The Easiest Way to Write Is by Forcing Constraints

Posted By: ryan On:

Photo by clement127

“Writer’s block” is not just for authors. Although I’ve never heard the phrase “composer’s block” before, anyone who has ever tried to create music from nothing knows that it’s the exact same struggle. The blank page (or screen) can be a nightmare. But writer’s block is something I never grapple with.

When discussing work with “non-creative” people, a common question is “do you ever gets writer’s block?”, and people are always surprised when I say no. It’s almost like they weren’t asking as much as telling me that they know I must. But my job is to write, so it would be a pretty sorry situation if I allowed myself to fail to write because I didn’t feel like it.

And the way to always have something to write is to force an arbitrary constraint.

By coming up with some sort of rule, or idea, or game, I can start generating ideas and get a piece flowing effortlessly. A key word here is arbitrary. There is no logical reason for this constraint, except for the fact that I know it will help me.

For example, I recently wrote a library cue for Dramedy underscore. The kind of thing for the background of a reality TV show. I decided before even sitting down at my workstation that I wanted to see if I could force myself to only do chord progressions with root movements by thirds.

Well, it turned out to be a very useful constraint; I managed to go from opening Logic to bouncing the audio file in only 43 minutes. This was because when I sat down at the keyboard there were only so many things my hands were “allowed” to do. Which meant that the initial idea came to me pretty much instantly! The rest of the work was just filling in the details.

Here’s the result, not a masterpiece by any means but a perfectly usable underscore reality TV track for 43 minutes worth of work:

I was able to output that track so quickly because I forced a constraint on myself before I even touched the keyboard. You could do the exact same thing in a million other ways. For example, you have to use clusters in your harmony, or your melody can only have half steps and leaps, or you can only have triplets.

The actual specifics of the constraint aren’t particularly important, only that you remember that you never need to be stuck in your writing again.

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