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How do you overcome "Writer's Block"?

W. Scott (Cosmo) Snyder,
Songwriter, performer and all around creative-type guy, (Urbana, IL) writes:
"I force myself to write something, even if it turns out to be awful. Sometimes I think I have to let out all the crud before I can get to the "good stuff" underneath. Every song can't be a Top 40 Hit. (But I was hoping ONE of them would be by now!) Sometimes I'll just start strumming my guitar and go with whatever comes. Other times I'll go back to old lyrics that I had abandoned sometimes years before and continue where I had left off. Then, of course are the days when I just throw my hands up and say FORGET IT! And come back to it the next day. It's not worth getting a headache over (unless you have a client who is expecting delivery first thing in the morning...) :-{)}"
Molly-Ann Leikin,
A professional songwriting consultant in L.A. California, writes:
"There is no artist who doesn't experience it, and there is no great artist who hasn't struggled desperately with it. Usually, writer's block stems from either fear or anger. I suggest you first make a list - a very honest list, of everything you're afraid of. Don't censor it - don't think anything is silly or stupid and doesn't belong on the list - include absolutely everything. Then make another list of everything and every one who makes you mad - again - no censorship - list it all. This should serve to get everything out in the open - and it may upset you to confront it, but at least you'll know what it is. Then what I do is write a letter to the fear or the situation I'm mad at and really talk to it - tell it I'm going to write well in spite of it - and in this process of confronting it, I'm actually taking control - that way I'm not the victim anymore, I'm in charge. As writers, we're rarely in charge - so this process of letter writing and confrontation on paper is very healthy and empowering.

Then I suggest a couple of things: get a coloring book with big pictures suitable for a three year old - and color outside the lines. If there's a picture of a pumpkin, make it square and whatever you do, don't color it orange. Pink polka dots with a striped border would be fine - just don't color it any color or shape you'd expect or have ever seen before. Being outside the lines gives you something new to think about and feel - and that's where new ideas come from.

There are lots of other exercises I give my clients who are blocked, and I get great results. Many of these exercises are in my books - "How To Write A Hit Song" and "How To Make A Good Song A Hit Song". Even if you're not a songwriter, try the exercises, and I bet they'll work for you. Good luck."

Lee Harless,
An excellent songwriter in the "Acoustic modern pop rock" genre (Blacksburg, VA), writes:
Well.. to start out I'll listen to music that inspires me or I'll take a walk in a place that is conducive to the mood I want the song to put people in. Or I'll go out for a drive. Sometimes a good few days of no writing will help.......That's pretty much all I know to do...

Roger Burton West,
A filker from London, writes:
I don't listen to music. If I do, I end up writing something that's far too close to whatever I was listening to. I just go away and do something else creative. Sooner or later, the songs will beg to be let out. Oh, and I always keep a notepad handy!
Marilee J. Layman,
A filker (former pro singer) from Virginia, writes:
I do the musical equivalent of doodling. I sing whatever comes to mind, letting songs blend into one another and eventually just vocalizing. I tape this and pull out interesting bits. As to words, frequently they come from the music, although I've been known to sit down and write the words first.
Michael Mc Vicker
A Houston area songwriter, writes:
First I try free-writing and let everything I can flood on to paper or the computer. If that doesn't work, I'll watch Music videos (ignoring the sound if possible). Usually CMT gives the best images for me.

Last, if none of the above works, I'll grab a lyric from one song and music from another(being sure that they don't match in the slightest), play the tape or MIDI tune and try to force the words into the music. What does for me is to force me into thinking in a different meter. I have to get rather creative to rush a line or hold notes excessively and still get the whole thing to work (as best that it can). If all else fails it good for a laugh any way. That is probably the best help anyway, changing my mood. Unconventional, but it works for me.

