If you’re lucky, songwriting is something you naturally feel like doing whether it’s your career or something you do with every spare minute in this season of your life. But if you’re not so fortunate, writing songs might feel difficult to do or even impossible for you right now. The truth is that all music-makers go through periods where it can feel either effortless or endlessly challenging to create music. Going through a motivational rough patch with your musical career isn’t a reason to quit, but an opportunity to dig in deeper. Many musicians will tell you these boom and bust periods are natural in songwriting, and that there’s often a lot of inspiration to be found after going through a dry spell. Here are five strategies for fighting writer’s block:
Experiment on a new instrument
Newness, curiosity, and risk are the anecdotes to writer’s block, and incorporating a new instrument into your writing process will allow you to embrace all three. Predictability leads to boredom, and it’s impossible to be bored when you’re learning something new in music. You won’t be “good” at playing an instrument that’s new to you, and that’s the point. Getting uncomfortable and disoriented is what you’re aiming for here, so let go of your ideas of perfection and just try to create and have fun. You might not use anything you write on this instrument or play it in your recordings, and that’s completely fine. The goal here is to unlock creative energy, not master a new instrument.
Explode your process and try something different
The same writing process will inevitably create the same sounding songs, and this is a recipe for boredom. We often don’t like changing up the way we write simply because we’re too lazy or too afraid to fail. But if you really want to get back to making music, you have to be willing to work and willing to fail. You can change your writing process by doing what you typically do last first or starting in a new and unfamiliar way. The details don’t matter as long as you do something different than usual.
Collaborate with someone new
Bringing in someone you’ve never written with is a great way to break out of a creative rut. A new person in the room means new ideas, new energy, and new perspectives. All collaborations are relationships, and each is completely unique. The newness of working with someone new can get you thinking about what’s possible in music in different and exciting ways.
Seek out new music
If you’re bored making music, it could be because you’re bored listening to music. Listening to music that’s new to you is an important lifestyle choice that can get you excited about creating again. If someone else can create an amazing song, why can’t you? In addition to getting energized by the music, you’ll be inspired by the specific ideas you hear. We often think that listening to new music is only something we do when we’re young, but it’s a practice that will help your songwriting practice no matter how old you are.
Give yourself a break
And last but not least, giving yourself regular breaks is essential for combating musical writer’s block. Any serious songwriter knows how much work creating music is. You can’t just keep going and going no matter how much you love what you do. If you’re burnt out, respect how you feel and take a break. It could be a month or it could be a year, and what makes sense depends on the songwriter, but if you’ve been feeling stuck and bored with your music for a long time, you might need a longer break. Hitting the pause button allows you to recharge your creative energies and develop new ideas. And remember, you need to live a deep life to have things to write songs about, so taking breaks ends up being beneficial to your music in multiple ways.
Writer’s block is a nasty problem for musicians, but it doesn’t have to last forever. If you put the work in and break when you need to, you can get through tough periods and back to creating again when you’re ready.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.