The weight of unrealistic expectations is what keeps the blank page blank. This is all that writer’s block really is in essence: heavy shoulders and blank pages.
So what can be done to overcome it?
To start with, the most important thing is just that... That you start! But we all know it’s much easier said than done; so let’s explore several tactics to get the ink flowing again (once and for all).
Unpacking the fear
Writer’s block stems, simply, from fear. Being aware of this is half the battle already. When we take a step back and unpack our fears around our ability to be “sufficiently” creative, we often realize that those fears are actually completely irrational.
We fear that it won’t be perfect - when the truth is, nothing is perfect (not to mention that there is quite a lot of beauty in imperfection). We are scared that people won’t like what we write - when the truth is that art is subjective (and in fact, you can count on the fact that people out there are not going to like it).
And none of that matters anyway. What matters is that YOU like it.
Stepping back from these irrational fears will help you get to a point of feeling less pressured, and get out of your funk.
How to trick your mind into submission
Making subtle changes to your environment and process is a great way to get back into it. You’ll need to break your mind's usual pattern to snap out of procrastination.
1. A new space and process
Set up a creative writing space for yourself that is different from your ordinary space. Choose a new room in the house or venture outside. Make sure that your new space is comfortable and interesting. Most important though, make sure you have no distractions. No TV blaring or phone beeping.
Create a new process for yourself that differs from what you are used to. Switch from laptop to pen and paper, use a new lighting arrangement, start with the chorus instead of the verse, write based on another artist’s original song, etc. Switch up whatever your mind has become accustomed to.
2. Feed the brain oxygen
I’m serious about this one: turn exercise into your pre-creativity ritual. Getting more oxygen to the brain will help you concentrate, and make you feel more relaxed, all at the same time.
3. Research something, anything
Use your slump as an opportunity to learn something new that you can incorporate into your lyrics eventually. Study up on rhyme patterns, meter, iambic pentameter, or read up on history, current events, even the classics.
Learning something new is refreshing and often we feel motivated to put what we’ve learnt to the test, shortly after digesting it.
4. Limit your time
Set an allocated amount of time aside for yourself, even if it’s just 30 minutes a day, or a few hours a week. Start with short periods at first, so as not to get overwhelmed.
Now that you’re sitting under a tree with your sneakers on, pen and paper in hand, timer set, or whatever it is that you decided to add to the mix, it’s time to kickstart your creativity and try your hand at some exercises that have been developed over time by artists specifically to curb writer’s block.
How to kickstart your creativity
Delving into creativity, there are no victories or defeats, only the process. Activities to trigger and boost your creative sensibilities are a part of this process.
Tried and trusted, the freewriting method of lyrical composition is something the most accomplished writers and songwriters all incorporate into their process. In fact, many great lyricists do it even when they aren’t experiencing writer’s block.
Freewriting entails setting a timer for ten minutes, and within that time, writing about any subject that comes to mind. Whether it’s a narrative from a movie, a character from a book, a memory, a picture, a painting, or a random word, choose a topic and let the words flow out.
This exercise requires you to really let your imagination run wild, without looking up, and without worrying about spelling, grammar, or any rules. A lot of what you write will likely be useless, but you’ll probably end up with some incredible lines, turns of phrase, or ideas, to build off of when you start to develop them. Freewriting really kicks your brain into gear.
People-watching is another excellent way to trigger your mental archives. Find a comfortable spot in a public place and set up your writing station. Dream up another person’s fictional story—imagine what that person is thinking, feeling, where they came from, where they’re going and why.
The same as with freewriting; just write! Get as many details down as possible, even if you end up with 20 rambling pages. Magic resides in the frilly details.
Pick the brain of any artist you admire. This can be achieved through a brainstorming session, an interview, a co-write, or just a casual conversation. Artists tend to stimulate and inspire each other and two minds are, of course, always better than one.
Interesting concepts will come to the surface once you’ve completed any of the above exercises.
Once you have the words on the page, go back to what you’ve written, cherry-pick the gems, explore them further, find the threads with which to bind them together and before you know it, you’ll have a good set of lyrics to start with.
Now that you know what you want to say, and how you want to say it, it’s time to get more technical. It’s time to break out the chisel and sculpt your creation into something sensical.
It is a good idea to sculpt around a clear set of goals. This will give your work some direction. For example, determine the following:
Who are you writing for?
Are you looking to evoke a particular emotion?
What is the central theme?
Structure your lyrics, shape them, and edit until you are satisfied.
It’s all in the obstacle
Writer’s block is a common obstacle in the way of many artists, but, remember that the obstacle is the way. You have to go through it to get to the other side.
That daunting blank page will soon transcend into a work of art once you find the courage to try something new and let the path lead you forward—however rocky it might be initially. It’s time to kick the pressure, pick your tactics, and put your back into it.
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Carla Malrowe is an avid alternative songwriter and vocalist from South Africa. Her electro-industrial project, Psycoco, just released their new single “Stay Awake.” Malrowe’s music is a haunting juxtaposition of electronic and analogue sounds with lyrics that explore a post-apocalyptic conflict between love and loss. Her solo album, Missing Circus Freak, will be released in May 2021.
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