Sunday, April 9, 2023

Songwriter's Block Antidote Recipe

I hadn't written any new songs since October 2022, and now at the beginning April 2023, after a 5 month dryspell, I got back in the swing of my hobby again.  It's happened before, and when asked what got me back into it again, I always struggle to remember the exact circumstances that helped, so this time, I decided to write about what might've caused this while it's still fresh in my mind for future reference, and now, I'm sharing that with you.

A quick summary list of the combination of factors that worked for me this time:

1.  Hope:  a couple job interviews gave me hope for a better future recently, and although I didn't get the job, it got me excited about the possibility and lifted my mood.  Just a general feeling that you have things to look forward to in life can help the muse come back I suspect.  Some of the songs may indeed be blues and have negative or depressing subject matter, but even so, it's being excited about potential improvements in your life and in the near future that can get you thinking creatively again.

2.  Discovering New Music:  using my music streaming service, I put together a playlist and similar music got auto-suggested, and in the process of checking out new (actually old, but new to me) music that was interesting got me back in the mood to want to write something like what I heard, which is quite different than my usual style

3.  Reduced Stress:  having fewer pressures on me for a few weeks in a row helped me finally get into the right mood to start thinking creatively again, and maybe it's being in more of a state of relaxation that seems to help.

4.  Lack Of Sleep/ Too Much Sleep:  Changing up habits of sleep and getting away from a predictable daily schedule helps.  After consistently having a steady boring schedule where I got adequate sleep for many months in a row, I actually experienced a few alternating nights of either not getting enough sleep or sleeping too much, and this jolted me out of the rut I was in somehow.  Being too tired might've helped more than too rested, and once back in a flow, it was hard to shut of the creative faucet when going to bed to finally get sleep, new ideas would come to me and I'd have to get up and go work on them.

5.  Rain:  the surge of a weeklong creative output period of time coincided with heavy storms and on/off rain for an entire week, and flooding, so this may very well have been a contributing factor in some way.  You tend to stay inside where you have a guitar and a phone to record ideas on and a computer to type lyrics on.

6.  Forcing Myself To Finish Old Lyrics:  I have electronic documents with tons of song ideas and partially-written songs, and I forced myself to revisit them, forced myself to revise them, forced myself to complete one, which led to finishing another, which spurred me on to finish the music for them, and finally all this spurred me on to write new ones from scratch.

7.  Uninterrupted Quiet Time Alone:  you need the long stretches of quiet time to get back into a flow, and you have to actively get started on doing songwriting instead of just watching movies or other free-time pursuits.  Starting small, I told myself I would at least complete one song and this definitely got me back on a roll with the creative juices flowing and the muse returning.  Just going through old lyric documents and recorded musical ideas on my phone and spending time on this instead of surfing the web or whatever really helped.

8.  Riding The Wave To Completion:  Leaving songs partially written is never a good idea.  It's always better to make yourself ride out the wave to completion of a song while you're in the mood for it.  Doing this gets you in the right frame of mind then to continue on with more.  Just making yourself get started on it, even by just reading notebooks with old lyric scaps and listening to past failed recordings of songs or beginnings of songs can help.  Then it's crucial to keep going while you're on a roll with one song before moving to another or stopping.  Completing one helps you know it wasn't as daunting as you thought, and then finishing the next one comes even easier, because you've reminded yourself you can do it.  When inspiration strikes, it's good to push past logical stopping points so you don't lose the ideas.

9.  Telling Someone About The Drought:  it seems that before this recent wave of songwriting began for me, I told a friend I hadn't written anything in a really long time (for me), and just getting that frustration off my chest by itself may have also been a factor.

10.  Free Time:  Just generally having some actual free time, and not necessarily uninterrupted quiet time alone, still seems to help.  You can't write songs if you never make time for it, and if you're so busy with other things, you'll never get around to it.  So, free up the schedule once in a while.  I can only imagine how awesome it would be if you were one of those people where all you did for a living was write songs - think of the potential for productivity!  I'm sure being a real professional would come with pressures a hobbyist like me wouldn't understand, but still, I'd like to have that problem.

You have to write about "what worked" while it's fresh in your mind, and I'm doing that now for the first time ever.  Journaling about motivating factors quickly right after the creative period and before it starts to go away again or start to settle down is not something I've remembered to do before, and you forget if you don't capture it right away.  

The Actual Output Stats:  I had this rush of creativity writing a lot of lyrics for multiple songs - some were scraps that became full song lyrics, some were from scratch, some used existing musical ideas, and others were new music from scratch, resulting in about 5 completely written new songs in about 7 days, and progress on several more rough drafts.  One out of the 5 is definitely a keeper I will record and probably release someday.  That's close to my usual keeper ratio, and if I only have a couple spurts like this per year, that's only 2 good songs per year, but usually I have 4 or 5 spurts like this per year, and rarely a drought this long (on average), so that's why it takes me a couple years to have a new album's worth of decent material ready to release again.

Other free-time demands have crept back in that interrupted the flow a bit very recently, but it is still fresh enough in my mind to be able to think about what helped me get out of my funk.  Now I can refer back to this post the next time and although I'm not sure if the creative spark can be manufactured by following a checklist, it might help.  There are times during long periods of inactivity in a hobby like songwriting in which you question whether you'll ever be able to write a song again.  You start to dread this situation of wanting to write more, but not being able to, and you are quick to say you're just "not feeling it" and move on to reading or walking the dog or watching TV or whatever.  It's sort of like your procrastination becomes the new habit.  On the other hand, trusting your own experience that your lifelong adult hobby will eventually re-enter your life again is always a good thing to remind yourself of.

One final thought is:  lower the bar for yourself, don't expect too much.  It's counter-productive to say to yourself that you will never be able to top your best songs, but the reality is you kill that potential to think that way and not try.  It's even worse negative self-talk to think you'll never be able to write a hit like your favorite hits from artists you enjoy listening to.  Keeping your expectations low and not caring if you ever come close to those standards or not is way healthier, because it gets you back into your creative hobby of writing songs again, and if you write five and only one of them sounds pretty good to you, you wouldn't have otherwise had that one additional new song you wrote that you like according to your own standards of quality.

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