How do you beat Writer’s Block as a Musician?

How do get creativity flowing again? (Cartoon by Ronnie Tucker)

How do get the creativity flowing again? (Picture by Ronnie Tucker)

Have you ever had writers block or noticed that you have struggled to create something musical? Over the years I have come to realise that limitations can be liberating when it comes to creativity. Make sure  you leave tips, suggestions and ideas in the reply section below. I will add the best tips to the list. 

After sitting at my keyboard for a whole Saturday and half of Sunday, the realisation that I had no ideas with which I was happy, weighed heavy on my mind. I had spent 10 or 11 hours with manuscript paper and pen in hand and my page was empty apart from scribblings out. My Logic arrange page was empty and I was thoroughly dispirited.

zero ideas...

The Sad Screen of Zero Ideas

Then a call from my friend Martin to say he was going to a concert and he would pick me up en-route in an hour, launched me into action. I worked furiously for that hour, and scribbled idea after idea. The passing of time went into some hyperdrive-like experience, with me sketching ideas for all the different sections of the piece I was writing. A text from my friend announced that he would be 10 minutes late and I was almost ecstatic that I had been granted extra time in an important creative process. I worked furiously and more ideas flowed. Eventually, he arrived and I was so absorbed in what I had been writing that I could hardly speak.

When judgement goes, creativity flows. (Cartoon by Ronnie Tucker)

When Judgement Goes, Creativity Flows. (Cartoon by Ronnie Tucker)

So what happened?
Being creative is quite a pressure on us as our musical ear and skills develop. As I discuss in my book, we need to catch ourselves off-guard, finding that excitement and lack of judgement in what we do. As an educator, I find young song writers becoming so judgemental about their own material that they often end up writing nothing.
How do we turn that judgement or creative blocking off?
In my own experience, I learned that plenty of time does not equal plenty of creativity. So when I have lots of time, I limit it by planning to go out in an hour or inviting an old friend round to introduce an element of value to the time I have.
This seems to turn the quality judgement barrier off and I tell myself that I can refine the composition later. Refining ideas is where real musical skills come in and not in creating the initial ideas themselves.
Other ideas to switch creativity on are to limit the notes I will use or picking a subject at random. Setting myself an arbitrary set of limitations to narrow down the scary vast desert-like expanse of creative possibilities always works for me. I can then widen out the creative field once I have started. Have you always wondered why the best parties happen in the kitchen? There was no expectation that there would be a party happening in the kitchen. Creativity and time are like that party in the kitchen. (Apologies for the random analogy)

After chatting with my drummer friend, Sam Brown, I realised that creative people often use a range of different strategies to get work done. Sam told me tales of being on the island of Skye for 4 days with no TV, phone or internet and it being a most creative and productive time!

What limitations can you impose to get you started?
How can you turn the ominous task of composing into a fun challenge?

There are many more ideas about creative processes in my how to become a confident performer book at confidentperformer.co.uk

So in short,

  • Limit your creative window by inviting somebody over at a given time
  • Limit the amount of notes you might use in your composing
  • Set yourself a task to write about a very strange subject
  • Find out when you are most creative and schedule such work at this time
  • If an idea seems a bit weak, leave it, start a new idea and come back to it later
  • Note any ideas you have in the day and come back to your notes later
  • Collaborate with other people when you feel stuck
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About clivemusic

I have taught music, enabling musicians to be confident about performing for over 20 years. I also train teachers and trainers to be confident in the classroom. Keyboard, piano and composing, arranging and singing are my musical loves. I love performing and play Jazz with a Quartet and also sing and direct my own Barbershop Quartet called The Sherlock Combs. I used to be an incredibly nervous performer, suffering from stage fright and through teaching music and learning many mind training techniques, come with me on a journey to confident performing.
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6 Responses to How do you beat Writer’s Block as a Musician?

  1. tjbarker says:

    Clive, Terrific post! I’m a science fiction writer, not a musician, and I loved your take on writer’s block in a musical composing context. Hadn’t really thought of it in that context, and it’s reassuring to know musicians can also feel “stuck.”

    I liked best: i) having a limited time to work on a project (better than having all day), ii) picking a strange (or random) subject to write about, and iii) leaving a weak idea rather than continuing to hammer away at it, come back later. – great thoughts!

    In terms of my suggestions, I’d like to pass on two ideas:
    1) When I get stuck, I have started a dialog between my “organizing writer” and my “inner creative writer” in which I ask the inner creative writer what they’d like to work on. Usually it’s something playful or inventive, which leads into a good piece. Often they will express fear – fear of ruining what’s already brilliant in the on-going project, fear of being disappointed if nothing great comes out, etc. Once that inner creative writer has expressed the fear, I find it’s much easier to move forward and attempt something new on the project, rather than shrugging off writing and going to do the laundry, talk to friends on FB, etc. BTW, these voices are different than “writer” and “editor” – they are more like left-brain, right-brain, I suppose!

    2) I have a weekly appt. with a writing colleague that we call “writing study group” – we meet in a library or cafe and chat (briefly) about where we’re at in our projects. Then somehow it feels easier to move forward on a scene or piece when I’m sitting in the presence with a colleague who’s doing the same – it’s like we hold the creative space between us.

    Thanks, Clive! – great article and terrific question. – Theresa (TJ)

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  2. tjbarker says:

    Clive, great question! Thanks!

    I am working on two novel-length projects right now. One is a magic realism story about God-as-systems-engineer coming to earth to try to get humans enlisted to put the planet right, while Lucifer wants to get into the act using music instead (ala Live Aid), and both run into problems. The second is a near-future story about a remote desert town that leases land to a glass-energy company and the woman in the town who falls in love with the company truck driver, the “Daylight Saving man.”

    How about you, what direction are you taking your music in? I see you do jazz and have an 8-voice group – how exciting! – Theresa (TJ)

    Like

    • clivemusic says:

      They are complex projects! You are very creative, nay, EXTREMELY creative! Wow. At the moment I am playing a few solo gigs to push my comfort zones. Normally I play with a band or sing with the vocal group. It’s all a journey! I’d like to run some more confidence workshops soon too. I like working with people on this. It feels right to do so. 🙂

      Like

  3. tjbarker says:

    Clive, I love that you are doing solo gigs to expand your experience. I’m thinking about how I might translate that to my fiction experience – thanks for the inspiration! – Theresa

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  4. tjbarker says:

    Reblogged this on TJ Barker and commented:
    Writers – have you struggled with Writer’s Block? I’d like to share a creative and intriguing post from Clive Music on his Confident Performer blog.

    Musicians run into challenges with Writer’s Block also, and Clive’s suggestions are relevant for us fiction writers as well. Thanks, Clive!

    Like

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