This weeks post comes from Jon Anderson. Jon is the founder of Two Story Melody, a fantastic songwriting blog that tells the stories and processes behind beautiful songs. He knows a thing or two about writing a great song, and how to find inspiration when you need it the most. Here are Jon’s 5 must know tips for kicking songwriter’s block!
So, you’re stuck. You want to write a song, and you can’t.
It’s the worst.
Maybe you’ve been here before and made it through. Or maybe you’ve been prolifically churning out great songs for as long as you can remember, only to suddenly crash into a brick wall of no ideas.
Regardless, we’re glad you’re here. Because you were bound to get stuck eventually, and we know that on the other side of that wall of songwriter’s block, your best songs are waiting to be written.
Don’t give up. You’ve got this.
On the other side of that wall of songwriter’s block, your best songs are waiting to be written.
Really, there are two keys to getting through songwriter’s block: sheer determination, and a willingness to take a new perspective. Let’s take a look at five dead-practical techniques that can help with both.
1. Keep a running list of lyrics
This is maybe my favorite practical piece of songwriting advice: keep a running list of lyrics, and keep it on your person at all times. This could be a journal. It could be a Google doc. It could be a steady supply of napkins and a ballpoint pen. Point is, when inspiration strikes, you need to have a place to write it down.
The dream, of course, is that, when you sit down in front of your piano or pick up your guitar to write, the song flows out like a beautiful, completely coherent stream of consciousness.
But that doesn’t happen. The reality is that ideas almost always coalesce gradually, like slowly gathering droplets of water that take time to fall into place. And when you have songwriter’s block, it’s like the water’s completely shut off.
Here’s the deal: inspiration strikes unexpectedly. You might be biking. You might be rewatching the first season of Friends for the fourth time. You might be knitting (it’s totally cool if you are). And then it comes to you – the perfect turn of phrase, an interesting song idea, the title that fits perfectly.
And then, if you don’t write it down – it’s gone.
If you have a list at the ready, you won’t miss it.
Ideas during songwriter’s block are like rain during a drought. If you’re not sure when it’ll happen again, it’s best to leave a bucket out.
Then, when you do sit down to write, you’ll have a built-up supply of inspiration to draw from.
2. Store up melodies
The lyric list thing makes sense, right? So, do the same thing for melodies.
The idea’s exactly the same – you want to ensure a built up supply of inspiration, and you never know when the perfect melody will come to you. My favorite melodies usually come while I’m driving or in the shower – less often when I’m holding a guitar. The key is, as soon as it comes, to hit record on something. Otherwise, you risk letting it fade away.
Voice memos are your friend. No, don’t look at your phone while you’re driving (or in the shower, unless you want to try the putting-your-phone-in-rice-thing again), but as soon as you have a chance, hit that record button and get it down.
Sometimes, words and melodies come in together. Sometimes they come separately. Either way, you need to capture everything. Get a running lyric list, and get a bank of melodies going on your phone.
3. Phone a friend
The first two tips were determination-focused. For the next three, we’ll look at ways to shift perspective to shake up new ideas.
And what better way to do that then to phone a friend? Turns out, friendship may be what you need to get over the hump of songwriter’s block.
There are two angles to this: friendly advice, or all-out cowriting. Both are really helpful.
By “friendly advice,” I mean taking a song that’s gotten stuck somewhere along the way and asking for input from someone you trust. “Do you think this chorus fits? Do the ideas in the bridge make sense? Does it need another verse?”
The great thing about other people is that they aren’t you. And it can really help a song to get a set of not-you eyes and ears on the case.
Same thing goes for cowriting. If you’ve been having a tough time writing, try writing with a friend. Ideas may come more easily when you’re bouncing them off someone else than when you’re throwing them against the brick wall of songwriter’s block.
4. Find a new jam
Another way to get a new perspective: listen to something new.
Do you find yourself writing the same melodies over and over? Have you used the same chord progression eighty times? Are you out of words that rhyme with “heart”?
Don’t worry – everyone falls into these ruts. To get out, go listen to something new.
It could be the early stuff of your favorite artist – that album you’ve been meaning to check out but have never actually listened to. It could be an artist you’ve been meaning to look into, but never have. It could be a genre you’ve never spent time in. Honestly, the more different, the better.
Most of our musical ideas come out of things we’ve heard before. We’ve got these built up influences that spill out into our writing. But when things get dry, it’s time to go find another well, at least for a little while. Who knows? New music might mix with what you’re used to in ways that create awesome songs.
Go listen to something you’ve never heard.
So, go listen to something you’ve never heard.
This is really just good life advice: read!
Reading is like taking on another view of the world. You’re encountering stories, words, and worlds that aren’t your own. I’ve gotten lots of lyric ideas from phrases in books (and I always make sure to write down the ideas I like in a lyric list!). So many ideas are out there, waiting for you.
A few reading avenues I’d recommend:
- Books. Books are awesome. Here’s a bunch SongFancy recommends.
- Songwriting blogs like this one. You’re doing this already – you’re here! But keep going. There are tons of helpful tips out there, and when you get stuck with songwriter’s block, it helps to go through it and overcome it with others.
- Interviews with your favorite artists, to get insight into their processes. If you want to write songs that you like, it can help to consider how the songs you like were written.
As your librarian would say (quietly, probably, but with conviction): reading is awesome.
And it can help to shake you into a new song.
Bonus! Use songwriting prompts
Songwriting prompts are great tools for kickstarting your inspiration when you need a pick me up. They do a lot of the heavy lifting for you. They get you thinking and asking yourself questions. Some even whisper a quiet idea of a story that begins with the prompt – all it needs is an author to pick up the pen and complete it.
SongFancy has three great ways to get prompts and get writing:
The Beautiful Book of Songwriting Prompts
SongFancy’s book of immersive songwriting prompts. A gorgeous 80+ page book full of beautifully designed pages and unique songwriting prompts. Your songs evoke emotion in the listener, so why shouldn’t prompts evoke emotion in the writer? Order your copy on Amazon.
30 Prompts from the 5 in 5 Song Challenge: 2017-18 Collection
A package of our famous immersive song prompts from the past few years of 5/5 challenges. Get a prompt emailed to you every day for 30 days, or download them all at once! Details and order here.
Whatever you do – don’t stop
And, whatever you do, don’t stop. Keep a lyric list, store melodies, collaborate, find new jams and genres, read books and songwriting blogs – and, above all else, keep going.
You can get through songwriting block. It’ll take determination and a willingness to try new things, but you can do this. Your best songs are on the other side, waiting to be written.
Now, go write them!