Sometimes reading about the craft of music and listening to the best of the art form is enough to spark the creative flame of songwriting. Other times, you find the beat and the words flow as if they were forged together. Then there are those moments no writer wants to think about. When the words just aren’t there. You can sense them in the distance, but they won’t venture close enough to grab. Like your cat when it’s time to go to the vet.
Call it what you will, writer’s block, being creatively stymied, Twitter time, Hell… whatever you name it, there is only one cure for it.
Play through the pain. Even if it’s crap, write until it’s not. Obviously, this is much easier to say than do. Nothing is as daunting as a blank page, or a cursor slowly flashing in a way that is surely mocking you, like a slow clap for your lack of words. Thanks, cursor. But inspiration is a tricky thing. It comes in all sorts of forms, from a picture to a phrase to a feeling, and you have to be open to catch it before it passes by.
The tyranny of the blinking cursor. Sarcastic attitude very much pictured.
While songwriting has to speak the truth, it doesn’t have to be pure autobiography. It can be, sure — Taylor Swift has brilliantly tapped the resource of her broken heart and connected with millions — but you don’t have to use your romantic crashes and burns to create a connectable song. It’s not a bad thing, as TayTay and Adele would agree, but it’s not the only way. You don’t have to translate the ins and outs of your journal into verses and choruses, but you do have to invoke your feelings: Loyalty. Trust. Love. Betrayal. Shame. Hate. Jealousy…
In a writing class many years ago, a fellow student read their work out loud. It was a short story about fickle love. It was brutal to listen to. The honesty of how it feels to be in the warm glow of love, and the soul-crushing shadow that steals your soul when it’s taken away, hit a nerve with everyone who heard it. After the piece was done, everyone asked the author if he was okay — assuming he was in Adele proportions of heartbreak. Turns out he was fine… he wrote the story about his cat.
You don’t have to bungee jump off a bridge to convey the fear of falling and the relief of being saved at the last moment. We’ve all been there in some way or other, that train you thought you missed, that time you tripped and almost fell but steadied yourself in time. Use those feelings and create a story for them. Use whatever is around you and write about it. And keep writing until you hear your story’s beats.