Overcoming songwriter’s block: The moment of revelation

Songwriter’s block is a very frustrating feeling many songwriters struggle with at some point or another in their musical life. A period of time when the ideas dry up and nothing seems to inspire them anymore. Or else, they may still get inspired but find it hard to turn their ideas into actual songs.

I have struggled with songwriter’s block for two consecutive years. At some point, fear and doubt started creeping in and the more doubtful I became about my abilities, the less inspired I felt until at some point I quit writing songs altogether. I just kept practicing guitar on a daily basis, hoping that if I learned more scales, more guitar riffs and if I became a better musician, songwriter’s block would magically go away.

After two frustrating years, songwriter’s block did go away, though getting rid of it had nothing to do with becoming a better musician. (Better musicianship will help you write better songs, but musical skills have nothing to do with beating songwriter’s block)

What allowed me to start writing songs again was a moment of revelation. All of a sudden it dawned on me that hey, I had been writing songs before the block creeped in. Songs that were far from perfect. Some were downright mediocre, and for sure I needed to work a lot on my songwriting skills. Yet, with whatever skills I had, I had been writing songs before, and a few of them were pretty decent.

I realized that inspiration couldn’t have possibly dried up. That if I paid attention, in a single issue of a newspaper I could find enough inspiration to write a whole album!

I realized above all, that the block was something completely artificial created by my own mind and that it had absolutely nothing to do with my musical skills.

The cause of my own songwriting block back then was related to insecurity about my musical abilities.

What is causing your block may be the same thing or something completely different but there’s a pretty good chance that insecurity about something is the main obstacle between you, and the songs you want to write.

These three simple steps will help you detect the specific thoughts that are causing your block and show you how to correct them so that you can beat songwriters block and reach your own moment of revelation.

Step 1: Put yourself in a state of relaxation

This might seem obvious but there is a particular reason I’m including this step. We’re about to deal with emotions and it’s very hard to control and objectively assess your own emotions if you’re already in a tense state. Relax your muscles, take a few deep breaths and get ready to do some quality thinking.

Step 2: Identify the cause

Songwriter’s block nearly always boils down to negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, and that ghastly enemy of most artists – self judgement.

The most pitiful victim of self judgement is probably the composer Antonio Salieri who literally went mad by obsessively competing with Mozart in his head. Salieri was in reality a great composer who would have become known more for his compositions than for his insanity, had he realized that being better and more recognized than Mozart wasn’t the right goal to pursue.

In order to beat songwriter’s block you need to identify the cause of your negative emotions. Are you comparing yourself to others? Is there a “should” in your head that you’re trying to live up to? Are you afraid you will write sloppy music? That you’ll never write a song you’ll proudly share with others? That you’re just wasting your time and will never come up with something decent?

While there may be different factors contributing to these negative emotions, there is an element that’s in common in all of them: Beliefs that are disempowering, irrational and downright wrong.

Step 3: Correct your beliefs

Our beliefs affect our lives all the time. They influence whether we’re going to feel happy, or miserable. Whether we’re going to succeed in something, or to fail.

They also determine how long beating songwriters block will take us.

Salieri’s misery wasn’t due to the fact that he wasn’t great enough as a composer. It was caused by his unreasonable belief that the only way to be worthy as a person and as a musician, was to be better than Mozart.

Since I’m pretty sure you’re not having songwriter’s block because you know you’ll never surpass Mozart, here are some common incorrect beliefs about writing songs that can lead to a mental block:

  • That if you can play an instrument, you should automatically be able to write songs.

Being a good player definitely helps your songwriting but if you’re a good player and yet, can’t write a good song, don’t assume it’s because it “isn’t in you” or that you’re not creative. Songwriting is a separate skill that may still need to be developed and creativity is also something that can be trained.

  • That you need to become a better musician before you can start writing songs.

If you can play basic chords and keep a rhythm, you should start developing your songwriting skills now, not wait until you’re a more advanced player.

Remember, songwriting requires different skills than playing an instrument. Thus you can be a beginner guitar player and a beginner songwriter at the same time. Your songs will be simple and far from perfect, but you would have set the ball rolling, and writing a song you’re proud of, may come sooner than you may think.

Tip: If you practice your instrument, write songs, as well as learn music theory you will get a compound effect and the result is that you’re not just a becoming a good player, or songwriter, but a well-rounded, complete musician.

  • That you should write a song everyone will like

Don’t even go there. It will never happen.  Some people will not like your song, no matter how good your song is. Don’t let fear of rejection cause you musician’s block, instead accept the fact that your song will be rejected by some people and appreciated by others.

If you have any doubt about this, take a look at how music critics treated bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath in the early days, before they proved everyone wrong spectacularly.

  • That you need to out-perform yourself every time you write a new song.

While you should always aim to write better songs, some songwriters get caught in the trap of comparing themselves to their former selves, fearing that the song they’re writing in the present will be perceived as inferior to songs written or published in the past.

In reality, you’re expressing different emotions with different songs and it’s impossible to measure objectively which song is better than which.

  • That writing a crappy song is a waste of time.

The song may end up thrown away but while you were writing it you were developing your songwriting skills and exercising your creativity. Great songwriters write songs (or parts of songs) they don’t like and throw them away all the time. If they blocked out of fear they might be writing something that’s going to be thrown away, they would have written neither the crappy songs nor the hits.

The revelation

After two years during which I didn’t write a single song, it suddenly dawned on me that my songwriter’s block, was nothing more than an obstacle created by my own imagination due to incorrect and disempowering beliefs. That the song was there just waiting to be written and all I had to do was to actually write it.

A sudden rush of energy took over me as I ran to write my first song in two years. After writing a few verses of a song I had called “City of Aliens”, I decided I didn’t like the way it was going. I played with some ideas around for a while but they didn’t seem to be making a lot of sense and eventually, I threw the whole song away.

But that didn’t matter. The spell was broken. I was free. I had realized that the potential to write songs had been there all along, and that the two wasted years were the result of mental fiction. I decided that from then on I would never allow unreasonable beliefs hurt my creative process and spoil the fun of writing songs again.

I have never had any sort of musician’s block again since then. I have taught myself to detect the disempowering thoughts as soon as possible and reach for emotion, the source of inspiration.

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2 thoughts on “Overcoming songwriter’s block: The moment of revelation”

  1. Yup, you were spot on in telling us that it’ll be easier to write songs once we’ve eradicated negative thoughts. This is the kind of trick my cousin should consider doing because she wants to create an original song for a talent show this holiday season. Perhaps contacting a coach is what she must do sooner or later to get things started.

    1. Getting a coach is not a bad idea. I learned songwriting by doing it rather than studied it formally. However I did study music theory formally and read a lot of books about songwriting.

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