15 ways to overcome writer’s block as a musician

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Illustration: George Wylesol

Have you ever sat down to write a song, only to find that your mind goes blank and you can’t come up with a single word?

You’re not the only one. Songwriters everywhere—even the most prolific and accomplished ones—fight the battle against writer’s block on a regular basis.

The truth is, you can never fully eradicate it. As long as you keep writing songs, you’re bound to find yourself in moments (or, in some cases, hours or even days) when you feel uninspired and creatively drained. The key is to arm yourself with tools and techniques that can help get the creative juices flowing.

In this article, we share 15 things you can do to get unstuck and start writing again. Not every technique will work for every songwriter, but if you give each of them a try, you’ll most definitely find a few effective writer’s block remedies to add to your songwriting toolkit.

Let’s take a look!

1. Use writing prompts

We often feel stuck simply because we get overwhelmed by the number of options available to us. When there are no limits to what your song can be about and where it can go, how do you choose which direction to take?

Writing prompts help with this by forcing your brain to work within specific constraints. They give you a clear goal and a roadmap for how to achieve it, making it much easier to start writing music.

When you’re ready to try using writing prompts, a quick Google search will help you find hundreds of them. You don’t need to search for songwriting prompts specifically—prompts for any kind of writing will work just fine.

2. Use a random word generator

Another great way to give yourself constraints and a clear goal is to use a random word generator. Find one online and set it to give you three random words. Then, try to write a song that includes all three of these words. The task is challenging (but definitely doable) and will get you thinking outside the box. You’ll be surprised by how creative you can get!

3. Set a timer

Another way to challenge your brain and kickstart the creative process is by creating a time constraint. Set a timer for 30 minutes or an hour and see how much you can write before it goes off. Don’t worry about quality—your only goal should be to write as much as possible. Chances are, you’ll end up with at least a few great lines or an idea you can flesh out and expand on.

4. Write a draft

One of the main causes of writer’s block is perfectionism—the pressure to write something amazing keeps you so paralyzed that you don’t end up writing anything at all.

To overcome this, try writing a draft—let go of all standards and expectations and simply write something, knowing that you’ll be editing it later. Give yourself permission to skip words, lines, or even entire sections; write “TBD” where a rhyme will eventually go; come up with multiple versions of lines and choose your favorites later. Once you let go of the pressure to hit a home-run on your first try, you’ll be free to let your creativity lead the way.

5. Write a silly song

You can take the draft technique one step further and write something you have no intention of ever turning into a real song. Write a funny song, a painfully cheesy one, or maybe just an objectively bad one.

Try writing poorly on purpose—the goal here isn’t to uncover the best lyrics you’ve ever written, but simply to kickstart the writing process and do so without any pressure or expectations. Once you get going, you can switch gears and write something you might actually keep.

6. Revisit an old song

Most songwriters will tell you that the songwriting process can be broken down into two parts: writing and editing. This means that even when you can’t seem to write anything new, you can still have a productive session by picking up an old draft and making changes to it.

Filling in gaps and finding small ways to make your lyrics more impactful will not only help you exercise your writing muscles, but will also give you the momentum to get out of your creative rut and keep writing.

7. Write a song without any rhymes

One of the most challenging aspects of songwriting is coming up with rhymes that embellish your lyrics, rather than make them sound cheesy or cliché. Sometimes this task is so daunting that it stops you from writing anything at all.

Relieve yourself of this unnecessary pressure and forget about rhyming. You’ll be amazed at how honest and meaningful your lyrics can get when you stop worrying about how to end each line.

Some of the most iconic songs don’t have a single rhyme in them, or have rhymes that are so loose that they’re barely noticeable.

8. Write poetry or prose

The best thing you can do when dealing with writer’s block is to, well, write. But as a songwriter, you don’t always have to write songs.

Take a break from your craft and try writing poetry or prose. There are fewer rules here—your lines don’t have to fit a certain rhythm or fill out specific sections of a song—so you can be free to explore your creativity.

