At one point in my career, I had to write three to four songs a week for a television series. Writer’s block was simply not an option. If I failed to turn in my songs on time, the show came to a swift and expensive stop! Early on, I learned an important lesson: Writer’s block is not about a lack of creativity; it’s about identifying and solving a problem so you can get on with things.
Problem 1: CAN’T GET STARTED
There are few things more intimidating than starting a song. Maybe all you have is an idea or a theme. Every time you think about getting to work on it, you feel overwhelmed. Try breaking down the initial process into a series of steps and do them one at a time.
1. Start by finding a title you’re interested in. Look for short phrases that resonate emotionally for you. You don’t have to make it up out of thin air. Watch TV shows and films, listen to people talking, take down phrases from news shows or the Internet. (Try the “Title Generator” in the links section at the end of this newsletter!) A short one-to-five-word phrase that grabs your attention should do it for you.
2. Find the questions suggested by the title and make a list. These are questions you’ll answer in the lyric of your song. Here are a few suggestions: What does my title mean? Who is it happening to? What led up to this situation? What will happen next? Why is it happening? What emotions are involved? What do I want to say about it? What questions will my listeners want answered?
3. Sketch out a song path. Rather than jumping right into your first verse, decide on a song structure and make a rough sketch of what you’ll say in each section, especially the chorus! Think of it as a pathway through your song, one you want the listener to follow. If you sketch out your song before you start writing, you won’t run out of things to say or repeat yourself or jump over information listeners need. Read more here: Create a Song Path.
4. Write a rough chorus lyric. Write out some lines for your chorus lyric then, to get your melody started, speak your chorus lyric with plenty of emotion. Use the pitch and rhythm of your spoken lyric to start your melody.
Problem 2: FEAR OF FAILURE
Not sure whether you’re making the “right” choices? Hate all your ideas? Nothing seems to be working? Second-guessing yourself by constantly wondering if your song is any good is a sure way to stop your creative flow. Try putting this song on hold for a little while. You’re not wasting time; you’ll be coming back armed to the teeth with confidence and new ideas!
=> Try one of these 10 Song Pushes to get your creative ideas flowing.
=> Use an existing hit song to loosen up. Write a new lyric to an existing hit song. Then change up the melody. You don’t need to spend time polishing and reworking your ideas. It’s just for practice. Take a few chances. Loosen up. Throw out what doesn’t work and keep what does.
=> Try the “sandbox” approach. Check out the Songwriter’s Sandbox on my RobinFrederick.com website for ideas. When you return to working on your own song, hold onto this playful attitude. You can use the sandbox technique to fool your inner critic into thinking it’s all a game!
Problem 3: LACK OF CLARITY AND FOCUS
You’re happily scribbling away on a song, ideas are flowing, when suddenly a great lyric line occurs to you. You love it and just have to use it right away. So you stick it into your song. But then you have to rewrite your verse to accommodate the line. The focus of the verse changes; now you’re writing about something different. Then your chorus doesn’t quite work with your verse the way it should, so you change the chorus. Oops!
Stop right there! By trying to force an inspired line into your lyric just because you love it you could be creating a problem you can’t solve and, as a result, end up with a block. You get stuck on the song because you can’t figure out where it’s going. That’s because, thanks to that wonderful inspired line and the changes you made, the song is now trying to go in two different directions. What you have now is two songs.
Think about this: That great line might not belong in the song you’re currently working on. Write the line on a separate sheet of paper and come back to it later. It might belong in the bridge when you get to that point in the song or it could be the start of a whole new song. In songwriting, nothing is ever wasted!
Likewise, an inspired melody line that pops up out of the blue can lead you away from your core melody patterns and into trouble. Record it and put it aside until you determine where it belongs. Then return to your core idea and keep working.
Most importantly, remember to give your song (and yourself) permission to be a work-in-progress. Remember: A great song is not a perfect song!
This post is based on my books Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV. In each book you’ll find over one hundred useful, real-world shortcuts that will show you how to craft songs that work for today’s music market, plus dozens of hands-on exercises to get your creative ideas flowing.