Unclogging Writer’s Block: 5 Tips

It’s always a great excuse when composers and songwriters are struggling to put pen to paper: writer’s block! Within the space of a short blog, I want to show you that writer’s block might just be a choice, not an affliction, and that you’re actually capable of inspiring yourself to force out ideas and unclogging your own creativity. We’ll just cover five simple tips. Try them all out and I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

1 – Watch a Good Documentary

Stick on the TV or go on YouTube. There are always great documentaries out there that you can watch and most of them won’t be any longer than an hour, so it won’t take up too much of your time. By watching any documentary about anything, you gain an insight into one specific subject – all the details from all the angles. Documentaries are also full of music, which enhances the total package of suggestions that the director is making. The subject really doesn’t matter. It could be about futuristic cars, coral reefs or polar bears – anything – just as long as it has a story! While you watch, pay attention to the structure, the sub-topics and look at how the music interprets these points.

2 – Use a Bit of Text as a Source of Lyrics

Lyrics and musical notes have an unbreakable bond with one another. If you’re struggling to find the notes, why not start with the lyrics? And why not even use an extract from another source to start you off. The text you pick doesn’t have to fall exactly on the beat – it doesn’t even have to be the definitive text – you’re just looking for a starting point.

To give you an example of how simple this can be: Say you open a chat on WhatsApp to find out what your mate’s up to and see the words:

Last seen today at 02:45”

Why not try taking this simple, if not bizarre line and use it as a source of inspiration for a melody? Of course, you can play with the words later if you find yourself with one too many or too few syllables. For example:

Last seen * to-

Day At * two

Forty * five

* * * *

Using the * as a rest, you get four syllables per line, with a stress on the first beat. Even by just reading through these simple lines, it’s likely that a little melody will start to form. And that’s how it works! Basically, if you think you have writer’s block, sometimes you should stop thinking too much and just do something. Once you’ve discovered your melody you can tweak the text and replace any words you want.

3 – Random Images

This approach is actually a bit similar to watching a documentary, but has the potential to get a bit more abstract. With a documentary, you get a set of moving images that are focussed on a subject and you don’t necessarily have the time to notice every detail. With a single, static image, you have all the time in the world to study every detail. Rather than focussing solely on the main subject, you can study the background, and it’s these kinds of details that can tell their own story. Why is that figure wearing that costume? Why is there someone standing in a bush? What’s with the sad expression on that guy’s face? What’s the weather like and what time of year could it be? The point of this tip is that you start asking questions and providing the answers yourself. This is exactly how stories are created and stories are ripe subject matter for writing music. Film soundtrack composers do exactly this kind of thing every day – it’s their job. They maybe have a month or so to complete the score and have no room for any writer’s block if they want to meet their deadline. In short, take your time over this and see what kind of musical story the process can help to write.

4 – Random Words

Words with more than one syllable always have one or more stresses. Any melody also includes stresses, so we can take advantage of this. Take a random word like ‘discography’, which can easily be sung over the classic from Mary Poppins, ‘Chim Chim Cheree’. Want another one? Let’s take a couple of words… like, ‘insect spray’. Say the words out loud and, what do you hear? That’s right: a melody! All going well, you can clearly hear that the stresses lie on ‘sec’ and ‘spray’, while the ‘in’ lies on an up-beat.

Sometimes, film composers use this trick as well. Cast your mind all the way back to Superman, released in 1978 and that now iconic John Williams soundtrack: ‘Baaaa ba ba ba baaaaa! Baaaa baaaa baaaa! Baaaa ba ba ba baaaaa! Su-per-maaaaaan!’ (I’ve included it below as a quick reminder). The fact is, even a couple of simple words can help you clear out that writer’s block.

5 – Random Numbers

82346373: this string of numbers was generated by blindly mashing the number keys of my keyboard. As you might have guessed, this tip is way more abstract than any of the other tips in this blog, but it can lead to some surprising results. Take this seemingly random string of numbers and they can easily be converted into pitches – the higher the number, the higher the pitch. You can also do something like this: +8 -6 +1 +1 +2 -3 +4 -4, which can easily translate into notes. Another fun tip: loop the numbers in step-time from left to right, where you place a note on even numbers and create a rest on odd numbers. You could even make a longer sequence of numbers by adding the square of each number from the first sequence, giving you a completely fresh set of numbers to play around with.

The options are literally endless! There’s a whole universe of ideas out there, and it’s not about how you created a melody from scratch but about how you seize the opportunity to create a melody as it floats in front of your nose.

Have any methods of your own for shrugging off a bout of writer’s block? Or have you tried out one of these tips and want to share the results? Let us know in the comments!

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