A universal plague to all writers, even songwriters, is the seemingly insurmountable writer’s block. The words won’t come, the muse is on strike and the paper remains blank. This can happen to experienced and beginner songwriters alike, the only difference is experienced writers have a process to get around the block.
The good news is that your situation isn’t as hopeless as it feels. In fact, there are things that you can do in order to get the creative juices flowing again. One of the best cures is to borrow from the actors of the world and use some of the techniques that they employ when performing improvisational exercises.
This may seem like a strange idea, but it does make sense. In order for an actor to be truly successful, they need to learn how to tap into their creative, subconscious side. This is the same for songwriters. These exercises and tactics can help get you there.
Always Say Yes
Sometimes, a creative blockage happens when you constantly shoot down every thought and idea that you think is “stupid”. There is a time and a place for weeding down your thoughts and ideas. However, when you do this from the beginning, it can actually hold you back.
A popular improv exercise is called, “Yes, and”. It is meant to be done with two people, but you can easily do it yourself if you don’t have anyone to do it with. The first person asks the second to do something. The second person responds by saying, “Yes, and…”
For example, person number one could ask, “Do you want to go out for pizza?” The second person could say, “Yes, and after that let’s get a beer.” Set the timer and do this for ten minutes, rapidly thinking up questions and “Yes, and” answers.
Always responding with “yes” helps you stop shooting down all your ideas and loosens up your mind.
Sometimes, planning things out hurts creativity. “Going with the flow”, on the other hand, is good for creativity. This helps both actors and song writers.
Do you want to practice this for yourself? The number one thing you can do is pay attention to the moment and the actual task of writing, rather than planning the song out from start to finish. In other words, just start writing and “go with it”.
Actors are taught to do this when performing improv exercises because it shows them what feels natural. By planning every move, their movements look forced. The same goes for writing.
Just Show Up
Sometimes, showing up is more than half the battle. Actors, writers, and other creative professionals rely on their rituals to get them in the mood. If you don’t have rituals of your own, create them. This includes
• Choosing your environment.
• Creating rituals and routines.
• Pick a time each day to write, and be on time.
• Show up every single day.
This is one of the biggest secrets. When you are on time, it puts you in the mood to write and will clear any blocks.
Stick with the habit and it will see you through the rough patch. Other songwriting tips include being prepared for the muse to strike suddenly. Carry a recorder or notebook so inspiration doesn’t pass unnoticed. While formulas can be helpful to get in the swing of writing, don’t rely on the same formula all the time. The songs will feel like a broken record. Beginner songwriters tend to follow someone’s map as soon as they feel stumped. Try not to fall on that safety net.
Try on a different perspective. Is the voice of your story a good guy? Bad guy? Somewhere in between? Is the perspective the one who holds power through the story, or is he/she a victim? Stories can emerge simply by playing with the possible dynamics of characterization. Whatever voice appeals, commit to it for the duration of the song. A wavering, weak characterization can ruin the voice’s credibility. A strong voice will allow the audience to connect. Be specific regarding the experience. Resist dumbing down the story or characters. Give the audience some credit: they aren’t stupid and neither are you. Turn a phrase or two; don’t be afraid to say things in a new or clever way.
As songwriters, you can borrow from the acting world and learn how to use these improvisational techniques to help your writing and clear any blogs. Now off you go, try this for the first time now!