It happens to anyone. You sit down, with your guitar, and you really want to write the best song ever, but you have no ideas...
I know how frustrating it can be. It probably gets even worse when you have most of the song laid down, but you feel there is something missing and, oh boy, nothing interesting comes to mind to fill that gap.
What do you do?
Sometimes, waiting is the best choice. Getting back to a song with a rested mind can already be a solution to your writer's block, but what if the lack of ideas goes on and on and on?
If you haven't been able to sit down with a good bunch of ideas for a long time, you could try and understand where that block comes from and/or adopt a few techniques to overcome it.
For example, I know that whenever I experience a block, it has to deal with my imposter syndrome.
Imposter syndrome is quite a complex psychological pattern, but I'll simplify the concept for the sake of this article. If you want to read more about this topic, check out this article. I wrote another article on this subject too, ages ago.
People who suffer from imposter syndrome constantly feel they are not enough. Their skills are not enough. Their talents are not great enough. Their achievements are just jokes, and so on. Most people with imposter syndrome simply underestimate their abilities.
Obviously, when that happens our brain starts ruminating on unpleasant thoughts instead of focusing on the song we are writing. Thus, it becomes extremely hard to come up with good ideas.
These sorts of thoughts might arise if you are also struggling with the fear of failure.
The whole point of creating is that you never know what the final result will look or sound like. You have no idea whether your creation will be successful, whatever that means to you. This uncertainty is not easy to deal with, so a lot of people struggle with it. Me too, obviously.
The fear of failure might also lead to other issues like perfectionism, which is a great friend of our songwriter's block.
Now, these are all internal obstacles, but you might have to face external obstacles too, such as a lack of time or space.
Maybe you have a full-time job, you are also a parent, and you have a lot more commitments going on in your everyday life. Or maybe you have all the time in the world, but you share an apartment with six other people, and the only private space you have is the bathroom!
How can you deal with internal and external obstacles, in order to overcome your block?
Obviously, there is no right or wrong answer. It really depends on your personal situation too, so don't take my advice too literally.
What I know is that I've been there before, several times, so I think I learned a couple of strategies to apply whenever I feel blocked.
Here are some tips for you, taken from my personal experience.
Tip #1: Set Small Goals
This strategy basically works against all the internal and external obstacles I mentioned in the introduction.
Whether you are experiencing imposter syndrome, perfectionism, or the fear of failure, having some clear, small, realistic goals can be very helpful.
For example, saying: "I am going to finish this verse by the end of the week" is less scary than "I'm going to finish all the songs for a whole album by tomorrow."
I'm exaggerating a bit, but do you see my point?
Set a small goal, one you know you can reach.
This way, you will feel more confident. And you will have more time to work on all the tiny details, in case you are a perfectionist.
This strategy is also great if you lack time or space. You can surely find 15 minutes out of your day, and a free bathroom in your crowded apartment, to start writing a couple of lines or a couple of musical phrases.
Celebrate that small victory and set another goal for the following day or the following week. Then, start making some progress from there.
Tip #2: Keep Track of Your Ideas
Sometimes you just don't have an idea for a song.
It's not that you feel bad about yourself. It's not that you don't have the time to sit down and write.
It's just that you don't have a great idea. Full stop.
That's why keeping an archive of all your old experiments, even the weirdest ones, can really come at handy sometimes.
You have no idea of how many songs I wrote actually came from bits and pieces I created in my teenage years and never discarded. I still have drafts of songs written when I was 14 when I didn't even speak English.
When I lack ideas, I know I can get back to those very old experiments. They are a sort of foundation to build upon.
I don't have to start from scratch, I have something tangible to keep me inspired and productive.
Tip #3: Make One Tiny Change
This tip works better if you already have the draft of a song you cannot develop.
Just make one tiny change! Try a different key. Substitute a chord. Take the melody somewhere else. Change a sentence or even a word in the lyrics. And so on.
That change might bring you some fresh material to work with. It might inspire you to take your song in a whole different direction, the one that finally feels right.
Even if you don't have anything yet, no chord progression, no draft of a melody, no word for the lyrics, you can still apply this tip to your environment.
For example, go somewhere else. Are you trapped in your studio or your bedroom, trying to write a good song? Well, grab your guitar and go to the park.
Are you usually a night owl? Try to work in the afternoon or in the morning instead, or vice versa.
Change your instrument. Try a new technique.
Sometimes a tiny change is all you need to start writing again.
Tip #4: Go With The Flow
You could apply the technique of free-writing, usually employed by writers and poets, to music.
Not just when it comes to the lyrics, but also with the melody, and even the chord progressions.
I sometimes sit at the piano and start improvising, without caring about the rules of harmony. Most of the time the noise is unbearable, but sometimes I find something very interesting.
This idea works very well if you have a good chord progression laid down. You can improvise a melody with your voice over it, maybe just talking gibberish. It doesn't matter what you say. The important thing is that you start carving out rhythmical and melodic ideas you can use later.
Tip #5: Don't Get It Right (...the first time)
In other words, allow yourself to write something bad. You will get back to it later, you will fix it. For now, just write it.
For example, if you can't find a rhyme, just write down the concept you have in mind. It doesn't matter if it doesn't rhyme and if the number of syllables is not correct. Just leave it, you'll get back to it later.
If you are writing a melody and you just can't get your head around it, it doesn't matter. Keep writing it or improvising it, either with your instrument or your voice. You'll get back to it later and you will add the finishing touches that will make your work better.
On the other hand, if you don't allow yourself to write some bad lyrics or some bad melodies, you will get trapped in that perfectionist spiral that will nourish your block.
Tip #6: Learn a New Technique
This could be a writing technique. For example, have you ever tried the cut-out technique? It's pretty cool, even David Bowie and The Beatles used it.
You could be learning something new about poetry. How do meters work? Are there any figures of speech you don't know about?
Or maybe you could learn something new about your instrument.
Here's another example: I'm not a great guitarist, so sometimes I just discover new chords I didn't know I could play (...). Well, that's usually great news because that new sound usually inspires me to write something new
Alright, people. What do you think of these tips? Do you have any other ideas on how to overcome songwriting blocks? Let me know in the comments!
Happy songwriting and...rock on!