February 21, 2023
No matter how much juice you get from writing songs, you’re just going to come across a rut here and there. Even if you’re not having full-on writer’s block, you could find yourself writing the same thing over and over and feel like you’re not progressing. Luckily there are plenty of ways to purposefully cause your writer self to break new ground.
Similar processes tend to yield similar results. If you've been writing at the same time every day, or in the same physical space, or with the same pen, or in the same app, try mixing things up. Write in a different location, or at a different time of day, or with a different instrument. Write without an instrument. Use a notebook if you’ve been typing. Any change of scenery is likely to inspire new ideas.
New blood means new ideas, so if you’re a lone wolf writer, try bringing in a new collaborator or contributing to someone else’s project. Even if you’re used to collaborating or you’re already a solid group, get a new perspective. Don’t be afraid to work with someone outside your genre. You’ll write differently when the vibe is changed by others.
We tend to get stuck in musical ruts as listeners as well as writers, especially as we get older. Sometimes you need to stop writing for a few days or weeks and seek out new influences. Dig into your favorite streaming service and start listening to stuff you wouldn’t normally. Try a few genres you thought you hated. Ask some kids what they’re listening to. And if you’re over 40, put away the “music these days” rants. You’ll almost certainly discover a new way of looking at your own music.
Whether you’re dealing with a full-on blockage or just think your stuff is too similar, it can be helpful to take a break from songwriting altogether. Take some time to recharge your creative batteries by doing something completely different, like going for a walk, exercising, or even just taking a nap (or a lot of them!) Sometimes taking a step back can help you gain new perspective and come back to your songwriting with renewed energy and inspiration. This could be an afternoon, a week, or an entire year.
If you’ve been doing it a while, you’ve probably got a formula. It hems you into a particular style and yields very similar results. This isn’t necessarily bad, but if you’re feeling stuck, try arbitrarily hemming yourself in elsewhere. Pick a whole other style or format and write that. Just as a poet might decide to write a series of strict sonnets, you might decide to write 50’s love ballads or do trap-style hip-hop instrumentals. It may sound counterintuitive, but find out the rules of this new style, and adhere to them strictly. Pinning yourself down like that keeps you from gravitating to your old style and forces new creative energy.
Sometimes rigid goals like “I’m going to write a song every day” can be a bit counterproductive, but sometimes, making those goals outrageous can spurn creativity. For example, try giving yourself half an hour to write a song on a very particular topic. Grab a timer and a notebook and hit it. You must get done before the timer goes off. Remember that you can always edit later. You may find that what you think of when you can’t overthink is much different than what you normally come up with.
It’s not always easy to be true to your expression and also grow, and if you write long enough, you’re bound to get bored with yourself. But don’t be too hard on yourself, and remember there’s a wealth of creativity available, and plenty of purposeful ways to access it.
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"Make a joyful noise unto the Lord all of the earth; make a loud noise and rejoice and sing praises. Sing to the Lord with the harp and the voice of the psalm." - Psalm 98:4-5
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