just choruses and drop them into my files. I’ve gone back later and used many of the titles to get me started on a song. There are some great ideas in Chapter five of the “Frustrated” book. The rest of the book talks about how to gather a group of like minded writers an have a day when your goal is to write and record 20 songs, the get together at the end of the day to share your stuff with the other writers. I’d like to try that one some time.

  4. I know this is an old article, and also my first post/response, I just stumbled on this site earlier today, I haven’t poasted anything on the board yet. This article reminds me of a certain technique in stimulating creativity in my students (not just music) the first step in any creative endeavor always has to start with brainstorming. Sometimes you get sudden inspiration, but I’m sure everyone here realizes this is the exception rather than the rule. I encourage my students to brainstorm on anything and everything, they HAVE to shut down the critical analysis part of their thinking process…
    in other words, everything goes, and all ideas are valid, no wrong ideas, “all ideas are correct” mentality. Afterward comes critical thinking processes (which of course are critical) but only after the brainstorming session, because you never know what amazing ideas may come out by throwing out as many ideas as possible. When that is done then begns the process of weeding out ideas that probably won’t work for that particular project. But it is very necessary to be able to switch between these two mindsets. This article has helped me realize this connection for my own musical creativity. Thank you very much!

  5. That’s a great article.

    Ahem . . . Michael Jordan was eight in 1971 – the NBA adopted the new three-point line in 1979/80.

    “New,” God I’m old.

  6. Great article, pretty helpful, yup yup

  7. i know this is heaps old and stuff, but good article. i misinterpreted the rap thing as well like that other dude so thanks for clearing that up