Writer's Block remedies?

Writer's Block is something every creator will experience at some point in their process, and something I've learned to accept over the years.

I thought it would be great to share tips for overcoming and working through writer's block, or if you're just looking for solidarity, feel free to comment to commiserate!

I find different remedies work for different situations, but some of my most common are:

Taking a break from music (if deadlines allow for it), getting lost in a video game or film or TV show with a soundtrack I love, talking to my creative friends about how I'm feeling, cooking or baking, deep cleaning my apartment (preferably while listening to Herman's Hermits retrospective), a day trip to the coast if my schedule allows

What works for you? Anything else we should be trying to push through this creative barrier?

Comments

  • For me, something as simple as going for a walk or hike helps tremendously. I can almost always get past a block by just stepping away for 15-20 minutes and letting my mind wander.

  • Sarah
    Sarah admin
    10 Comments 25 Likes First Answer Spitfire Employee

    @Richard Ferrando that's fantastic! I think "letting the mind wander" is key for me. It's great to hear it in your words! Thank you!

  • Basically anything that puts my mind in a different space: walking, video games, movies, tv, product design...

    and...

    I know some people are gonna laugh but...

    buying new instruments. The new interfaces and new sounds make me think differently, a lot of times I am inspired simply by a sound.

  • I think the best remedy is to attack your perception!

    Personally, I no longer believe in writers block. I heard a really good podcast that I vibed with, where he was explaining writers block isn't real.

    It is merely our expectation to crank out something 'better' than what we did before, or our anticipation for constant growth or every song/story/work of art/piece of music to be up to a certain 'quality'.

    Really the important thing is to not try to sit down and create a 'work of art' but merely to have an allotted time each day to create, and stick to that routine. Not judging the output. Just creating, on schedule.

    The repetition of that process will allow the floodgates to open. But also, yes, get outside and get fresh air each day as well. (It's hard for me to always commit to that side of it).

    Don't force yourself for 8 hours to create something, unless of course you have a deadline for a cue etc. ;)

    These are my thoughts, as of lately.

  • David H
    edited March 20

    as above for walks/change of scenery etc, but I’ll also try to do some ‘housekeeping’ be it tidying cables/desk/kids toys or fiddling with how my pedalboard is set up.

    I've recently started trying to limit or streamline what instruments I’m using to make more of the time I have, rather than having EVERYTHING i have available all once I’ll ‘park’ some libraries and rotate them otherwise I just end up browsing presets (another form of procrastination) and swap something out if I’m feeling stuck and need a nudge/inspiration.

  • I like to try my hand at playing along with music from around the globe. It could be Ukrainian synth-pop, mid-century french film scores, Venezuelan folk music, recordings of the Baka Pygmy Tribe, 80's synth-pop from Japan, anything. I just try to be at one with the world and let my mind escape the overbearing thought of an illusive deadline.

    Getting your Vitamin D, as mentioned by a few others is vital no matter what's holding you down. If you've got birds within a stones throw, be near their songs. If you can't do that, there are live streams on YouTube of birds eating thistle, try to audiate their songs on an instrument and then compose your own birdsong. Remember - repetition legitimizes. Over 12,500 different Red-eyed Vireo song types have been recorded according to a Google search.

    Audiobooks are also pretty nice to help set a stage in the mind, as well. ?

  • George Braque kept his drawings in a notebook. When he wanted to be creative but couldn't think of anything, he'd look in his notebook and it became like a cookbook for when one is hungry.

    Also create limitations. The dread tabula rasa is less dread when there aren't so many possibilities. Decide that for today it's to be 10 guitars, all white keys or in 9/8, whatever - just not "anything'.

    https://www.metmuseum.org/art/libraries-and-research-centers/leonard-lauder-research-center/cubist-collection/a-closer-look/-/media/6e75d768f100459c94123ea67484771e.ashx?h=400&w=400

  • Coming from a singer songwriter background, writer’s block was something I tried to accept , as part of the ebb and flow of the creative process. Obviously the “output” part of the process is the most fulfilling aspect as you are actually producing something! But we also forget that as artists, there is also a creative “input” part of the process, a gestation period perhaps? I tried to not stress when I wasn’t writing because I trusted that I was taking things in, via my surroundings, relationships, books, movies, etc. Similarly to insomnia, the more you worry that you aren’t sleeping, the longer you stay awake !! Now having mentioned all that, it all goes out the window when you have deadlines! With film and tv, there’s no luxury time to reflect . Personally in those situations I don’t stress about writers block. It’s more about finding the right tone and vibe for the project. That’s when my imposter syndrome kicks in. Haha. Brian Eno’s “Oblique Strategies “ can be helpful when you hit a brick wall.

  • “Combinatory play” is a creativity method that works well for many, in many different arenas.

