You know what the creative dream is?
To come up with brand new ideas for your art as soon as you sit down to work… Or even when you’re not working!
Alas, for most of us, that dream will remain a dream.
Instead, many of us suffer from moderate to severe songwriters block. Luckily, if you have chronic songwriters block, Improve Songwriting might be able to help!
*cue uplifting music*
Before we dive into our 5 tips for overcoming creative block, let’s examine what’s preventing you from writing songs in the first place!
What Is Songwriters Block?
What’s the scariest image you can think of? Jason Voorhees with his machete? Michael Myers with his chef’s knife? Nickelback with a microphone?
All of these are terrifying, but to many songwriters, the image they dread the most is a blank page. That’s because a blank page is waiting to be filled in with chords and melodies and lyrics, and you may not have a CLUE what to write…
If that sounds like you, then I’m afraid you have songwriters block. But before you start beating yourself up over how long it takes you to write a song, remember a few things:
1) It happens to all creative writers.
I’ve had it. You’ve had it. The greatest artists, writers, musicians, and songwriters of all time have had it.
You might be surprised to learn that even music celebrities have had to deal with this problem. For instance, Sara Bareilles reportedly had so much of an issue with writer’s block for her album Kaleidoscope Heart, she actually thought to herself, “Maybe I’m never going to write another song again, maybe it’s all been a fluke; maybe I actually can’t write songs?”
And just because you haven’t had it before doesn’t mean songwriting block can’t affect you NOW! There are many different causes for songwriters block (more on that below) and you might not have had any trouble with them until now.
The good news is that if you find the right way to address the problem, you should be able to overcome it fairly easily.
2) It isn’t a reflection of your talent, creativity, or worth as a music artist.
It’s tempting to compare ourselves to prolific musicians or songwriters and assume that if we can’t produce both quality and quantity all the time, we’re worthless. But that’s just not true. And it’s especially not true for beginners – if you’re just starting out and having trouble writing a song, please don’t give up!
Many of the best songs can come after long bouts of songwriters block. Famously, Adele struggled with a follow-up album to her hugely successful 21. She had a great problem to have: she was too happy!
Most of her songs are written from a place of sadness, and she was a new mother and was thrilled about it. She found writing “impossible for a while.” We’ve all been there.
But then Adele finally started writing 25. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Adele said it took her six months between writing the verse for Hello and perfecting its chorus.
If Adele can write an amazing song like Hello after such a long stretch of creative block, that proves that having trouble channeling your creativity every once in a while is no big deal.
And if you do end up with it…
3) You can overcome it!
No one has to suffer from writers block indefinitely. There are ways to combat the issue when it crops up.
The secret is figuring out the root cause so you can come up with the right solution. Once you know what’s causing your creative block, you can defeat it!
Improve your songwriting by mastering piano.
What Causes Songwriters Block?
You don’t have to be ashamed of getting songwriters block. We ALL get it from time to time… But we get it for different reasons.
Here are the most common causes!
1) Over-doing it
Have you been writing a LOT of songs this week? Songwriting – like MOST worthwhile endeavors – is rewarding and you get better for practicing. But there are limits to what the human body can handle, and that includes your mind!
Writing an album can be like running a marathon: you need to find a pace that works for you. If you sprint too quickly at the start, you’ll run out of energy to keep going.
We have more solutions for creative block below, but if you can afford to take a break from songwriting to let your creative muscles recover, that’s the quickest solution when you’ve been over-doing it.
2) Under-doing it
Writing too many songs is an issue, but an even BIGGER one is taking a long hiatus from music and then returning to it. Most people who do this will often find it difficult to jump back in to their old levels of productivity.
This is like people who used to run a six-minute mile suddenly trying to do it again after taking a “brief” 20-year break from running. It’s not going to work, at least not right away! You need to build back up to it…
The obvious solution here is to write a little, then take a break. Then come back and write a little more. If you manage to break into the zone, keep writing! But if it’s not coming to you, just keep taking breaks until it all comes back to you.
It’ll happen eventually, but you may want to ease back into songwriting or composition after too much time off. (And going forward, be sure to incorporate songwriting time into your schedule on a regular basis to avoid this issue!)
