11 essential tips on how to beat writer's block

We ask our tutors, students and alumni for their essential advice on how songwriters can beat creative blocks… 

 

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Writer’s block can be a challenge for all songwriters, from those in the early stages of their careers to the very established. 

On some days inspiration can flow. But on others it's just impossible to pin down.

So in a bid to gather together some advice to combat those days when it simply doesn't happen, we went to the ICMP community to get their tips.  

Check out some essential guidance from students and tutors on relighting the songwriting fire below and let us know if there's anything we might have missed...

1. Think about your motivation and research 

I’ve identified two main things to help me beat writer's block. Or at least make it easier for me to overcome. 

The first is finding a subject/situation/idea/emotion you feel strongly enough for that you just have to create something about it. This is generally the easy part as artists often have strong beliefs or feelings for subjects.

Research is another important element. Once you have identified your subject, research it as thoroughly as you can. This will give you a much deeper understanding, more information and knowledge you can then utilise in your writing.

Jonas Grote, MA Songwriting alumnus.

2. Avoid pushing yourself too hard to be creative

I often find myself with writer’s block when I'm trying to force a certain approach. 

When this happens I find it helpful to get out of my rut by working in a different way, preferably one to prevent me from analysing everything too much.

I've found taking a stream of consciousness style approach to writing works well. I just jot down all my thoughts and feelings on a situation as they come out, leave it for a day and then return to them. It can also be helpful to hum along to chords on a recording while I'm doing something else, then see what comes out naturally. 

KAHLLA (aka Freya Volk), BA Songwriting alumna. 

The more pressure you feel, the more frozen you can become. So putting intense pressure on yourself is not particularly helpful.

If writer's block is tormenting you, then get away from it. Just play your instrument, make a beat, write a 'silly' lyric without the pressure of thinking this must become a perfect song." 

It may never lead to a masterpiece, but you will learn and grow from the experience and you never know where it will take you! 

'The War of Art' and 'The Big Magic' are two great books that helped me a lot with getting to grips with this.

Jonas Grote.

We all experience short periods of writer's block.

Sometimes it's better to try and push through it and sometimes it's better to just walk away and give yourself a break, although I'm always in favour of trying to finish the song you're working on, even if it's only to get your ideas down.

But sometimes we experience writer's block for really long periods of time (I was once completely stuck for two years) and then it's a case of figuring out what's blocking you. For me, it's often when my mental health gets bad so I have to forget about writing and focus on looking after myself for while. Eventually, I'm able to write songs again. 

Lauren Alex Hooper, MA Songwriting alumna.

3. Take a break and go outside or exercise

If I’m stuck, I tend to go for a walk and, purposely leave my headphones at home. Sometimes I find my ears just need a break. Usually melodies and fresh lyrics will spring to my head once I’ve been walking for about 30 minutes! 

Dan Crossley, BA Songwriting student.

Everyone is different, and we all really have to figure out what works best for each of us.

I often think better while moving and so, if I hit a roadblock, I take a walk around the neighbourhood or even the house. This can often be all it takes to unlock a crucial idea or next step in a project. The biggest mistake is to try to tackle these issues head on, which often leads, at best, to overthinking the solution.

Gregor McWilliam, BMus Vocals alumnus.

4. Not every song you write has to be great 

One tip for me is to create with no expectations.

I feel as creatives, we often make ourselves strain to create something which has to be release worthy or consistently great. But that only comes with practice. Learning to create to express yourself and for fun takes the pressure off things. Then the results can eventually be developed to become something great.

So put the fun back into songwriting - essentially, this makes all the difference. 

Romaine Dixon, Music Business and Entrpreneurship alumna. 

I often find that when I get writer's block, it's a confidence thing. I think to myself, is everything I write rubbish!? Once I get stuck in this rut, it feels like I'm getting nowhere.

I sometimes have to remind myself all great writers had to write a lot of mediocre, even bad songs, before they got to the great ones."

So now I see writer's block as part of the process. 

Corrina Taylor, MA Songwriting student.

5. Work on other music  

So whenever I’m stuck in a writer’s block I always stop insisting and wasting my time. I either do something else related to music such as working on my technique (guitar) or I would just try and reproduce a track (also kind of technical).

I also stop and listen to a lot of music (that I don’t know - try and go on the section “fans also like” on the profiles of your favourite artists).

Stefan Gramut, ELEVNS

6. Or other ways of expressing yourself

We never run out of things to TALK about. We can always TALK. And if we can talk, we can write. Sometimes a good chat (even just to ourselves, a good friend, our family, someone we've been meaning to talk to) can spark something! 

I love that. 

As well as, I like to write morning pages (or evening pages). So this will be three pages of A4 everyday even if all it says is blah blah blah. We just have to show up and be patient x 

Sha Supangan, BA Songwriting student. 

