There is nothing more frightening than a blank sheet of paper when you have something to write. Unless of course, my Uncle Frank is drinking again and asks you if you want to see his “pygmy elephant”. Never, ever say yes.
But that is a story for a completely different time, more than likely in a court of law.
So the major question that I’m asked all the time by imaginary people for the sake of continuing this column is “Hey Steve, how do you fight against writer’s block?”
So I say to them “Hey, imaginary people who didn’t really ask me the question in the first place…I just start to write and see what happens”. Typically at this stage of the conversation, my medication has started to kick in and the voices go away.
There is however, a nugget of truth nestled in with the psychosis – which is that action is the enemy of any mental block that you may be having.
(For relieving physical blocks, try eliminating cheese from your diet.)
So, what happens when you’ve been trying to write a song for a while and things just aren’t coming to you? Just play. Play and hum, hum and play. If you have the chord progression down, take a page from the great Steven Tyler and start humming and scatting along with what you’re playing. I know that you’ll end up sounding like those douche bags from high school who would sing the chorus to “Shook Me All Night Long” really loud at the dance, and then when the verses would come along they’d lower their heads and their voices and mumble along spewing the odd word that they knew until they got back to the chorus at which time they’d raise their heads really high and belt out the words as if they’d been singing all along and the really pretty girls would go out with them even though I knew all the words to the whole song plus I could play the whole rhythm part on guitar and could air guitar the other part really well and I was nice and she never noticed me at all…damn you Sarah Pinkerton!!!
Wow. Sorry. What was I talking about?
Oh yeah. Writer’s block.
I guess that’s evidence that even – or perhaps especially – when you don’t know where something is going – the best thing to do is to start. And, like your car, when your “creative starter” doesn’t work well, you can either jump start it, or bump start it.
Jump starting is plugging into another source – listening to someone else’s music, reading their lyrics, practicing their solos. This is one way of inspiring your creative mind to come up with something different. A potential drawback though is that what results can be a bit derivative. This is why most of my recent songs can be compared to Jason Mraz’s, in the same way that the Frankenstein monster can be compared to…Jason Mraz. Essentially the same raw material, but still a few DNA strands short of genius.
A bump start, however, is a different story. When you bump start a car, you use the energy that it already has to force the engine to crank. You coast for a while down a hill (which is much easier than making it coast up a hill) then you pop the clutch and…PRESTO…you’re started and can drive to any destination you choose. Bump starting your way out of a songwriting funk follows the same principles. Just start playing chords and chord progressions that you already know. Keep playing them and just enjoy the way they sound. Is there a different tempo that you can put to them? A new feel? A new chord at the end? In the middle? What would it sound like if it were Reggae? What if it were a waltz? What if it were sung by William Hung? It doesn’t matter, just play.
Eventually, you will have bump started your playing to include a new song, or a new feel to an old song. Either way, you’ve broken free from a block, and are creating music.
The most important thing to remember when you’re creating this music is that the creativity is the key, not necessarily the results. The stuff that you come up with may sound worse than listening to your grandparents doing it, but then again, maybe it won’t.
Let go of the result and just focus your efforts on the actions. The results will follow, I promise.
Well, there we have it. From staring at a blank page, I have completed a column
discussing the very thing that could have prevented me from completing the column. All of this, plus a very valuable lesson:
Stay very far away from my Uncle Frank when he’s drinking.
To find out more about Steve, click HERE