Getting the Music Out: Tips from Our Artists on Overcoming Writer’s Block
Everyone who creates for a living knows the feeling of frustration when you want to write, but the words and music just aren’t coming out. Whether you call it writer’s block or procrastination, we’ve all been there at one time or another. Maybe you have a deadline looming and you just can’t seem to get a new song written. Or it could be that you have ideas floating around your head, but you can’t pin them down into a song.
While staring at the computer screen or a blank piece of staff paper, it might feel like your writer’s block intensifies into a road block you’ll never overcome. But really, it’s just a bump in the road.
“When I have a block it’s usually because I’m feeling emotions that I just can’t put into words,” says Madison artist Alex Tru. Understanding what’s going on is part of what helps Alex overcome the writer’s block and get the songs flowing again. “When it happens I like to retreat to my room, curl up in my favorite blanket, and just play a bunch of cover songs on my guitar of what I’m feeling. Country, pop, soul, classics, I play it all and get out how I’m feeling, and then my words start coming.”
Playing music to get more music is one way to encourage your writing to flow. Another is through free writing exercises. Hannah Zale suggests doing free writes for one, two and three minutes. “You just pick a random prompt, usually one word, then set a timer, and write whatever comes to mind in a stream of consciousness style. The only two rules are you can’t stop writing and you can’t erase.” Hannah uses this practice with her own vocal students. “I write along with them, and usually get a few nuggets a week to pull from for songs. Even just a single phrase can inspire a new song.”
Overcoming writer’s block means getting past our fear of putting our emotions and thoughts on paper or in song, eventually for others to hear. The exercises above encourage free expression to get the juices flowing. It’s also important to treat writing like you would any other job. “I read an article with the Beatles that really changed my approach to writing,” Hannah says. “Paul said (and I’m paraphrasing), ‘When you want to write a song, the best thing to do is sit down and write it.’” Paul McCartney gave Hannah the inspiration to create her own three steps for making a song happen.
1. Carve out time. Make a writing schedule and stick to it. This might mean sacrificing something more immediately productive in order to just sit and think.
2. Find a secure emotional and physical space to produce. You should feel safe to feel your feelings, and have a place away from distractions to really concentrate.
3. Do not censor, edit, or judge your writing immediately. Just write what you’re feeling and get it out. Then live with it for a week or so before going back to edit.
While these tips might sound easy, overcoming writer’s block can be challenging. As you can see, even the best musicians find writing hard at times. Take their words as inspiration, and get out there and start writing!