In my two years teaching songwriting at Berklee College of Music, I've had a lot of students ask me how to overcome writer's block after they couldn't finish their homework and spent hours staring at the page in frustration, asking themselves why today they couldn't do what seemed so dumb and easy last week.
Usually the conversation goes like this:Student: "I couldn't finish my song. I have writer's block."
Me: "What happened? How far did you get?"
Student: "Like a verse and a pre, but it's not good enough, so I stopped."
Me: "Good enough for whom?"
Student: "Good enough for me!"
Me: "Then stop writing for yourself, and start writing for someone else!"
The problem is this: songwriting is a skill, and the only way to learn a skill is to do it a lot. Just like you have to do a lot of boring scales when you're learning guitar, you have to write a lot of bad songs when you're learning songwriting.
This all sounds very logical, but where songwriters go wrong is this: most people new to songwriting like to talk about their own life in their songs, and what's more important than your own feelings? Nothing! So they slave away on a lyric that never quite seems like a perfect representation of their emotions, and then get frustrated and stop.
That's writer's block. It's your own frustration with something that doesn't feel like it's good enough to finish. It's also completely detrimental to learning. Imagine stopping scale practice because you sound bad. No one would ever learn an instrument!
In songwriting, "doing your scales" means writing a lot of songs. Quantity over quality. Don't spend a month on a lyric. It might make the song better, but it won't make you a better writer. Spend a month writing one song a day instead. Hone your skill over the course of a lot of mediocre songs. After a while, your average will go up, and your worst song by day 300 will be better than your best song by day 10.
Which brings us back to writer's block. How can you write a song a day if you're stuck on a lyric because it's not the perfect representation of your own life? Don't write about your own life! Don't write for your own artist project, but write for your cousin who can't hold a tune! The less you care, the easier it is to finish up the song and move on. This is doing your scales. Spend less time writing more songs. Give yourself a deadline, like four hours, and figure it out. Just remember: in order to become a master at anything, you will need to spend 10,000 hours doing it.
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- When, How, and Why to Break the Rules of Songwriting
- 7 Easy Things You Can Do Right Now to Get Out of a Songwriting Rut
- How to Write Songs That Get Stuck in People's Heads
- How to Find Co-Writers
Benjamin Samama taught songwriting at Berklee College of Music from 2013–2015 and currently writes and produces pop music full-time in Los Angeles. His songs have been released by dozens of artists all over the world and enjoyed by millions. Click here to contact Benjamin if you'd like a one-on-one songwriting consultation with him.