No matter who you are — from Leonard Cohen to your favorite subway busker — if you’re a songwriter, you’re bound to hit some creative roadblocks from time to time. Some days, creativity just pours out of you, and some days, things just do not click. Instead of letting writer’s block get you down, try these five strategies to break through creative blocks and write great songs.
1. Save your drafts, and revisit them later
It's totally possible to have all the necessary ingredients to write a song but lack the right perspective to finish it. If you can't seem to cross the finish line on a song, go back to your original ideas (or new ideas altogether) and lay your song aside.
Sometimes it's just better to walk away from your work and re-visit it later. Re-visiting work helps you experience your work in a whole different way and maybe even discover something inspiring that you didn't see at first. I’ve abandoned many songs in the songwriting process and ended up finishing them after months and sometimes years.
2. Change the instrument you're writing on
It's entirely possible to focus too much on a chord inversion, tinkering around with a melody, or refining a chord voicing when songwriting. As a guitar player, I sometimes find myself overthinking chord inversions, tensions, and progressions to the point where the song might be completely mired in all of these technical details.
When I feel like the song is in such a musical cul-de-sac, I like to switch to an instrument that I'm less experienced with, such as piano. Every instrument is like a different language, so by switching to an instrument that's less familiar to you, you'll naturally think simpler. Simple is beautiful and sometimes all you need to finish a song is a light touch. In a creative roadblock, changing to a new instrument removes all of the overthinking and lets you get to the root of what you're doing —composing a song.
3. Switch up your location
Have you ever had a great song idea while walking down the street, talking to a friend, running, eating, sitting on the beach — anything other than actually songwriting? When it comes to creativity, our brains tend to work more efficiently as background processes. Sometimes the best way to get out of a creative block is to change your location — simply going outside might be just the thing to power through.
In fact, this is not just a phenomenon related to music and the arts: Einstein, for instance, would play his violin when he was stuck with a problem he couldn't solve. Through this approach of conscious distraction, he was able to break through, and the rest is history. The same goes for songwriting; just getting out there and doing something else can be enough to finish a song.
4. Record and re-listen your practice sessions
Sometimes the best way to get rid of a creative block is to just start singing or playing. This stream-of-consciousness approach will help you work through the ideas in your head one by one. In fact, recording your practice sessions and re-listening them will not only help you identify your good and bad ideas but also help you develop and refine your existing structures.
Bonus: If you make this part of your regular songwriting sessions, you'll develop a library of ideas to use with future songs.
5. Disconnect entirely
To supercharge a productive writing session, try leaving your laptop at home and go old school with a notebook and pen. Write your music on paper – it helps to see the ideas come to life right in front of you in your own handwriting. Don’t let social media, news, videos, or other daily tasks distract you from your art. Find a quiet place to work, disconnect, and focus on getting to the essence of your music.
So, there you have it — five strategies I regularly use to get rid of creative roadblocks. You might discover and develop new strategies yourself, so leave your favorite writer's block-busting hacks in the comments!
Alper Tuzcu is a composer, guitarist, and a producer. His second album Aurora was released last year by Palma Records and his debut album Between 12 Waters features eight different vocalists from eight different cultures. An alumni of Berklee College of Music and Denison University, he also regularly teaches workshops and master classes internationally. For more information, you can visit his website and check out his music at Spotify.