If you have an idea for a song, but don’t quite know where to start, try writing it out as a free verse poem or a story. Once you’re done putting your thoughts to paper, you may be able to mold them into a song after all. And if not, that’s okay, too—just the act of writing will help create momentum and inspire you to start working on something else.

9. Journal

If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas for a song, poem, or story, try turning inwards and journaling. You can free write—set a timer for 15 minutes and write down whatever comes to mind without stopping—or find an interesting journaling prompt online.

Journaling can help uncover something you didn’t consciously realize—it’s a great way to find new song ideas or even bits of lyrics. It’s also just a great habit to implement into your life because it doubles as a self-care activity and a chance to exercise your writing muscles.

10. Get inspired

While journaling can help you find inspiration from within, you can also look for inspiration in the world around you. Take a break from trying to write and spend some time recharging and refilling your creative reservoir. Read a book, watch a movie, talk to a friend, or go to a museum or art gallery. You can even take a nap—you might just end up writing about something you saw in your dreams!

11. Listen to music

One of the best sources of inspiration for musicians is, of course, other music. We’re not talking about copying another artist’s song, but rather using it as a starting point to come up with your own ideas.

You can simply listen to a song and see if it sparks anything. Some songwriters like to have music on in the background at a barely audible volume so they can intentionally mishear and misinterpret lyrics—what you think you heard can speak volumes about what story you need to tell with your own songs. Others will even play two songs at the same time to achieve a similar effect.

12. Change your environment

Always writing in the same spot is great for building a habit and tricking your brain into getting into the songwriting zone. That being said, if you’re experiencing writer’s block in your usual space, it can be helpful to change things up and try something new.

Instead of writing at home, try going to a park or a coffee shop. If you always write with the lights on, try dimming them or writing by candlelight. You can even play around with white noise or aromatherapy to make your space feel different.

13. Change your process

As a songwriter, you likely have a go-to process. Maybe you start with the lyrics and then figure out the melody after, or vice-versa. Whatever your process, try changing it up and doing the opposite of what you usually do. It may feel unnatural and maybe even a little challenging, but you might be surprised by what you can come up with.

14. Start with the music

If you write lyrics and melodies first and then worry about the accompanying music later, one way to change up your process is to start with the music and let it inspire the rest.

You can play an instrument or, if you know your way around a DAW, produce a simple beat. If you’re not as proficient in a DAW yet or don’t have immediate access to one, you can also use a tool like Create to compose some Stacks that can serve as great starting points for a song. And even if you’re a production powerhouse, it can still be a great tool for finding new samples and exploring new styles.

15. Try co-writing

If you’re looking for a foolproof way to beat writer’s block, reach out to a fellow musician and try co-writing.

Writing with a partner or a team is like having a safety net—when you feel stuck, someone else is there to help. And you can do the same for them when they’re experiencing a block. You can feed off of each other’s momentum and take turns moving the project along.

It’s time to overcome writer’s block

There’s one common principle that ties together each of the 15 tips we’ve talked about: the only way to beat writer’s block is to keep writing.

What you write doesn’t matter—these songs don’t ever have to see the light of day. Actually, they don’t even have to be songs at all. What matters is that you sit down regularly to write something—anything—and keep the momentum going.

When you’re not writing, look for inspiration in the world around you—go to places, spend time with friends, experience new things, and expose yourself to other art. Wherever you go, keep a notebook or a notes app on your phone where you can jot down ideas as soon as they come to you.

With regular practice and an arsenal of ideas you can always turn to, you’ll have no trouble warding off writer’s block. And if it does come to visit every once in a while, you now have a few tricks up your sleeve!


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August 16, 2022

SAYANA

SAYANA is a contemporary R&B singer-songwriter based in Toronto, Canada. She’s currently releasing a new song every month for a year. Check out her latest release, “Nobody Needs to Know” anywhere where you listen to music.