At Singdaptive we’re so impressed by Dr Josh Simon’s invitation for all songwriters to take the challenge of writing 3 songs in 30 days – see an invitation to this at the end of this article!
It’s 10:15pm and I’m staring blankly at the computer screen in front of me. I’m getting frustrated and I begin to doubt whether or not I’ll ever be able to finish this song. I rest my forehead against my fists in a cocktail of anger and annoyance thinking to myself, “I don’t get it! I had an awesome idea yesterday, and now nothing is coming to me.” After wanting to bash my computer with the nearest heavy object, I figured it was time to shut it down for the night.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve experienced writer’s block like this before, and it can be one of the most frustrating experiences to have to deal with. Fortunately, I’ve learned how to better avoid these sticking points, and will share several tactics I use to actually finish songs and conquer writer’s block. If you’re ready to free yourself from writer’s block, then let’s dive in.
1. Time Blocking
This is where you schedule time in your day to work on certain aspects of songwriting. This could include developing your own song, critically analyzing someone else’s song, or performing lyric & melody exercises to fine tune your skills
The pitfall I used to make was that I would work on music so infrequently that when I did finally find the time to sit down and start writing, nothing came to me. You see, your brain is hardwired to perform tasks more efficiently when you do them repeatedly. So if you practice daily lyric/melody writing exercises, or work on writing songs daily, your brain will start to become more efficient at doing those tasks, leading to less writer’s block.
The key is to block out short periods of time every day, as opposed to long periods of time only once a week. A good goal would be to devote 15-30 mins per day focusing on the art of songwriting.
2. Live in Create Mode
As humans, it’s easy for us to want to strive for perfection in anything we do. It makes others feel as though we have our sh** together and know what we are doing. Social media has catapulted this desire for perfectionism farther than ever, which has become toxic in it’s own way.
The problem with perfectionism in writing music is that we are trying to battle two opposing forces of our brain.
The first force is what I’ll call “create” mode, where you come up with ideas without filtering for quality. In this mode, you create ideas for lyrics and melodies, and some of them could be trash, but it doesn’t matter, the idea is just to have something on paper.
The second force is called “edit” mode, which is where your brain tries to catalogue the ideas that you have generated, filter out the bad ones, and keep the good ones.
The problem arises when you try to merge the 2 forces into one in an effort to be more efficient. So basically you are trying to both come up with ideas and immediately filter it into good or bad. This is actually very inefficient and destroys creativity, ultimately leaving you with very little to show for your efforts.
The cure for this is to always live in “create” mode when you are trying to come up with ideas. This means writing down or recording every idea you have even if you feel like it won’t fit. The more you do this, the more your brain will come up with alternative ideas so that writer’s block will be less likely to happen.
3. Experiment with Your Process
It’s easy to fall into the same routine when writing songs. For me, I typically write a chord progression first, then melody, then lyrics.
But sometimes there might be a time where I hit a wall when trying to write a song that way. If an idea just won’t surface, it might be a good idea to try a different process to see if you can find a flow.
For example, if you are like me and write chord progressions first, maybe try writing lyrics first and see if you can tailor a chord progression for it afterwards. Or maybe write a melody first, followed by a chord progression. By switching up your writing process, you may uncover an idea you otherwise would not have if you stuck with your same routine.
4. Draw from Inspiration
Famous author Mark Twain once said “there is no such thing as an original idea.” Think about a lot of songs you hear on the radio. They all use similar chord progressions, some of them are exactly the same. Think about melodies you hear, a lot of those can be very similar too. And how many songs are there about love? Millions!
There are only so many ways you can musically convey an idea, so instead of always trying to be original, try drawing inspiration from a song that you like. For example, if there is a chord progression you find really catchy, try using it in your own song. If there is a part of a melody that you like, try a variation of it in your own song.
Of course, you don’t want to steal someone else’s work: that’s plagiarism. The goal here is to repurpose ideas and snippets from other songs to try and make them your own. Used correctly, this strategy is one of the best ways to overcome writer’s block and something I do on almost every song I write.
5. Get into Community
I saved this for last, because this is one of the best ways to not only avoid writer’s block, but to also grow as a songwriter ridiculously fast.
It takes a tremendous amount of willpower to commit to the art of songwriting, and to dedicate yourself to doing some of these tactics such as time blocking. After a while, it can become easy to fall off the wagon and become stagnant.
This is where a community comes in. By having a community of like-minded songwriters, you have a tribe of people all wanting to become better songwriters and helping each other to flourish.
It’s also a great way to have accountability with your songwriting. It’s easy to put off finishing a song for weeks or even months if you’re rolling solo. But by having a group that checks in on each other, it becomes way less likely that you’ll flake and not finish a song.
I know for me, I hate to let people down, so if I post in a community saying that I’m going to have a song done by the end of the week, then I better have that song done. Otherwise, I feel like I not only let myself down, but every single person in that community.
Now if you’re wondering where you can find such a group, there are tons of communities available. If you are interested in really pushing yourself as a songwriter, I actually have a free 3 Songs in 30 Days challenge, which is a community on discord where we are all trying to push each other to complete 3 songs during the month of December. If you are interested, you can join using this link: https://discord.gg/bpWRAe54W2.
Whether or not you join, I want you to make a promise to yourself that you’ll commit to growing your songwriting craft. I know that by using some of these tactics, you’ll be better prepared to avoid your next confrontation with writer’s block, and start finishing more songs that you can truly be proud of. Keep on writing!
Josh invites you to his songwriting challenge and support on Discord https://discord.gg/bpWRAe54W2
Dr Josh Simons is a physical therapist who has a passion for songwriting and music production. He has a YouTube channel showing his journey to growing as a songwriter while juggling a full-time job. He also runs the 3 Songs in 30 Days Discord group.