Writer’s block isn’t real - Editor’s block - oh boy!
I’m picking up the story from last week with a further insight from my week with Ray Davies. I believe there is an important feature of the that week which proves WRITER’S block is not real. I arrived at that songwriting retreat having never written a song, I was forced to write to a deadline - good bad or indifferent - I just had to write.
For me, this is the key to understanding blocks to writing - you CAN always write. It’s when we try to be too clever, rhyme stuff, find the perfect images, the greatest metaphors, match it to the greatest melody, or attempt to finish a song from start to finish in one sitting - we get stuck. That is the EDITOR in the mind stopping you from getting started. This is why I would call it EDITOR’S block.
So how does that help me - I’m still stuck if I’m stuck!
The scariest thing a writer ever sees is the blank page. So, make a mark, write something, anything, even if it’s just one big word scrawled across the page.
You could try writing in plain language what the song is about to begin with. Normal sentences explaining to someone who knows nothing about your idea, what you are trying to say. Use conversational language as if the person reading it, is right there in front of you. Often this provides excellent relatable content for the final lyric.
You could try free writing - you set a timer for 2 minutes - and write, the only rule is not to stop writing - even if its “I have nothing to say, what do I write next, I have no ideas, why am I doing this….” JUST WRITE and no stopping, even if it’s garbage - the lesson to learn here is how to put the EDITOR into their box, while the WRITER writes. The more you try this exercise, the freer your writing becomes. As you get more used to the technique, you can then try and apply it to a real life song idea or title. This allows you to stay free in the creative process and apply the songwriting craft later (I’ll be covering this in future blog posts).
I have also learned when not to write. If you are really not feeling it, don’t force it - this is most likely when the dreaded editor gets at you. However don’t leave it for too long. Try one of the techniques to unstick yourself.
A great book I can recommend too is the following: “The War of Art” https://stevenpressfield.com/books/the-war-of-art/
Don’t confuse this with “The Art of War” - that one won’t help you with being creative!
Other things that really help, are ways to get started that you have prepared when you did have moments of inspiration or found great ideas.
Visit a book shop, and look for potential song titles; make a note of them somewhere.
If you hear someone say something during a conversation which sounds interesting or an unusual phrase - make a note of it somewhere.
If you find your mind spinning at night and can’t get to sleep, write down those thoughts, words and ideas on a notepad by the bed (tip: use a pen, pencils are really noisy in the dead of night!). It will allow you to go to sleep safe in the knowledge your idea is recorded, and you can review it in the morning.
The trashier daily papers are sometimes good for ideas, perhaps taking a headline and adapting it slightly (you don’t even have to buy one, just flick!). Even names of horses, or paint colours could inspire something! Observe everything, look everywhere for titles and ideas - the world is full of them. The great thing about these ideas is that they are already in the public domain so they already hold meaning to people. Those kinds of things already have connections to people. Write a song about that and people may already feel connected to the concept or idea.
And finally if you are still really struggling, get some help and collaborate. Nearly every top-ten song you hear these days is a collaboration. You don’t have to do this all alone, and that’s a really tough position to put yourself in. Two heads are better than one, it’s someone to discuss your ideas with, and they might have a new angle on an old idea which gets you kick started with your work.
I’ll be looking at collaboration in more depth next week.
In the meantime if you are stuck, please do feel free to reach out to me via my website contact page or via Twitter or Facebook (where you probably followed a link to this blog). I’ve been able to help someone only this last week when they were a little stuck - hopefully I helped if it was you, and now you are reading this!
Next Time: Don’t try and do everything yourself - collaborate!