How to overcome writer’s block for songwriters

Singer/songwriters and instrumentalists often have no shortage of creative ideas. The initial lyrical or musical idea can be peppered with potential, but the challenge is then to take that gem of an idea and write consistent material to develop it further.

Inspiration can often be fleeting and hard to grasp. You could be in the flow of writing your amazing lyrics and halfway through a verse of chorus, then the ideas suddenly stop coming to you.

Don’t be alarmed if this is something you experience! It’s common and is often referred to as “writer’s block”. All songwriters will suffer from writer’s block at some stage in their career (yes, even The Beatles, Bernie Taupin and Elton John, or Dave Grohl from the Foo Fighters).

Here’s a few helpful suggestions on how you can overcome writer’s block when it strikes, and keep your musical ideas flowing:

1. Change your environment

Sometimes, a change of scenery can work wonders. If you typically write at home, try going to a park, café, or a different room in your house. New surroundings can stimulate creativity and provide fresh perspectives.

Here’s one that works for me: going to sit down at a busy pub, bar or coffee house. I’ll put on some headphones or mentally block out the noise around me. Once I start blocking out that noise, I feel my concentration levels rising as I read through the lyrics I’ve already written. When I’m in this zone, I find it easier to come up with new ideas.

Part of what makes this work is putting myself in a place of great distraction, and then working on blocking all of the external noise and distractions around me out. I know it sounds crazy, but try it for yourself and let me know how you get on!

2. Freewriting

The goal of freewriting is to map out a song. We’re not necessarily writing the lyrics straight away. We’re trying to get all of the ideas onto a page and create an overview of what a song might look like.

Set a timer for 10-15 minutes and write continuously without worrying about structure or quality. The goal is to let your thoughts flow freely, which can help you break through mental blocks and discover new ideas.

For many people, the idea of structuring their lyrics and purposefully mapping out a song can be uncomfortable. However if you write without thinking about creating a cohesive story, it is much easier to get off track. If you spend too much time developing an unimportant character, you can literally pull the focus off the central story and end up with lyrics that dilute your message.

There are many different types of song and we’ll cover different forms of songwriting in a future blog post. For this example, I’ll use a storytelling framework which has been popular through the decades from as far back as the 1950’s and is still popular today, especially in the rock, metal, blues, pop and country genres of music.

When freewriting my own music, I like to map out the story of the song first. If I’m starting with a verse, I will write down what’s taking place in that verse, almost like a play or a movie script. To start, I have “Act 1, Scene 1” where the hero is exiting a bus onto a city street. I can then flesh out that verse with the “what, who, and why” our hero is where he is. Scene 2 (or verse 2) should then build upon this idea as the next part of the story.

My chorus is typically structured as a summary statement. As a simple example, let’s imagine we’re writing a story song about a guy who has accidentally burned down his apartment. My chorus is most likely going to be structured around a catchy summary statement. This statement should sum up the overall idea or most important message that the songwriter wants to convey in the song. One obvious idea could be “FIRE!”. Another could be “Don’t play with matches, you’re gonna get burned.”

You win the game if you can make your chorus catchy. Design a singalong chorus for your song and you’ll get the crowd on your side when you perform. Even better if they can remember the lyrics and a simple melody after your show – congratulations, you may have created an ear worm and your song might go viral!

3. Collaborate with others

Collaborating with fellow musicians or songwriters can bring new ideas and energy to your creative process. Brainstorm together, bounce ideas off each other, and co-write songs to gain inspiration from different perspectives.

Be aware that during your collaboration, if you have a strong idea of what your song is about then you must make sure that you remain in control of your song’s arrangement and lyrical direction. However, if you only have a loosely based idea on what you want to write about and you can keep yourself open to ideas, you can find a wealth of benefits in collaborating with other artists.

4. Explore different genres or artists

Experimenting with different musical genres can spark creativity and help you break out of a creative rut. Listen to genres you don’t usually explore and incorporate elements from them into your songwriting.