One of the TOP causes of songwriters block has got to be unrealistic expectations. Do you think you’re God’s gift to the music industry and that amazing songs should pour forth from your brain with NO EFFORT on your part? (Because if you do… well, you’re probably like most songwriters, to be honest.)
In all seriousness, most of us get into songwriting because we LOVE music! We have our favorite music artists and want to be just like them…
The problem is, all we hear are their biggest hits! Try comparing song ideas that come to you on your couch with the best songs an artist has EVER recorded – you’re virtually ALWAYS going to come up short in that situation.
You need to learn not to compare yourself to others and let your ideas flow freely, even if they’re imperfect to start with. Otherwise, you’ll have songwriter’s block for the rest of your life!
4) A Bad Day
Sometimes, we have a bad day (even Daniel Powter knows it!).
But what do I really mean by this?
In golf, sometimes people get the “yips” and have involuntary wrist spasms. These can leave the player as fast as they arrived. A similar condition happens for gymnasts, called the ‘“twisties.”
Well, for songwriters, it’s songwriters block. Sometimes, you’ve done EVERYTHING right and you still have no good ideas coming to you! You just don’t have the music in you that day.
And that’s okay. (At least, it’s okay if you don’t have a looming deadline…) But sometimes, we still need to make something great, even when we don’t feel great ourselves.
If you want to be creative no matter what’s causing your creative block, here are 5 clever tips for how to actually cure songwriters block!
How Do You Get Rid of Songwriters Block?
I want to share with you my go-to list of tactics for overcoming songwriter’s block. Note that this isn’t a comprehensive list of ways to jump-start creativity – there are dozens of different specific exercises to help you brainstorm that you could use.
Instead, we’ve included 5 different approaches that can help – depending on what exactly is causing your songwriter’s block – followed by an exercise to put each idea into practice!
1) Plagiarize other songs. (Okay, not exactly…)
While actually stealing someone else’s work is a no-no, writing a song while borrowing from an existing work can get you started writing faster. It’s like songwriting with training wheels.
Especially when you’re just starting out, this is a great way to improve your output and get the feel for songwriting. Like they say, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Compared to writer’s block, even just being a “good artist borrowing” would be an improvement!
Exercise 1: Write a song based on an existing song.
If you want to write a song but don’t know where to start, start streaming random songs until you hear something you think is cool. Then, try to figure out how they did that. If you want to practice writing cool lyrics that fit a strange pattern, write yours over an existing song’s beat. You can write a new set of beats later.
Or, if you hear awesome harmonies, try to do that too. Use some cool element from a song you like as the jumping off point for creative ideas. Everything is a remix, after all.
You don’t want the final song you’re trying to monetize to use someone else’s work, of course – but try to think of your new song like the Ship of Theseus.
By the time you’re done rewriting, it’s not the same song anymore!
2) Work your way up to the hard stuff.
If you ever perform your own songs, you probably have a pre-show routine: You need to test your microphones, check your amps, tune your instruments, and warm up your vocal chords. Skipping these steps would end in disaster!
Well, the same can apply to songwriting. If you’re having trouble jumping into a song you’re writing, maybe try warming up first (in the songwriting sense.)
You can try to improvise some chords on your instrument of choice. You could try writing a short poem to get in the rhyming mood. What’s important is that you tackle something small and inconsequential to get yourself in the creative, non-judgmental mindset. That’s where your best work will appear.
Exercise 2: Write a throwaway song.
Maybe you’ve already started writing your new song. You might have a hook or chorus already, but you’re banging your head against the wall trying to write the verse. What can you do to get over it?
One great approach is to set the song you want to write aside and just write a throwaway song. The song you care about will still be waiting for you once you’ve given the new song a try.
“But how will writing a different song help me write the song I actually care about?”, you’re probably asking. And to that I say, “Hold your horses! I’m getting to it. Sheesh!”
The answer is that writing anything is the first step to writing what you want. You’d be amazed how trying to write a different song will generate the perfect idea for the song you’re working on now.
You might find a cool chord progression while trying to write a verse for your new song and think, “Wow, this would actually be a pretty cool bridge for the other song.” It happens all the time!
3) Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.
Look, I get it… I want to be perfect too.
