Overcoming songwriter’s block isn’t unlike getting rid of writer’s block in general. With both, there is a need to clear your mind of distractions and to find a quiet place to just write.
As much as the two have in common, however, songwriter’s block can sometimes seem more difficult, due to trying to fit everything you want to say into a limited space (compared to writing a book or even an article) and the added pressures of striving to write a song others will want to sing and hear.
When you think too much about everything outside of songwriting, such as the business end of it or the competitiveness of it, hitting a writing wall is almost guaranteed to happen.
Stop Thinking and Just Write
One of the best ways to break free of any kind of writer’s block is to learn how to free write. If you are stumped for your next title or lyric phrase, freewriting can help bring out your creative side better than almost anything else. It is writing about things when you don’t really know what you want to say, but you keep writing anyway.
Set a timer for a certain amount of time – 10, 15, 20 minutes, your choice – and start writing. Don’t think about what you are writing, just continue to write. When the timer goes off, stop writing and read over what you’ve written. It doesn’t have to make sense, it might even start out as jibberish, but an amazing function of your creative mind is that when you give it free reign, as in free writing, it takes off. Look for any words, phrases or titles that stand out to you and use them in your next song.
Re-Write Your Old Songs
If you’re like most songwriters, you have a few old songs tucked away in a sealed don’t-go-there-ever-again file. Well, let’s go there. The more experience you’ve gained in songwriting, the more likely your skills have grown. That means if you have been writing music for several years, you know a lot more now than you did back then. Go through your old songs or even through old song ideas and make them new again. Re-write one or two into a song you no longer want to bury.
Be Inspired By Others
I read this trick somewhere. It was suggested to use the first line of someone else’s song as your own first line (on a rough draft only), then build the rest of your song off of that one line. When you’re done, go back and change the first line to one you’ve written. This is a great way to get your writing moving when you can’t figure out how to get started. You could even use a line from one of your own songs, then change it when you are finished writing your new lyrics.
Another way to be inspired by others is to read the lyrics of a favorite songwriter. It helps to consider writing styles, rhyming schemes and chord choices others might have used. You could also tap out beat stresses someone else followed and do the same with your own lyrics and your own melody.
Change Your Writing Location
When you’re stuck in a writing rut, any change can be a good thing. That includes changing locations altogether. A change of scenery could give your songwriting a boost by giving you more to look at. And when you have more to look at, you have more to write about. The world is your oyster, as they say. Pick a subject and write about it.
Other changes you could try: Change your style of writing. If you write with one typical tempo, either slow it down or speed it up. Change your chord choices; if you normally write in all major chords, throw in some minor chords. Change to a key signature or a time signature you don’t usually choose. Change, change, change. Change everything. Not only will it be a new style of song for you to write, it will be fun.
Write Something Everyday
You aren’t alone if you’re not writing something everyday. There are a lot of us out there, but not writing everyday, even if it is something small, is probably the number one cause of writer’s block and songwriter’s block.
Similar to the reason why free writing works, writing everyday keeps your creative mind active. The best way to do this is to write at the same time everyday. You may think you won’t see a difference, but you will. Keep your writing between a certain time frame – 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., whatever your preference – then when time is up, as you had done while free writing, punch in your time card and stop writing. Today’s work is done.
By not letting yourself write at other times, only during “working hours,” a few things you’ll notice is that you will look forward to writing again, you will feel more inspired, and you will write faster than you had before because there are more ideas competing to fit into the new time slot.
Trying all of these things won’t keep you from ever experiencing writer’s block again, but when you do have those moments of just not knowing what to write, then, hopefully, the above tips will get your writing engine revved back up.
If you have an iPad, check out these apps for songwriters to help your songwriting even more.