Beat Writer's Block with These 8 Techniques

October 2, 2017

Writer’s block is the inability to come up with musical ideas. This guide is going to help you get those creative juices flowing. Flow is the state of mind you enter when you’re focused intently on an activity. It’s not just music producers who experience this heightened state. Chefs, athletes, writers and anyone who’s told you that they’re “in the zone” has experienced flow before. When writer’s block hits, an individual loses the ability to enter this state. Trying to write music when you aren’t flowing is the worst. It’s frustrating, feels like a chore and the worst part of all is that you don’t know when you’ll be able to write again. The following methods are trap lord approved and dad hat certified ways to help you beat writer’s block.

1. Stream of Consciousness Writing

Drivelling written word vomit. This exercise is one of my favourites when I’m stuck. The goal is to write whatever it is that you’re thinking of for 15 minutes straight. At first you may say, “I can’t do this. I have nothing to write.” The written content doesn’t matter one bit. The important thing is that you keep your pen moving across the paper (typing on a keyboard doesn’t have the same effect). Go out and get a notebook or find a piece of scrap paper and just start writing down whatever it is that your head's inner monologue is saying. If the first thing you catch yourself thinking is “I can’t think of anything,” write it down. From there, use the momentum to continue spewing whatever nonsensical bologna it is that has made its way to the front of your mind. After a minute or two, I usually find that I’ll start letting out things that actually mean something to me. These are usually things I’m worried about, things I’m looking forward to, things I’m scared of, etc. Once the writing becomes easy (it will after a few minutes, I promise), you’ve tapped into a state of flow. I’ll often go back to the journal I write in and use it for inspiration in my songwriting. This method is great if you’re a songwriter in need of content. Stream of consciousness writing can help break through whatever barriers were holding you back in the studio. It allows you tap into a state of flow and can often result in meaningful written content.

2. Drawing Mandalas

A mandala is a geometric design stemming from a single point. It typically stems off in 8 directions and is created by adding one line at a time to each stem. If you add a straight line to one stem, you must add it to all of the stems. If you then add a squiggly line to one stem, you must add it to all of the stems. This is a great way to get your hand moving effortlessly, and enter a state of flow. Creativity is the act of making decisions. The point of this exercise is to start making decisions effortlessly. Does it really matter if you add a line bending left or right? No. It's just important that you make a decision and move on. Getting into this mindset and producing while in this care-free state will help to exponentially increase the amount of content you're able to create. Regardless of how artistic you are, everyone is capable of drawing dots, lines and squiggles. Mandalas pretty much always end up looking cool, so it’s a real confidence boost when you finish one.

Hand-drawn mandala

3. Sitting in Silence

A technique that a couple of my peers really enjoy is sitting in silence. You’re probably thinking, “I do this all the time.” Being on your phone, watching TV and listening to the radio in your car does not count as sitting in silence. Finding 15 minutes of silence during the day can be rather difficult, especially if you have roommates who blast riddim 24/7. The good news is that it won’t last forever… right? I can’t… can it? Please send help.

Anyways, sitting in silence can actually be terribly uncomfortable the first time you do it. Being alone with your thoughts and truly listening to what’s on your mind can be frightening. This exercise forces you to face your thoughts head on. For most people, creativity comes when the mind is calm. Taking time to address any issues you may be experiencing in your life is healthy and helps tremendously with siphoning creativity.

4. Listening to Music

Sometimes you just need a little inspiration. I’ll usually start by finding a song I love and then try to figure out what it is that draws me to that song. Maybe the bassline is super funky and really gets me bobbing my head, or maybe the screamo vocals that sound like vocal chords being pushed through a cheese grater get me really amped up. Whatever it may be, I’ll steal the essence of the song and apply it to my own.

5. Jamming Out

I’m by no means some type of instrument-playing savant, but messing around on piano or guitar almost always results in some cool ideas. Rhythm, melody and harmony come much more naturally when you’re playing, as opposed to when you’re programming.

If you can’t play instruments, don't worry about it. You can take a couple of wooden spoons and smash out some KJ Sawka drum fills. Trying to write a lead line? Just sing that puppy out. I use traditional instruments to assist in my creative process, but not having them is no excuse to limit your creativity.

6. Exercise

Exercise isn’t a quick fix for when I have writer’s block, but I find that regular exercise helps me avoid writers block from occurring in the first place. Writer's block still hits me more often than I would wish upon my worst enemy, but exercise plays a significant role in avoiding creative downtime.

7. Having a Shower

This one may seem a little weird, but think about it. This is one of the only places where you aren’t constantly being stimulated by technology. Most of the time your brain is running on overdrive thinking about which dank meme you could be missing on Facebook. How on earth could you possibly write music with that dreadful fear lurking over you? Having a shower is like entering a little creative bubble. By allocating yourself the necessary space and peace of mind required to be creative, taking a shower can help zap your mushy puddle of a brain back into the land of the living. An added bonus with this one is that you’ll smell great after the 12 hours you just spent processing vocals, crushing energy drinks and devouring Doritos like they were your spider mate.

8. Taking a Break

Just take a break. If you’ve been writing music for hours on end, you’re going to be tired. It’s ok to go play video games for a bit and then come back to writing music later. I know you’ve worked hard to achieve that pasty white producer’s tan, but I heard on the dark web that going outside may actually be good for you… still haven’t tested this theory myself though.

After trying out a couple of these tips, you’ll hopefully find a few that work for you. If you have any additional techniques for beating writer's block that you can’t live without, post them in the comment section below! I’d love to hear from you.

Charles is a Mixing and Mastering Engineer at Black Ghost Audio. After graduating from the University of Manitoba with an English degree, Charles continued his education at Icon Collective, a music production school based out of Los Angeles, CA. He is the founder of Black Ghost Audio, an audio engineering company that creates educational content for music producers. You can send him a work inquiry at www.blackghostaudio.com or contact charles@blackghostaudio.com.