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Write, Move, Play: Creative Ways to Escape a Songwriting Rut

by Drew Evans
music & audio

songwriting rut

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For musicians and songwriters, every day has a different result. Monday might feature the best performances and the best songwriting you have ever done, while Tuesday might just be the worst. It’s not surprising — all creatives have moments of mental mind-blocks that can debilitate and stall the creative process — but as a songwriter, it can be especially hard, when it feels like every word you pen sounds like an unoriginal cliché. Luckily, there are a few ways to shake yourself out of a songwriting rut.

When you get the feeling that your work is getting stale, these tools described by Pledge Music can help:

Write Things Down: It doesn’t particularly matter whether you use a notebook, a pad of paper, a napkin, or tattoo ink on your forehead – write things down (ok, maybe don’t get a rough draft on your face). If you see something that makes you feel good, write it down. Does it make you feel sad, depressed, or angry? You know the drill: write it down. Having the ability to capture the different events that cause your emotions to change might just be a great way to get out of any rut that you feel. Something as insignificant as a cloud or a quote could alter the way you write.

Get Out, Work Out: Although it might sound useless, working out can also lead to more creativity. In a very non-scientific way, freeing your body from focusing on what you aren’t creating can help you rest your mind and give yourself an energy boost. Alternatively, if you aren’t the work out type, just getting outside can be great. A lot of our creativity comes from nature itself, so taking some time to be outside and enjoy what is around you might just be the break you need.

Watch and Learn: Surprisingly, watching a movie may also be a good source of inspiration. Yes, I know, it sounds like the exact opposite of what you should be doing when you’re trying to create and write a song. But there is something helpful about seeing what other people have created, especially in a similar, story based way. Writing a song is about connecting emotionally through stories, whether personal or not. A movie is the same thing, as they often offer good examples of what human emotions can be.

Do What You Want: Take an afternoon or a day to really focus on something that you want to do. Whether something you haven’t done before, or something you absolutely love to do, giving yourself some truly enjoyable free time might give your brain the break it needs. Sometimes, artists run into the problem where they are on emotional overload, trying too hard to create something beautiful. By doing something that just sounds fun can ease that emotional pressure that might be overwhelming you.

And Now, For Something Completely Different: For some, being creative in different ways might build confidence. Sketching, sculpting, painting, or anything else artistic can very easily lead you to build up your creative mojo and make you feel better about your own expertise. Don’t worry about how terrible your art turns out to be. Just getting the creative juices flowing can lead to something positive.

Be a Child: Don’t literally act like a child. But most children have a very personal item that makes them feel safe. For a student, sitting at the same desk every day can lead to increased learning and better test taking over prolonged periods of time. For an artist, the idea is similar. Find a specific chair, or a favorite song, or even just a time of day during which you feel most creative. By sitting in that same chair, listening to that same song, or writing at the same time of day can actually make your brain feel more creative, and put you in the mood.

Take a Vacation: You don’t need to leave your own city, but a complete change of pace might have a similar effect on your creativity. Getting in too much of a routine might not push your creative limits. Taking a trip, even if it’s just to the other side of town, might allow you to see things in a different way.

Read! Similarly to watching a movie, reading can spark all sorts of creativity. Authors are writers for a living, so paying attention to how other people use words and phrases in a beautiful way can push you to write in a different way. Any writing source can be helpful, whether blogs, poetry, novels, or comics. You see the world one way, so reading and understanding how others see things can be an interesting change.

Music: Listening to other music might seem a bit counterintuitive. The point, though, is not to listen to how great everyone else is and think about how much trouble you are having. Music creates emotion, and listening to music you genuinely enjoy can help you break that emotional rut. The key here is not to feel worse about your abilities, because every artist is going for something different. Like reading, listening to music can help you understand music and language in a different way.

Become Gordon Ramsay: Presumably, most people aren’t world-class chefs. A lot of people don’t cook much at all. Though it might feel like a waste of time, cooking is an easy way to start, and complete, something in a short amount of time. The creative process can take days, even weeks or months, to finish altogether. That feeling of accomplishment might go missing, and that can lead to stagnation. But cooking can help you feel a sense of completion, just by starting and finishing a meal by yourself.

Ask Questions: Like some of the previous points, a big change can be something as little as seeing a different perspective. When you are out with family or friends, keep an ear out for stories. If an interesting one grabs your attention, make sure to ask questions and get details. You may have done something one way for your entire life, but hearing someone having a similar experience (or the opposite) can have a jarring effect on your understanding.

Most importantly, stop judging yourself. Many creatives build something great, but have such ridiculously high standards for themselves that they’re never satisfied. Sometimes creativity takes a few tries. Continually judging yourself and only seeing your mistakes, however, can cause those few tries to turn into a never-ending cycle of try and try again. The more you write, the more likely you are to find something that works. And if it doesn’t, you might find one piece that fits together with another.

Source: Pledge Music

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Drew Evans

Drew is a Seattle-based freelance writer. He spends too much time playing music, binging on Netflix, and watching his beloved Philadelphia sports teams.