You know how to craft a song. You can assemble and structure elements and push the creative envelope. You may have already had moments of inspiration where a spark flies or a fully formed idea instantly pops into your head.
But the reality of songwriting can be a bit different. Many times, you need an extra boost to keep the creative juices flowing—to push your critical mind out of the way and simply let go of any results. If you’re in an inspiration rut or can’t seem to find the motivation, here are some things you can do to help kickstart your creativity:
Write on a daily basis. Whether it’s soul-provoking or simply what you ate that day, write it down. In The Artist’s Way, a book that invites artists to revisit their path of creativity, author Julia Cameron recommends writing what she calls “Morning Pages:” three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, ideally done first thing in the morning. The best part? There’s no wrong way to do it. Writing Morning Pages consistently will help to center and clear your mind, generate better ideas, and unleash your creativity.
Consider someone else’s style. Choose one of your favorite songwriters and try to write something in their style. Identify what you love about their songs in a general sense, then pick one or two of those things and write a song based on those criteria. It will get you out of your comfort zone and help you think about things in a new way. You can even contemplate collaborating with another musician, an experience which can allow your music to grow and your personal sound to evolve.
Learn a new skill. Thomas Jennings, songwriter and guitarist of the Denver-based soul-rock group Mama Magnolia, suggests finding something you can’t do and working at it until you’ve made it something you can do. “Find a rhythmic concept you can’t perform and figure it out. Find the charts for an album you love and study the chords. Don’t start thinking about how you are going to use any of it yet; just study it and understand it deeply,” Jennings says. “At some point, given time and a truly deep understanding, it will come out in a surprising and wonderful way.”
Get outside. A change of scenery can make all the difference. Get out of your indoor environment and take a walk. Get the endorphins pumping and leave the earbuds behind. Enjoy the sounds and movement. Make it a kind of meditation—focusing on the little things, like sidewalk cracks and blades of grass. When you get back to your practice space, there’s a greater chance that something new will ignite and manifest itself in your playing and writing.
Don’t force it. “It’s not about the songs you create when you are inspired. It’s about the work you do when you aren’t,” says Summers Baker, songwriter and guitarist for Meadow Mountain. “Now that I’m 10 years into the pursuit of writing good songs, I have shed the idea that ‘inspiration’ is what creates a strong body of work. Every now and then—in my experience, about once a year—that spark flies, and a song comes erupting out of the writer fully formed. But that is the exception. If an artist places the weight of their art on these occurrences, they will never create anything of worth. What can an artist lean on to ensure that they will produce something honest and exceptional? Hard work toward their goal, every single day – especially when they don’t feel inspiration.”
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