How to Handle Writer’s Block
Running from Wolves, I Photographed a Gazelle That Turned Into a Rabbit
People get attached to different mental or environmental aspects of songwriting:
- I can only write songs using THIS guitar (or insert whatever favorite instrument instead of ‘guitar’).
- I can only write songs when I’m inspired.
- I write my best songs at night when I’m half awake.
- I have to start with the lyrics.
- I have to start with the melody.
- I write my best songs when I’m in love.
- I write my best songs when I’m going through a break up.
- I have to jam out new ideas with a band
- I write my best songs alone in my room
I think great songs can be generated from almost anything at anytime. This is why it is important to NOT hold any part of the process of songwriting as ‘the correct way’. Holding a specific part of the songwriting process as sacred will only make you chase THAT specific process or feeling; the feeling you had the last time you wrote or the feeling you had when you wrote what you believe to be your best song. The nature of the artist and the artist’s ideas represent a very specific moment in time and the process itself should change and evolve and flow with and from that moment regardless of tools or time of day; regardless of present mind state or present company. Sometimes the genesis, the beginning, holds an important feeling and makes songs great. Sometimes the initial idea is simply a shell or empty vessel to be added upon, into or atop and the greatness of the piece slowly reveals itself with each new part added or changed.
I think writer’s block happens when the artist gets caught up looking for a very specific process. The path you’re looking for maybe lost or elusive, but upon further investigation, there are countless other paths to choose from.
-Some songs come like photographs. Your mind just snaps them into existence with perfect composition, perfectly completed.
-Some songs are like sculpting from clay or wood. You have to first start with a large, clumsy block gradually taking off the gross chunks that don’t belong, until you get down to the smallest lines and cuts, in a process of continuous refinement or slow distillation.
-Some songs are like hunting deer or elk. With the initial idea firing from your mind like an arrow into your prey. After the piercing, you have to chase it down relentlessly following as close behind as you can and if you lose it, you scour the area for drops of blood to point you back on the trail.
-Some songs are like hunting lions or bears. If the initial shot from your mind doesn’t take it down, you may be faced with a fight for your life; sometimes having to wrestle the beast on the ground until you reach a them-or-you moment where the idea isn’t coming out easily and there’s a distinct possibility that if it comes out at all, it may kill you.
Some songs can be an epic combination of these:
You’re out in the wilderness. You see what you think is a majestic gazelle. You try and snap a photo on your phone, but when you look at the picture, your hand was shaking and the photo is all blurry. As you look up, the gazelle takes off, so you run after it some. A while into the pursuit, you run into a terrifying wolf. You run away and the wolf chases you for a couple miles or so until you climb up into a tree. While in the tree, you break off a branch and whittle it into a make shift spear you use to fight off the wolf. Exhausted you make your way back through the woods on your way home where you find that perfect gazelle again. This time you slowly, SLOWLY pull out your phone. You snap the picture. You don’t even look at it. You just continue to make your way home. You finally get back home at dawn and go to sleep. You sleep 13 hours straight. In the morning, you pull out your phone to look at 2nd photo you took of the perfect gazelle, when you realize its not a gazelle at all, its actually a really large wild rabbit that is perfect nonetheless.
If you’re having problems with songwriting or writer’s block, always remember this:
It all begins with simply a note or chord.
It all begins with simply a word or phrase.
Nothing begins with simply a note or chord.
Nothing begins with simply a word or phrase.