For me, creativity rarely flows like a continuous stream. In fact, more often than not, it comes in violent volcanic bursts. We’ve all had those stretches where songs seem to fly out with ease and other times where we stare down at our instrument or notepad for hours and nothing seems to really work. Sometimes this can stretch out over days, into weeks. or even months or longer. That feeling of burnout — when writing feels like a chore — can be brutal. So, what exactly causes this writer’s block and what can be done about it?
I can really only speak for myself, but typically when I have extended periods where I am not excited about anything, there is usually some underlying expectation that isn’t being fulfilled. In other words, I have an idea in my head of how something should sound, but my fingers don’t want to cooperate. In most cases, it is only when I completely abandon this line of thinking that flow starts to return. I can remember a few years ago when I came up with the idea to compose an album consisting of only stoner metal songs. After the first one was finished, I sat down to write the next one and all I could think of was how much I wanted to write a doo-wop song. I couldn’t for the life of me conjure up the ability to repeat what I had previously done.
I have always marveled at musicians that seem to be able to write songs with a consistent sound to them. There is a lot of pressure put on popular artists to stay within a certain predictable box, otherwise they may alienate the fanbase. I can’t imagine how difficult this must be when it comes to the composition process. Perhaps this is why many musicians develop side projects or take years between albums.
But, even when all expectations are thrown by the wayside, there will be times where the process still feels stagnant. This seems unavoidable. One thing I like to do during these periods is to learn a song by an artist that has a vibe totally different than I am accustomed to. Once I feel I have captured the essence of the piece, I then try to write my own interpretation of the feeling being expressed in the original song. Most of the time, my composition goes way off into some unexpected direction, bearing no resemblance to the original. But, the act of simply learning that new song can serve as a great teeing off point when I am stuck in a rut. At the end of the day, it’s all about continuing to pick up your instrument and finding new ways to make an old process feel new and exciting again.