I had the chance to share some of these things recently in an interview I did about my most recent album, but I thought fellow artists might appreciate having a tasty, bite-sized version of these ideas available for a quick read here at TentmakerMusic.com. Here we go, 5 tips for overcoming writer’s block and avoiding creative drought as a musician.
Fellow music makers, how many times have you found yourself staring at a blank page for hours trying to get some brilliant lyrics out onto the page but finding about as much success as the guy banging desperately on the bottom of a glass bottle, hoping to enjoy that last drop of ketchup? Those of you who produce your own music, can you recall a time when you searched through libraries of samples and virtual instruments, finding nothing that inspired you? Not one decent melody? Not one drum pattern? Remember that time (or two) when you started to put together a beat and realized about 20 minutes in that it sounds an awful lot like the last 3 beats you made? Tragic. Thankfully, Tentmaker Music has some great tips to help Christian artists keep the creative juices flowing and overcome writer’s block.
TIP #1: “Walk it out”
Many artists and writers claim to do their best thinking while walking, and there are even studies showing that walking improves creativity (for example, news.stanford.edu). For me, getting away from my usual surroundings allows me to begin thinking differently and get my mind unstuck and off the beaten path (what I sometimes refer to as the “train track”). Most of my best verses were written while walking in parks or in bookstores. You might even witness or experience something while on a walk that provides inspiration for a new song. It is also important for me to give my ears a rest from speakers and headphones to refresh, and I’ll often get great ideas for sounds to use or create in my projects from listening to natural or mechanical sounds I come across outside of my house.
TIP #2: “Add more variety to your musical diet”
Sometimes, the reason we get stuck on the “train track” where everything moves in one direction and it all starts to sound the same is because we lack variety in our musical diet. We make hip-hop, we listen to hip-hop, so we are only thinking in those terms. If I am a modern hip-hop artist, when I’m in the early stages of the creative process, my musical diet should include VERY LITTLE modern, hip-hop music. If I am listening exclusively or almost exclusively to my hip-hop contemporaries, it is going to be difficult to think outside of the box and create something that stands out in the current landscape of music. Really, I should only be listening to modern hip-hop primarily when I’m in the mixing and mastering stage of the process for the purposes of reference and/or comparing the loudness/fullness of masters.
As an example of the kind of musical diversity I like to have when I’m working on writing/composing a new album, here is a recent playlist I put together to listen to while I’m studying:
Stayin’ Alive –Bee Gees
Pray For Me (1966) – Mighty Clouds of Joy
Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver
You Are The Living Word - Fred Hammond
Burn This Disco Out – Michael Jackson
You’ll Be In My Heart – Phil Collins
Chasing Unicorns – The Legend of Xero
Know Me (Huh What) – The Cross Movement
Nearer To Thee - Sam Cooke and The Soul Stirrers
As Long As I’m Alive – Average Joe and Leyna Ceville
Moment’s Notice – John Coltrane
Deep Waters – Adelaide
Why You Wanna Trip On Me – Michael Jackson
In The River – Kim Walker
The Terminator (Main Theme) – Brad Fiedel
Bitter Wages – Hazakim
I Dreamed A Dream (Les Miserables) – Anne Hathway
Still Crazy After All These Years – Ray Charles
Great God – Carman
There Is A God – Carman
Speak Softly Love – Andy Williams
Into Your Arms [Eli Ramzy Remix] – Capital Kings
House of Representatives – The Cross Movement
Rain In The Third House – Tangerine Dream
Now, would this be a very cohesive playlist to throw on at a party? No. But that’s the point! You put together a party playlist to keep the party going and keeping things flowing from beginning to end. For the party, we’re going for uniformity or at least songs that seem to belong together and transition well from one into the other. The above playlist on the other hand causes my mind to switch gears from track to track and think about music from a variety of different angles and in a variety of different ways. I’m freeing my mind to think about all of (or at least many of) the things that music can be and accomplish.
And this playlist will change regularly, by the way. Top-40 radio and even contemporary Christian radio has a tendency to get stuck on a kind of song or a style or sound for a while, and I don’t want to only think of music in those terms because if I am stuck writing and composing the kinds of songs I am hearing on the radio, there is a much higher likelihood that my music will sound extremely dated when I look back on it ten years from now. I strive to not be limited by the times or by genre, but to simply offer the Lord a NEW song, something fresh, as often as He allows me to do so. I want to put together something that is unique, something that stands out, and something that shows the world we serve a creative God, the first and most creative artist of all.
TIP #3: “Enjoy other mediums of artistic expression”
Go see a movie, visit a museum, wander an amusement park, watch a painter do his/her thing… point is, there are other forms of art besides music. Sometimes, stepping away from the kind of art I personally do is where I find my best ideas, and to be honest, sometimes, I just need a break. When we feel like we are forcing ourselves, the music isn’t flowing naturally, it isn’t coming together organically or it no longer feels authentic, it may be a good idea to step away from music for a bit and enjoy other activities or appreciate other kinds of art. Again, this is another way to get our minds off the “train track” and thinking differently about what we do. It frees us to move in more than just one direction when we return to work.
TIP #4 “Run right through the wall like the Kool-Aid man”
PLEASE DO NOT RUN THROUGH AN ACTUAL WALL!!! Sit back down, please. I’m talking about the wall of writer’s block. If I have already tried the above techniques, and I have a goal to write a specific sort of verse or song, but I find myself suffering from writer’s block, I have found ways to force myself through it and come up with good material. The problem is, and this is hard for those of us to are perfectionists when it comes to music, I have to first allow myself to write a bunch of bad, basically unusable material. Allow me to explain… I’ve started forcing myself to write a verse every other day whether I have a great idea or not. I HAVE to get it down on the page, which means the verse I end up with at the end of that day may not be great or even decent yet because I had to force myself to finish it.
Why would I do this to myself? Because I have a bad habit of allowing my writer’s block to become an excuse to be lazy, and I wait around for the perfect verse to just pop into my head so I can write down something I’m happy with. Professional writers, whether we’re talking novel writers, non-fiction writers or essay writers, the greats understand the purpose in writing multiple drafts and know how much an idea can change and grow and improve as I simply keep putting the pen to the paper. If I get some things down on the page that I can return to later, I may find some great ideas that I can eventually polish and use, just maybe not in the way I initially thought I’d be using it. Maybe this bar or that rhyme is salvageable and could be used on a different track.
If you can’t even manage to force a verse out, sometimes word association exercises and get you through the wall. Force yourself to write down a keyword related to your topic or even the name of the beat you’re trying to write for. Then, write down every word that pops into your head when you think about that word, and every word those words make you think of, and see where these words take you. You may find that your topic was simply too broad or vague or not interesting enough and you need to focus in on something more specific and vivid.
What are some of the ways you have overcome writers block? Leave us a comment, we would love to hear from you! As always, thank you for taking the time to read this! God bless!