Sometimes if I'm stuck for melodies, I just write stories or poetry. And if I'm stuck for words, I record melodies in my phone to come back to later. It's not writer's block if I'm writing in other ways other than putting pen to paper. 

Corinna Taylor. 

7. Impose creative limitations

Sometimes I find if I create a topline to an already existing track by a producer, then this can be a good way for me to come up with ideas. The musical ideas and elements within the track inspire my lyrics and vocal melodies. 

Being given boundaries/briefs for writing a song also helps me with writer’s block.

If I have been asked to write a song in the key of E minor at a tempo of 140bpm about a certain topic like a break up, then I know exactly what I am going for straight away, rather than procrastinating over all the potential ideas."

Joy Doherty, MA Songwriting student.

As many subjects are either grand or huge, you can easily feel as if you're getting drowned by the enormity of it when writing your songs. 

To overcome this, I set myself limitations. These limitations can be musical (i.e. write a song in a specific form, using specific scales or limiting yourself to specific keys/rhythms etc) or lyrical. For example, writing a song about war in general is an enormous undertaking if not made more specific. So, focus and research what it means to be a soldier on the frontline or what emotional turmoil a war refugee must be going through.

Jonas Grote.

8. Collaborate with and listen to the music of other artists

Ask someone for help or for a collaboration. To reach out to a fellow producer or songwriter can do wonders for your creativity. 

Everyone has that song they can’t really finish so to get another perspective can sometimes do the trick! We all interpret songs or lyrics differently when we get that first feeling for it and maybe that’s what you need to get a new angle on it.

You should also listen to others. Stuck in a song or a lyric? Just listen to what your idols do. Don’t copy them but just try to understand their workflow through the song. I know it sounds simple but sometimes it works very effectively.

Martin Tell, BA Songwriting alumnus. 

I have pictures of all my favourite artists in my music room. When I'm stuck, I literally talk to them and ask them for help! I know it sounds insane but it actually makes me feel like their genius energies are with me. Thank you Taylor Swift, that was a brilliant idea (it was actually my idea) ...  Max Martin, please save me from this creative block!?

Corrina Taylor, MA Songwriting student. 

9. Work at your songwriting skills 

There are several ways into working out writer's block. Finding the roots of the problem might be the first useful step into finding its solution. You can then even write about it as it's a powerful subject to explore through music. 

It might seem arrogant to say - we are way far from being arrogant - but sometimes people try to conceal their lazy will power with writer’s block. Great works come from effort, consistency and a strong will. You have to crave it, to desire it and work really hard. They say “one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration”. 

We truly believe this is real. Even if you might feel blocked, you have to try and try over again every day. 

Keemosabe, MMus alumnus. 

10. Don't throw an idea away before it has had a chance to become a song

Writer's block often depends on how you interpret a block. 

But personally I see it as the inability to find worth in what you are creating as opposed to not creating anything: usually throwing an idea out before it gets going, or even starts.  

This is often because it is too similar to previous ideas, or one thinks it is. You should finish an idea then judge it. I try not to judge any songs before it has at least a structural form and a basic lyric. The craft comes later. 

I had a friend whose first novel was a big success. She wrote it in two weeks, then spent and then spent three years editing and crafting. I bet the difference between the first and final versions was huge... 

Luke Toms, Songwriting tutor. 

11. Songs will come ... eventually 

In all the years I've been writing songs and all the times I've had writer's block, it feels like now I have enough evidence to know it is always temporary.

I ALWAYS manage to write a song I love again eventually. This is a reassuring truth and makes me feel content because I know songwriting is something that will never truly leave me. 

I try not to be too hard on myself and I trust my creativity. When it wants to write, it will write! Sometimes I think to myself, maybe my brain doesn't want to write right now and that's okay." 

It's almost like my creativity is a stroppy child who doesn't want to do anything!

I wouldn't get angry or be too hard on a stroppy child, I'd try to understand and be nurturing. I try to treat creativity the same way and we tend to get along better as a result... 

Corrina Taylor.

Photo by Wendy Wei from Pexels

Write songs that last for generations

A great song can become truly timeless, remembered for generations as part of the world’s cultural legacy. Whether you want to craft a killer melody or pen poetic lyrics, our tutors will teach you everything you want to know, including all the production, performance, professional and entrepreneurial skills needed to ensure that your unique creations get the recognition they deserve. You’ll also benefit from A&R-style critique sessions, collaborative opportunities, access to fully equipped live rooms, recording studios and tech suites, and a community of inspiring contacts and friends.

To catapult your songwriting and music career to a whole new level, email our friendly Admissions Team at enquiries@icmp.ac.uk or give them a call on 020 7328 0222.

Songwriting courses
by Jim Ottewill
June 9, 2020
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