David Goulden,
An ex-songwriter and hermit from the Toronto area, writes:
I don't worry about it. I mean, after all, it's not like I'm writing something I'm getting PAID for. I know that sooner or later I'll get inspired, so I don't sweat it. Of course, this was before I became bitter and disillusioned about music. Now I LIVE for writer's block.
Editor's note: Aw, come on, David. Keep on writing. You can't always do it for money (or the lack thereof ;)). Do it for your own enjoyment and for your own sanity. I'll bet there are lots more great songs in you yet. Don't give up hope, ok? All the best - Jodi
Irene Jackson,
A singer/songwriter from Victoria, B.C., Canada, writes:
I get more success from backing off, just walking away and not pressuring myself. I think you can just make everything worse by trying harder. If it's just a block over one particular song I'll work on something else for awhile, or I'll try playing something really different...OR I TAKE A HOT BATH no matter what time of day it is!
Solomon Davidoff
A writer from Ohio, writes:
I usually just let my mind roam for a while, and work on the problem in my subconscious(sp!). That usually does the trick.
Tim Pigman
Singer/Songwriter currently living in Athens, OH but soon moving to Boston, Mass., writes:
Do something different. Read a book about something I haven't studied before. Go see a movie I know nothing about. Drive somewhere I haven't been before and take a walk. Just write down everything that I'm thinking and allow it to guide itself. If it's really bad, I stop and go do something else. This tends to bring about the most spontaneous and naturally creative stuff for me.
Joey Shoji
A singer/songwriter/"filker" from San Francisco, writes:
Whenever possible I try to think of chocolate and it gives me inspiration! Actually, since I'm often working on more than one song at a time (if at all) I will go from one to another. The process of trying to get back to where I was and wanted to be sometimes provides me with more to think about.
Randy Wilde
Co-Songwriter in the band Rainbows End from L.A., writes:
I go somewhere music is playing. A bar usually. I have a drink or two and I start get involved in the rhythms. It usually is recorded music not live (interesting). I also find if I clean up the house it frees the creative side of my brain. I just start to noodle around, and eventually a song rears its head.
Michael Dowell
A BSC Recording Artist (rock/pop) from Washington DC / St Louis MO, writes:
Turn on the TV and dare myself to write about the first thing that is on the screen, REGARDLESS of what it is. Whether it's the evening news, or a Vagisil commercial...if it's the first thing on the screen, I've got to write about it! Can't back down from a self-dare! Using this "dare method", your chances of a good song are 50/50. But the whole idea is that it gets you back into the practice of writing again.
Anthony McCann
A Songwriter/music journalist from Galway, Ireland, writes:
1. Babble till something half-decent comes out
2. Read a bit of poetry
3. Improvise with chords on the guitar
4. Stick four chords together. Repeat ad infinitum. Talk/sing over top (See line 1)
Debbie Ridpath Ohi
A writer and songwriter (and my music partner! ;)) from Toronto, Canada, writes:
Listening to music I like a lot always inspires me. Else I'll go to the piano and fiddle around with different chords, not trying to "write a song" but just pick out some chord progressions that appeal to me. If none of the above works, I buy a bar of Toblerone and eat the whole thing.
Joe Kesselman
A Filker, soon to be chairman of the Walkabout Clearwater Chorus, writes:
I'm not sure I do. That is, I produce only a few songs a year, if that. I find I have to wait for them to coalesce to a certain point before I can get more than the basic idea on paper. The trick, if there is one, seems to be to have a large number of pending ideas, write them all down so you don't forget them, and go back through them every so often to see if any can be taken further. Also, don't self-criticise prematurely; treat it as a brainstorming exercise and write down EVERY related thought without worrying about whether it's good or not. Better to be able to edit down than to have to fill in. But as Heinlein pointed out, you usually can't rush creativity. Try not to procrastinate, but also don't be afraid to let the ideas simmer.
A profesional writer from Dallas, writes:
Professional writers don't get "writer's block" per se. However, here are some tricks to promote creativity:
1) work on deadline
2) walk away from a project for 24 hours
3) just get the idea out now, fix it later
4) write while under hypnosis

Morgana Teas
A vocalist wanna be from Shepherd, Texas, writes:
When writer's block hits me, (and it often does) I tend to hit back... I take a look at what I'm trying to say, then I say emotions tend to make my writer's block appear and dissappear...if I don't want to face something, then writer's block will set in...I try to face adds a lot of character to my songs and a great deal more emotion...

Suzanne Jackson
A songwriter from the Washington,D.C. area, writes:
I find the best way to overcome writer's block is to go out and hear some live music. Invariably I come home with lyrics written all over cocktail napkins. Also, reading science fiction or self help books help (they are usually filled with cliches, but you'd be surprised by some of the interesting kernals of believable metaphors you can find.)

Jay Schankman
A composer from St. Louis Missouri, writes:
The muse is a fickle creature.. she can't be coerced or fabricated into existence; at least this has been my experience. Some are fortunate to have her attention a great deal of the time. There are periods of time when I am very prolific, ideas pour out quicker than I can put them together into complete compositions. And at other times I just don't have her co operation. I approach the art of composition as a borrowed gift.. I am greatful when I have it and I understand that I am best to turn my attention elsewhere when I don't feel creative. To try to force it is terribly frustrating. At times like that I just listen to the work of other people.. or listen to nothing at all and read a book, take a hike in the woods or do any other activity that doesn't require creativity. I trust she will return.
A Bassman from Liverpool,England, writes:
I can't - I just sit it out until something new inspires me.
Tim Boudreau
A songwriter from Massachusetts, writes:
Sometimes I turn the radio on, particularly in the car, so low that I can't tell what the tune is, or what the lyrics are, but the sound is just hovering on the edge of awareness. After a little while, my brain starts to fill in the blanks with stuff of its own--sort of creative misinterpretation. There's a school of thought that all creativity is misinterpretation.
Steve Hatfield
A fledgling songwriter from West Palm Beach, Florida, writes:
I recently attended a songwriting school held at the Steve Hurst school of vocal ministry and performance in Nashville that was headed up by Gary McSpadden. One of his guest instructors was Jim Rushing. Jim is a well know country writer that has been in Nashville for 25 years and has quite a discography. When the subject of writers block came up he said that he didn't believe in "writers block". He felt that you invited inspiration and could find it in many places. He agreed that there were times when you lost your concentration for periods of time but that that was not "writers block". Changing gears, taking a break, doing something else might be what you needed anyway to get refocused. He still went by the old adage that said Songwriting is 10 % inspiration and 90 % perspiration.

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