    As a singer-songwriter, I enjoy grabbing a chord sequence from a song unlike anything I’d write. Indeed, I have a large file of “stripped” sequences — no song titles, no time signature, sometimes no separation into verse/chorus/bridge — which I draw from at random.

    I’ll then work with the chord sequence in the Suggester app, organizing my randomly chosen sequence into some sort of structure. Composition often begins here since I can’t help adding, reorganizing, etc.

    Chord sequences are then dropped into my DAW and assigned to, say, a piano.

    Then... endless experimentation creating melodies over a sequence “foreign” to what I’d come up with.

    Then... lots more noodling... adding, subtracting, moving whole and part “Lego blocks” around. In the end there may be little of the starter sequence left, and while the final sequences/melodies are “mine,” I never would have gotten there without the Combinatory Play.

    for me this has worked not only with songs, but with soundtrack-like pieces. It even worked with a “classical” piece I wrote for my classical-musician wife.

    And before I forget—

    Inverting melodies — easily done now with DAWs — opens up whole vistas.

    I was writing a piece based on themes I’d not written. For fun, I inverted the themes and, after noodling a bit, preferred my adapted melody inversions to the originals, and gave them prominence in the final pieces. I’ve yet to extensively use Combinatory Play with melodies, but I know that block-busting method is there if needed.

    Hope the above is useful to folks far more gifted and accomplished than I!

  • joshua
    edited March 20

    i feel like i can also resonate with a lot of what is being said by @Michael B. Oliva, would you mind to drop a link to that podcast here?

    i do not do music for a living so i never have deadlines but i also never have writers block(in the limited time i have to work on music)...

    more like not enjoying what i am working on but, that has not happened in a long time.

  • Absolutely! Here it is! (It was one of these two, I think hitsville but I can’t remember. I listened to both of these months ago and they both stuck with me)

    Or this one

    https://www.stitcher.com/show/akimbo/episode/game-theory-and-the-infinite-game-53873622

    It really helped change my perspective...


    I’ve been writing songs for 20 years and performing with my psychedelic rock/garage pop band for 14 years but only just started composing ‘scores’ this September. Bbc discovery has led me down the rabbit hole and now I own so many sample libraries. It’s just FUN to create something so large, after writing proper songs that I could only perform live myself for so long. So while I don’t create every day, I’m just allowing myself to ‘play’ with sounds every day. Trying something new. Having fun. And it allows the juices to keep flowing. And I still keep cranking out piece after piece cuz I’m not forcing expectations. Just starting this journey really.

    Its crazy, I was always ‘anti midi’ and anti computers for so long but realize I was stunting my creativity in a way. Technology has come SO far. Thanks Christian and team for making such great products. I got a midi keyboard in September to add synths to my rock music or maybe strings to some band music and now I fully want to become and am invested in becoming a film composer. I’ve always loved film scores but that world seemed so intimidating. I didn’t realize I had the capacity and technology to dive into this world at my finger tips. Beautiful! The floodgates are opened! WHOOPS ENDrant/

  • When I wrote rock songs on a guitar, writers block was avoided by creating on bass. I would also have played along to ransom stuff on the radio and stole the chord progression of Ben inspired by it.

    Since I've started to write music with the intention of submitting to libraries, I have taken common progressions like I V vi IV and messed about with rhythms, inversions, adding suspensions and the like or different arpegios to see where that leads me.

  • Okay, I have two that are both kind of strange, but I swear they're very effective.

    1. I drink a lot of water.
    2. I talk to myself.

    So, to explain:

    1. This is based on something I read about Stephen Sondheim's writing process. He used Blackwing 602 pencils to write everything back in the day, and there were a few reasons for this, but the one I found the most interesting was that they required frequent sharpening. This meant that he always had a reason to stop whatever he was doing, get up, and walk over to his pencil sharpener and focus on the act of sharpening. This gave his brain a moment to reset, so if he was suffering any kind of block, that would help alleviate it. Since I work on a computer, my version of this is drinking a lot of water. In addition to keeping me hydrated, it causes me to take regular bathroom breaks, forcing me to get away from the screen. Inevitably, if I'm having a rough time working on something, I'll always get an idea whenever I get up.
    2. This one is a little more odd. I have a bad habit of talking to myself. I don't know where it came from, but I'll prattle on for hours when left to my own devices. I don't tend to do this much when I write, but I've discovered that if I'm having a block or I'm not sure how to solve a problem, if I start talking it through out loud ("what isn't working, why does this sound unbalanced, why is this disjointed," etc.) I start to look at my work with more objectivity. I've taken the writing process outside of my own head, giving me a better chance of identifying any problems or trying to figure out what should come next.