We listen to our favorite songs all day long and want to make awesome music as good as that. And when we sit down to start strumming or typing, we can be quick to tell ourselves “no, that’s too simple!” or “no, that’s dumb” or “no, that sounds too much like Don’t Stop Believin’. I don’t want to get sued.”
But expecting a perfect song to pour out of you is unrealistic. Face it: songwriting is hard.
If you’re lucky, you might have a great chorus come to you in the shower every once in a while. But if you want to produce amazing songs on a regular basis, you can’t expect them all to come from The Song Fairy whispering a complete hit single in your ear. You’ll have to work at it.
And your first attempt might not be great, but you can improve it from there.
Exercise 3: Write something “bad” and fix it later.
It doesn’t actually have to be “bad,” per se, but the point is that you don’t need to write a fully cohesive piece of music from the get-go. Paul McCartney’s first set of lyrics for “Yesterday” was “Scrambled Eggs.” He didn’t let not having the perfect set of lyrics yet prevent him from capturing the brilliant melody. He went back and wrote better lyrics later on.
You can try this too. Brainstorm your songs. Use a mind map and don’t hold back any connection that occurs to you (you can read more about mind maps here). Record yourself singing that funky bass part that’s come to you.
These ideas might not make it in the final version of the song, but it’s a starting point. That’s all you need to ask of yourself at this point in the writing process.
4) Take a break.
Sitting with your instrument for hours on end, frustrated that the next part of the song isn’t coming to you, isn’t going to help. Don’t bang your head against the wall. Instead, you may just need to step away from the song you’re working on and decompress.
Don’t mind me, I’m just stepping onto my soapbox…
Okay, look: too many people believe that if they don’t work all the time being productive, they’re lazy. It’s simply untrue. The human mind needs some time to distract itself from work, and while songwriting can be fun and rewarding, it’s still work. Don’t fall into the productivity trap that has befallen a generation of workaholics.
All right, thanks for listening. Let me step off this thing now.
Exercise 4: Do something rejuvenating.
If you have other hobbies that you think will kick start your creativity, give those a try. If you simply need to relax, do what makes you happy, whether that’s playing video games, reading a book, or going for a jog.
The great thing is that often, when you least expect it, your brain will solve a problem that was bugging you. It’s why many of our best ideas come to us when we’re in the shower, thinking of something other than songwriting. Your subconscious has continued working on the problem in the background!
Sometimes, if your conscious brain hasn’t been able to make progress, the best thing you can do is let your subconscious drive for a while.
5) Write what you know.
Sometimes it’s tempting to feel like an investigative journalist or paperback writer and write as though we are seeing the world through the eyes of someone else. That can be an important part of songwriting, and I’m not discounting how beautiful that can be.
But writing outside your sphere of knowledge might be slowing down your songwriting, or even halting it altogether!
Exercise 5: Write a song about songwriters block.
I can’t take full credit for this one: Jason Mraz himself says that he doesn’t believe in songwriters block because “You can always write about writer’s block—your experience of being stuck, your experience of learning, your experience of growing.”
This is such a cool tip. It reminds me of something my English teacher in high school told us when we had to write essays interpreting poetry. He would tell us “if you can’t think of anything else, remember that every poem is about writing.”
And he was right. All writers write what they know and virtually every poem can be interpreted as being about the writing process. So there’s no reason you can’t write a song about songwriters block if that would get you going again!
Great songs are relatable, and everyone has felt creatively blocked at some time. If you feel like your creativity is dried up, maybe that’s the creative well you need to tap.
How to Beat Songwriting Block Wrap-up
I wish there were a pill you could take that would instantly cure your writer’s block and increase your creativity. Sadly, there is no such pill (or at least none that are legal).
For now, we’ll have to settle for whatever coping methods help us as individuals.
I hope you find one of these tips helpful in your songwriting process. If you get songwriters block regularly, why not bookmark this page and come back to try a new tactic next time it strikes you? Or check out our full list of 13 unconventional songwriting exercises for even more ideas!
If you want to get better at writing memorable music that resonates, I recommend that you get familiar with an instrument like piano. The more you know about how great songs are constructed sonically, the easier it will be for you to create a masterpiece yourself. Check out Piano for All below to get started!
Improve your songwriting by mastering piano.