Anyone who has even undertaken a creative endeavor has at one point or another experienced the frustration of creative block (and if you have never had to deal with this plague please get in contact as I would like to study you).
It happens to the best of us. You’re working on a song when all your talent, inspiration and motivation seems to pack up and take a vacation. You ignore that feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach and try to push through, write the next lyric, start on the bridge. But you’re paralyzed. You have nothing. Your mind is (gasp!) blank. You curse your brain for betraying you like this and get increasingly more frustrated.
Before you allow yourself to be fully embraced by the darkness of despair and self loathing, feeling like an impostor in this industry and wondering why you didn’t study to be an accountant like your father wanted, let’s take a deep breath. Ready? In. Out.
Now let’s take a look at why creative block happens and what you can actually do about it (hint: changing careers is not the answer).
Some common causes of creative block:
- Holding on – to something you may need to let go. This could be lyrics, a beat, a particular aspect of the piece you’re working on that just isn’t working. In writing, this is referred to as ‘killing your darlings’. It’s that perfect sentence that’s the best thing you’ve ever written and you love it like your first born, but it just throws the rest of the piece off. If you’re holding on too tightly to something that just doesn’t gel with the other aspects of your piece of music, trying to ram it in there is what could be causing you to feel creatively blocked. Recognize that it was a stroke of genius at the time but is no longer useful – kill that darling.
- A poor working environment – everyone is different when it comes to the ideal working space. Do you like to be surrounded by a cocoon of clutter? Or do you need a perfectly clear space for creative clarity? Do you like to work inside? Or do you do your best outside? Do you need perfect silence to think clearly? Or do you prefer some background noise? If you’re blocked creatively, it could be because the environment in which you’re trying to work is not ideal for your body or mind.
- Pressure – from deadlines or that you have put on yourself. Time management skills are important and can be very useful when navigating the world of work. But, when dealing with creative work, deadlines can be oppressive and daunting. If you are writing music to someone else’s deadline, make sure you negotiate a realistic timeline that you’re comfortable with.
Avoiding situations that might cause you to be creatively blocked in the first place is a great way to tackle the issue. As creative people, however, we all know that sometimes there is no apparent explanation as to why this plague is upon us.
Producer and Vocalizr co-founder Luke Chable likes to do some exercise to deal with writing difficulties so he goes for a run or a gym session. “I let my brain come up with the music naturally, rather than forcing it.” he explains. “I know from experience that if my brain naturally comes up with a melodic hook, it’s for a good reason and it’s usually solid the majority of the time.” Luke’s approach is a gentle one which allows the creativity to flow naturally. It works for him, but everyone is different and will respond better to different approaches.
So if you have found yourself between a rock and a blocked place, here are some practical things you can do about it:
- Walk away – Just like when dealing with a bully, if something is frustrating you and making you feel bad, the best thing you can do is walk away. Work on something else, catch up with a friend, physically walk away and take a stroll. Take a break from thinking about the problem project for a day a week or a month. You can then come back to it with a fresh mind.
- Try a different or new working environment – as mentioned above, the environment in which you work has a far greater impact than you may realize. If it’s not working for you do what you can to change it.
- Listen to some music – that inspires you and makes you feel good. After all that’s what we’re all here for, right? To make magic/music. Sometimes, reminding yourself of how powerful music is and how good it can make you feel is all that’s needed to put you in a better creative headspace.
- Walk or get some exercise – it gets your heart pumping and your blood flowing (hopefully up to your brain) and makes you feel more alive while forcing you out of the negative thought patterns that are contributing to your creative block. It also releases pent up tension and frustration leaving you refreshed and ready to tackle that topline.
- Approach it as fun –if you’re experiencing creative block you’re probably not enjoying working on that piece of music right now. Don’t push your way through it – it won’t get any more fun through sheer force. Think back to why you started writing music in the first place. What is it about making music that makes you happy? Remember that feeling, tap into it.
Creative block is frustrating and, sometimes, downright infuriating. But it doesn’t have to be all-consuming. It’s a part of the creative process (albeit an unwelcome one) and can be managed like any other part of that process. Yes, it’s hard to deal with, but it’s so worth it in the end. Because you’re creating music; you’re creating something that can touch someone’s life. That’s always worth working for.