We’ve all been there. You somehow find a few free moments out of your busy day, and you take that time to sit down and write a song.
Only to discover you have a terrible case of writer’s block.
It happens to the best of us (and anyone who says otherwise is most likely lying). But it’s what we choose to do about this writer’s block that can mean the difference between completing a song or an afternoon spent staring at a blank page.
In my 20+ years of songwriting, I’ve discovered some fool-proof techniques that give me the boost I need when those creative juices just aren’t flowing.
Today you’re going to learn 6 exercises to get your brain unstuck.
But if you want to learn even more ways to unstick your writing, grab the FREE songwriting cheat sheet. It’s got 6 more ways to beat writer’s block when you’re sitting down to write.
If you want to go even farther in your songwriting, make sure to grab it here:
First Things First: Grab Your Favorite Journal
Don’t have one? Start one. Or, if you’re like me, start 12. It doesn’t really matter, so long as you have a way to get your thoughts to pen and pen to paper.
Some of the following exercises may work for you, while others may not be your jam. That’s okay! I encourage you to keep an open mind, and I can guarantee you’ll tap into some inner creativity you never knew existed.
Exercise #1: Free Write
Set a timer for 10 minutes. Put your pen to paper, and write until that 10 minutes is completely up.
Whatever you do, never stop writing (even to think), and never erase or cross out any words. There are no bad ideas.
At the end of the 10 minutes, read back through what you’ve written, and highlight or underline words or phrases that speak to you. I have a feeling you’ll be surprised by the gems that pop up. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll even discover a new hook.
I’ve found that my easiest (and favorite) songs to write are those that are the most authentic. A free write like this can tap into the rawest, most honest parts of anyone. And in turn, you can tap into the heart and mind of the listener.
Exercise #2: Open Book
The title of this one practically explains itself. Grab a book from your shelf. Open the book to a random page. Close your eyes (no peeking!) and point to any word on that page. Write a song centered around that one word.
That’s it. It sounds easy in theory, but this can be a challenging (yet fun) way to think outside of the box and write a song about a word you’ve never considered writing about before.
Note: Any book will do, although, I find I gravitate towards one that fits my current mood whenever I work on this exercise.
Exercise #3: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
Or, a picture is a worth a song.
Choose a photograph from somewhere around your home, a book, the camera roll on your phone, or even an internet article. Regardless of where the photo comes from, try to find one that speaks to you.
Write a song about the person or people in the photograph. If you don’t know them, give them a story. Try to be as descriptive as possible.
If the photo is of a place or a thing, do the same. Focus on the backstory, and use as many descriptive words as you can.
Exercise #4: Five Senses
Speaking of descriptive words, there is nothing more in tune with this than the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch.
I challenge you to write a song using ALL five senses. I know it may prove difficult to fit all five of them into one song, but you will end up with an incredibly powerful and descriptive piece.
It’s a good practice to bring as many of the five senses into your songs as you can. In particular, the first line of every song should grab the listener. It’s like the first bite of a meal or the opening credits of a movie. You want to set the tone, and detail is your friend.
Details are extremely important, because they transport the listener to the time and place of which you have written the song, and in turn, they allow the listener to connect to the words.
Exercise #5: Silver Screen
Put on your favorite movie or television show. Fast forward to your favorite scene. Mute the television. Write a song as if it were the soundtrack to that specific scene.
If you don’t have a favorite movie or television show (or lack a DVD player or DVR), you can just flip to one of your cable channels and wait until a scene speaks to you. In some cases, I find that this exercise almost works better when you don’t have any backstory on the characters or plot.
This is another fun, yet challenging writer’s block activity! One of the songs I’m most proud of came out of this exercise.
Exercise #6: Grab Bag
First things first, it’s a good practice to always write down any hook ideas that you may come across. I have a running list in the notes section on my phone, and I turn to that list almost every time I come down with a case of writer’s block.
To take this a step further, I sometimes write my hooks down on small strips of paper and place them in a jar. When I am in need of some inspiration, I’ll randomly draw one of those hooks and get to work on a song.
I find I get overwhelmed when I have too many song or hook ideas. This activity takes the choice away from me and leaves it up to chance.
Above all, always remember to focus on your hook during the writing process! It can be easy to stray away from the overall point if you’re not careful.
Conclusion: Writer’s Block
So there you have it! Next time you find yourself staring at a blank page with little to no inspiration, I invite you to give these exercises a try. Maybe one will turn into the next hit song.
And when writing, always remember the following:
- Create with an open mind.
- There are no bad ideas.
- Description, description, description.
- Always remember your hook.
- Be YOU. Write honestly and authentically.
The best way to become a songwriter is to simply keep writing and to stretch your bounds of creativity along the way. Now let’s knock down that wall and get to writing!
Before you go, make sure to grab the FREE songwriting cheat sheet. It’s got 6 more techniques to beating writer’s block.
If you’re extra stuck, make sure to grab it for an extra boost:
Nashville-based, Natalie Royal, graduated in 2013 as a Songwriting major from Belmont University. Royal’s most recent album, Harbinger, was released in 2016, and she’s excited to head back into the studio this fall to work on her latest collection of songs. Check out her work here.