photo by Daniel Farr
If you’ve read a decent amount of my posts on this site, you know that I’ve mentioned several times that I don’t get writer’s block. This doesn’t mean that I don’t get stuck! But when I do, I have ways to get through it.
There are times where I will sit down to write a cue and boom, a few hours later I have created something I love and feel proud to send to the client. There are also times, however, where I sit down to write and it’s a real struggle. Everything I come up with sounds trite, I feel lost and become frustrated. For “writer’s block” people, this is a sign that I’m just not feeling it today and had better check out what’s happening on social media. But instead, the right thing to do is figure out how to get unstuck.
The deep down and simple reason for getting stuck is that the given task is hard. Writing a three-minute piece of music to present to another person IS difficult for many reasons, and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise. Besides the actual labor involved, there are questions of quality, originality, meaning, etc.
Preparing a three-course meal is a lot of work and can seem daunting when you haven’t even stepped into the kitchen. But in the same way that putting a pot of water on the stove to boil is very easy, there are steps in the composing process that are very easy as well. And by focusing on those easy parts, you can become “unstuck” and keep moving forward.
A technique that is very useful for me is to write a lot of ideas. It sounds counterintuitive that when I’m struggling to write one good thing I should write many. But what I focus on is making the ideas very short and disposable. This takes care of both the “work” and “psychological” problems of writer’s block. If it’s only 2-4 measures long, I know that it won’t take very long. And if it’s disposable (meaning for my ears only) I don’t have to worry about achieving top quality or impressing someone to land a gig. It’s just an idea and it’s just for me.
My goal in these situations is to write at least three ideas that are 15 seconds long or less, a task which can easily be done in less than an hour. It’s a goal that is too easy to get stuck on, and therefore it works. The first idea is usually garbage; the second starts to show potential; the third is when things start to get interesting. By that point, I’m warmed up and intentionally trying to seek out new directions.
And what do I do if I’m STILL stuck getting started on the 3-ideas goal? I make the first idea a complete rip-off of something else. So I’ll find a reference track that is in the same world of what I’m trying to write, and do my own 4-bar knockoff. I’ll match it as closely as possible if I want to, it doesn’t matter because it’s sole purpose is to keep me working.
By that point instead of spending an hour procrastinating and sharpening pencils, I’ve spent an hour writing. More often than not there’s going to be something useable in those ideas which means that I’ve not only become unstuck, I’ve actually made some progress.
In order to keep yourself writing, you have to keep writing.