Sunday, March 13, 2011

How to Deal with Writer’s Block

It's inevitable; if you're a songwriter, at some point you're going to face the dreaded "writer's block".  You're going to feel uninspired, you're going to feel pressured to create something and come up empty-handed.  Or would that be "empty-headed?"
The symptoms of writer's block are not limited just to songwriters, or even to writers in general. What it boils down to is a lack of creativity.  Whatever it is you create, you just don't feel like doing it.  You feel like you shouldbe creative, maybe you even want to be creative, but for some reason you just can't be.  And the longer it goes on, the more disconcerting it is.  After all, when you're the creative type and you feel like you can't create...?  At times, it can be enough to make you feel like you're losing more than just your edge.  We chuckle about it, but in reality it can be downright tormenting at times.
So how do you deal with it?  How do you get past writer's block, and get the creative juices flowing again?
The main thing to remember is that for most of us, anyhow, the harder we try to be creative, the less creative we become.  So the first step in overcoming writer's block, in my opinion, is to relax.  Take the pressure off.  Step away from the keyboard, put the guitar down, go to the mall, go see a movie, go hiking.  Whatever you do to unplug--do it.  Just breathe.
The next thing to remember is that while you can encourage inspiration, you can't force it. A songwriter friend of mine described his songwriting process: he says it starts with some sort of inspiration, which he can't take credit for, and then he takes that idea and works the f*** out of it.  A stark way of putting it, but it gets the point across.  Most creative people will attest that however we want to describe it, inspiration comes from outside ourselves--we can't conjure it up, we can't take credit for it, and we can't work ourselves hard enough to make it happen.  Inspiration comes to us first, THEN the work begins.  When we try to work that hard without the seed of inspiration--poof.  Writer's block.  Every time.
So...the bad news is, because we can't control when inspiration comes, we really have no way to make writer's block go away.  But the good news is--it's not our fault.  It's not something we're doing wrong--although we can certainly make things harder on ourselves.  And it does not mean we've lost our touch.
The other good news is that while we can't force inspiration, we can certainly put ourselves in a better position to find inspiration.  So when writer's block strikes, here are some practical things to do to help get through the process:

  1. Relax.  I said this before, but it's worth repeating.  The more you clench, the worse it's going to get, and the worse it's going to feel.  Take the pressure off your own shoulders.  No matter what deadlines you face, you do not have to "get creative" right this minute.  Relax.  I mean it.
  2. Find a change of scenery. By this, I mean shake up your routine.  Go do something you enjoy that you don't do that often.  Or literally, find a change of scenery--go take a day trip, or take three days if you can.
  3. Get around beauty. If you live near beautiful scenery (like I do, in Colorado), go find the beauty. Go to the mountains, or the ocean, or wherever you think it's beautiful.  Lots of creative people live in beautiful places, simply because beauty inspires us!
  4. Immerse yourself in the creativity of others.  Go to the museum, or take in a concert.  I, for one, know I'm hearing a good performer or songwriter when their music gives me ideas.  Creativity breeds creativity, and inspired work breeds inspiration.  Your soul needs this, so feed it.  This is one of the best ways you can treat writer's block.
  5. Live in the moment.  The thing about fighting writer's block is that it makes us lose perspective; we get so focused on accomplishing this one thing that we miss moments, and we stop living life.  Inspiration is all around you, but you won't perceive it if your attention are simply fixed in one direction.  (Not seeing the forest for the trees is a good analogy.)
  6. Finally--be patient.  Inspiration will come--maybe not right when you want it to, but it will come.  Wait for it patiently.  Easier said than done, I know.  But try.
The best news I can give you is that writer's block is not a permanent condition.  Inspiration will come back eventually, and you'll come up with great stuff again, maybe better than before.  By simply relaxing, taking the pressure off, and embracing the life and creativity around you, you might even hasten its return.
-Jeff McQ

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