- Published Mar 8, 2013 in Music 101
- Read time: about 2 minutes
Sometimes it all just flows. But no one has it that easy 100% of the time. When your songwriting flow gets stagnant, you need to let some fresh air in and change your perspective.
You know how it goes: there are those days where you feel like every song you write is a modern version of Every Breath You Take (one of the most popular singles of all time). And then there are those days when you couldn’t put a word, chord or melody together if your life depended on it.
We all go through it. And sometimes the only thing you can do is sit and wait for a little inspiration. But if you want to get the juices flowing on your own schedule, here are a few tricks to get the cobwebs out and the creativity back:
1 Borrow a brilliant idea.
Sometimes it’s the pressure of coming up with an original thought that clogs up the works. If that’s the case, try taking a break from your own stuff to learn a cover.
Sinking your teeth into someone else’s idea is a great way to stretch your mind. By forcing yourself into another artist’s shoes, you open new neural pathways, discover different harmony and voicings, and expose yourself to new patterns of lyric writing.
It also provides a nice distraction. It’s sure better than sitting there staring at the walls, beating yourself up for a momentary lack of inspiration. And who knows, that cover could become a popular part of your live show.
2 Write something awful.
Setting out to write something that sucks can be very freeing.
A great artist once told me his theory of perfecting one’s work: you have to paint a thousand ugly pictures to really discover the core of your creativity. With that in mind, I very often resign myself to writing something truly crappy just to get into a flow again. I mean, if you have to get through 1000 anyway, you may as well make good use of the time.
Setting out to write something that sucks can be very freeing. Without the constant self-criticism as an albatross around your neck, it’s much easier to just let the process happen. You’d be surprised how easily new ideas come when you’re not judging every single one against history’s greatest singles. You’ll also find that what comes out is very rarely as bad as you intended it to be. It could even become a fragment of a true keeper.
My dad always told me to get up and walk away when I’m stuck. It’s solid advice. As artists, we tend to reach a point of diminishing returns once we get into that phase of frustration that leads to forcing the issue even though it’s obvious nothing good is happening.
Train yourself to realize you’re having one of those moments. Then have the presence of mind to get up and walk away. Sometimes all you need is some new perspective. I usually grab a beer and sit on the fire escape for awhile, watching the traffic drive by on Houston Street.
Whatever you do, make sure it’s a departure from your regular writing flow. Once you’ve had a change of pace, step back in and see if the inspiration is there. If so, really explore it. If not, make peace with the fact that timing is everything, and sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away and come back later.