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Unblock the writer within

Tip Published Monday 8 July 2013

Just start writing! Remove the pressure to create a perfect song and just put anything to the page

Mix up your process; maybe with a co-writing session, new instruments or new inspirations

Be patient, take the pressure off yourself and remember that the writers’ block with pass

Even the most talented and visceral songwriters see their creativity dry up from time to time. It’s possibly the most frustrating aspect of being a songwriter – when you put pen to paper and it feels like not even ink will sink into the page.

We sat down with Elizabeth Neal and Wayne Gillespie, two psychologists who specialise in helping creative types, to learn how to avoid falling into the negative cycle of writers block and what to do if you find yourself struggling there.

Elizabeth Neal

Wayne Gillespie

What causes writers block

So what’s going through your brain when lyrics and notes just don’t seem to fit together anymore?

Creative paralysis can be spurred on by any number of negative thoughts and external stress such as financial or relationship difficulties.

“Unhelpful thought processes about the capacity to perform, produce and create reinforce negative core beliefs, which block the flow of ideas,” says Elizabeth Neal.

“Anxiety can lead to perfectionism so the song is never finished to a writer’s satisfaction,” says Wayne. “If a writer is self-conscious they can end up being preoccupied with what the audience will think of their song and thus the flow of ideas stops in its tracks.”

If any of these states of mind sound familiar, there are a number of simple strategies that can help overcome the perils of writers block.

Get inspired

Wayne advocates allocating time to write regardless of how inspired you feel to write a song. “I think there’s more potential for frustration if our sole strategy is to just wait for inspiration,” says Wayne. “As Woody Allen says ‘80% of success is showing up,’ so you have to look for inspiration and not wait for it.“

Watch movies, read books, listen to the news and your favourite artists. If no new ideas are flowing in your allotted ‘writing’ time, switch to editing or building on unfinished and old ideas.

Change it up

Changing the way you usually write songs can also help free up your creativity.

According to Wayne, co-writing, seeking opinions from people you respect, writing in different ways and changing your surroundings can all help ‘unblock’ the writer within.

Elizabeth agrees. “Bypass the block and reboot the creative process by creating something entirely different to what you’re used to. For example, swap your instrument or choose a different musical style and create something you are less invested in.”

Just write something – anything!

Songwriters often get bogged down trying to write, edit and perfect at the same time, which can stagnate the creative process before it even begins. To conquer this habit, grab a pen and start to scribble.

“Separate the ‘editor’ from the ‘creator’,” says Wayne. “Brainstorm ideas first and leave the editing and evaluating until later…I often tell my clients ‘feel free to write the worst crap in the world.’

Lower the expectations you have of yourself – aim to start the process of writing a song rather than writing a completely original masterpiece.”

Be patient and see the bigger picture

After releasing his debut album to critical acclaim in the 1980s, Wayne Gillespie experienced a period of writers block himself. “I thought I would never write again,” he said.

“Eventually, a combination of having a break from trying to write and reducing the pressure I put on myself actually produced results. Now, 30 years later I know that these periods where ideas are scarce are inevitable but not permanent. I’ve learned to be patient and not panic during those times.”

Elizabeth Neal agrees. “Accept the fact that there will be stagnant phases and gaps during creative times and allow these to occur as part of the process,” she says. “Most importantly, try not to resist writers block as this may fuel the cycle further. Let it flow and see it as part of a bigger picture.”

Most songwriters are bound to have periods of creative stagnation. Rather than concentrate on the frustration of not being able to write, try to remember that ‘this too shall pass.’