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Virtually Acoustic

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Writers Block (Kicking down the wall)
An article by Stephen A Chin

One of the phrases that I hear from songwriters more than any other is "I just can't write anything at the moment." Writers Block. It's common to all of us. There are times that we all seem to get stuck in a rut. It's a self-perpetuating problem. Writers Block leads to frustration, and frustration is rarely conducive to quality songs. You can't think of anything to write about, all the songs sound the same, or all the songs are rubbish.

These are three different problems, all of which are generally lumped under the concept of writers block. I'll look at each of these and consider ways around these.

All of the songs are rubbish
The solution… Write some rubbish. When you first begin writing you are generally more forgiving of poor quality. Sometimes it's because you don't know any better, and sometimes it's because you know less about the mystical craft of song writing, and sometimes it's because you have a lower expectation. If you don't know that a line is corny, why would you worry about it? If you don't know that you have to create an intricate rhyming scheme covering multiple subplots, and concerning yourself with consistent tenses, and poetic modes then you don't let it bother you. And finally, if you don't know that the line isn't the best that you can come up with then you won't lose sleep over it. However, the more practised, and learned we become, and the more critical we become then the more likely we are to dismiss it.

Someone, many years ago, told me something that changed the way I write songs quite dramatically. It's the mediocre lines that frame the exceptional lines. Basically, and listen to your favourite songs for an example, if every line is brilliant you stop being able to see the great lines. Even the greatest songwriters fill.

Also, don't consider every song you write as a gold coin. Treat them rather like a pocketful of loose change. Some will have a greater worth than others. And the more change you have the greater the number of valuable coins you are likely to have. Once you've written a few songs you start to realise that there are a lot of songs that may seem great on the day, and after a cooling off period have lost their sheen. Likewise, some songs that you write you may think of as poor, but if you return to them with a new perspective you may find that they are actually better than you first believed.

You can't think of anything to Write about
The first method for new ideas is to be someone else. There are hundreds of stories that have already been told in the world. And hundreds of stories that you know well from your own life. You will notice though that all of these stories are known to you from a certain perspective. Write the story of the ugly duckling from the point of view of the One of the swans. Or one of your relationships from the point of view of your partner. Rewrite your favourite song from someone else's view.

Next. Use alternative stimulus. Go and look in the news paper, or a magazine. There are a multitude of stories written in these daily. Try and imagine the story behind the story. Each story is someone's real life, or someone's real problem. Go out for a walk, or go into a Cafe or Pub. Listen to fragments of conversations, and finish them off. The people in these pubs, cafes or streets are a potential career of songs.

All the songs sound the same
Deliberately write a song out of style. If you normally write country Jazz tunes, then write a hip hop folk tune. Don't worry if it's a style that you don't know much about, or even don't like, the result is unlikely to come out sounding authentic, but it could be enough of a departure to get you out of your rut.

Play one of your existing songs backwards, or someone else's songs backwards. Take a song you know well, and change all the major chords to minor chords, and vice versa. Create a chord sequence with random or pseudo random chord progressions. Use Bach's technique for creating melodies from words. (i.e. Beach becomes Bb E A C B. Or Bid becomes Bb A D.) Take a well-known tune and use every other note or Chord. Whatever any of these techniques give you, be prepared to throw some or all of it away, but work at trying to make some things that sound alien, or wrong, work.

The above aren't guaranteed to get you writing. Sometimes you just aren't in the mood. But with the points outlined above you are much less likely to get stuck. You'll be practising your techniques and exploring your art. And at least you'll have something to do whilst you're waiting for that perfect song.


Writers Block (Kicking down the wall) ©2001 - 2018 Stephen A Chin & Virtually Acoustic.