If you have a favourite songwriter, get to know their influences. This could sometimes end up taking you back a couple of decades. The fresher the source for your ideas, the better the music that you create will be.

For example if your favourite band is Linkin Park or a similar style of music to them, it would likely benefit you to do some research on Chester Bennington (R.I.P) and find out who his earliest influences were. Hint: they included Stone Temple Pilots, Depeche Mode, and Nine Inch Nails.

5. Keep a Journal

Carry a journal or use a note-taking app to jot down lyrics, song titles, and musical ideas as they come to you throughout the day. Reviewing your notes later can provide inspiration for new songs or help you develop existing ideas.

If you are a lyric writer, this is one of the best tips that I can possibly give you. Here’s why: people say the most interesting things.

As a songwriter, I like to read and I like to watch movies. I also enjoy interacting with people in various social activities, especially pubs, bars and cafés. In those environments, I’m always listening out for interesting phrases. Anything that creates a powerful visual suddenly becomes a great starting point for a song.

I know it’s not always considered “cool” to read, but you’re a lyric writer! Wouldn’t it make sense to see how successful songwriters and writers go about setting the scene for a story?

6. Take breaks

Sometimes, stepping away from songwriting for a short period can reignite creativity. Engage in other activities you enjoy, like reading, exercising, or spending time in nature. Returning to songwriting with a refreshed mind can yield new perspectives.

Nobody appreciates hard workers more than me. Except that when you force yourself to try to finish a lyric, you actually in danger of pushing the best ideas further away to the back of your mind where they are out of reach and are lost in the dark.

The better way to do things is to relax. If you’re trying to come up with lyrics to fit are particular phrase, ask yourself better questions like:

  • “What is it that I really want to say?”
  • “What is the next part of the story?”
  • “What would my favourite songwriter say in this part of the song, and how would they say it?”

If you are stumped and you’ve got writer’s block going on, don’t try to force yourself to come up with an answer. Take a break and keep repeating these questions to allow your subconscious mind to contribute and participate in your writing.

7. Listen to music

Draw inspiration from other musicians by listening to a wide range of music styles and genres. Pay attention to song structures, lyrics, melodies, and production techniques that resonate with you. Analysing music can spark ideas for your own compositions.

8. Set realistic goals

Break down your songwriting process into manageable steps and set achievable goals for each session. Celebrate small victories, such as completing a verse or refining a melody, to stay motivated and build momentum.

9. Exercise or meditate

Physical activity and meditation can help clear your mind and reduce stress, which are common barriers to creativity. Incorporate regular exercise or meditation sessions into your routine to enhance your mental clarity and creative output.

For me, I like to do some “shadow boxing” around the house, or I might go for a walk around the neighbourhood. Most importantly, I like to make sure that I’m not consciously thinking about the lyrics for my song. Sometimes we really do need that mental break.

10. Experiment with Song Structure

Break away from your usual songwriting patterns by experimenting with different structures. Try starting with the chorus instead of the verse, or explore unconventional song forms. Changing your approach can trigger new ideas and revitalize your creativity.

I like to pick up my guitar and start jamming melody ideas. I improvise a bunch of lyrical ideas on the spot over the top of the music that I’m playing, always listening to see what fits and what can be improved.

Overcoming writer’s block is an essential part of your journey to becoming a great songwriter

By implementing these tips and exercises, you can nurture creativity, break through mental barriers, and continue to produce meaningful and original music. Embrace the process of exploration and experimentation to discover your unique voice as a songwriter.

Start applying these strategies today to unlock your full songwriting potential!

Need more inspiration and better ideas to improve your songwriting?

There are many books that are commonly recommended to help with your songwriting. Here are some of my favourites that I personally recommend (I’ve included links to each of them):

Disclaimer: If you make a purchase from one of the above Amazon Associate links, a tiny commission goes to supporting the site. In keeping with my “No BS” policy, I only ever recommend products that I personally use or know are beneficial to my readers.

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