    Another quick tip is listen to whatever you have from the beginning in a different key. It takes so little time in most DAWs to globally transpose everything, and you'd be shocked what kinds of interesting things you hear just shifting things around. Also, sometimes you realize your whole piece just sounds better brought down or up a little bit.

  • Not sure this will help anyone else - but I stop trying to create music and start writing to copy a sound I've heard elsewhere. Not with the intention to plagiarise, I mean listen to something and try to re-create it as an educational process. The process rarely creates a copy and I often find myself flying along losing hours creating something

    Not sure this will work if on a deadline and a strict brief - but if I was I'd try it.

  • What works well for me if i get stuck is going back through my older works. Even if i wrote them years ago, i see if i can extend pieces as the theme or melody is already there, i can usualy add to the piece.

    Or taking say and electronica or trance piece i wrote in the 90's and re working it as a full orchestral piece which usualy gives me more ideas on how to work the piece.

  • Im a hobbyist and have learned WB is irrelevant to me ..Im lucky and at peace with the fact that it might take me 2 or 3 years to write and perform something I'm content with rather than shoveling out some half baked bread ...its not a problem.....

    In my one experience of writing for a documentary in 2002 I experienced the worst 9 days of my life...working all day in my profession as a scientist and all ferking night composing ... 9.00 am deadline for mastered mixes ..and god help me if the reverb tail was to long or to short and all to satisfy the extravagant whims of a narcissist director... the guy was actually my "best friend" and a Director of my company.

    The drivel I eventually turned in out in the middle of the night out was accepted and did to my shame make it onto color TV ... but that 9 days was a lesson in life for me. I think mine was an unfortunate experience and far from the typical experience of artists composing for TV.

    The lessons I learned were A) that I wont live with , work with or for, support or socialise with anyone who is an obvious twat and B) I was actually very happy with my chosen profession in science.

    Of course there is pressure etc etc in every profession but what I have observed from my experience of managing, is that folks do their best and are more creative and achieve in every respect, in every profession when recruited guided and managed by those who really understand the process and the challenges they are asking others to face .

    If composing is you profession or hobby then I appreciate WB must be beaten . Some of the things that have and do assist me in beating writers block have been.


    1) taking care of basics : Get a satisfying diet, get hydrated , exercise daily and get sleep under control so that you wake up refreshed.

    2) Environment ; Get your creative space tidied up Bristol fashion.

    3) Get out into nature and experience earths garden beauty ....look and listen..take a walk at night.

    4) Have some fun raise your spirits

    5) When the pressure is on distance yourself from those who in the main invalidate or belittle you .... what are those people doing in your life anyway.

    6) Fall in love ...remember being in love ....or short circuit the whole thing by reading a few Shakespeare's sonnets or attend a funeral.

    7) Go to an art gallery stop thinking and just look.

    8) When you can, go to a random live performance of music , or listen to something you never would have by choice.

    9) Find some music you dont like written by a genius and learn to play it ...even a few bars . I can remember on Grade 1 piano I had to learn a basic version of Moonlight Sonata.... I disliked every piece on grade I ....but that experience of learning something new changed my life....genius unfolding by proxy through my wretched stunted claws :). There is a small section where the left and right hand are hovering and working around middle C... there were so few notes required ... to produce some thing that felt so sublime and compositionally obvious, perfect but which quite obviously no one had ever written before ....it blew me away ... an avalanche of joy.


    Sorry for the spellig erros and if I had a potent wish ..Id use it up ridding the world of writers block but secret charms are hard to come by.


    Best Des

  • There's some good stuff in this thread! Plenty to think about. @oooooooooooooooooh I particularly like the image of Sondheim and his pencil sharpening routine.

    Much like @Christian I can suffer the procrastination and imposter stuff, and dare I say, forums are one of the greatest sources of procrastination for me! Today I'm avoiding the daunting task of integrating a new midi interface, and dealing with all the cabling / drivers etc that goes with it 😒 But i'm aware of that, so it's fine, right?! 🙈

    Anyhow, I have a mug in my studio, pictured below - it's the last thing my Father gave me before he passed away a couple of years ago, he thought it was funny because it was based on a conversation we'd had where I admitted to being bad at 'adulting'! It's a memory I hold dear.

    This daft mug serves a purpose though (asides from being home to my pens): I try to look at it regularly and remember the need to play, to stop being serious and putting pressure on myself, to explore and have fun with the instruments around me. Sometimes easier said than done, but I think the more we play and enjoy ourselves, the more our creativity can shine.

    Speaking of which, on a more practical note, I have a slight obsession with not wasting anything that I record -- if something ends up on the cutting room floor, then I like to recycle it. And the same process can work with creative blocks...

    If you're staring at the screen, unsatisfied with what you have or not sure what to do, take something you've already done and mangle it as much as you can with a bunch of effects. Either plugins or hardware, whatever you fancy (I tend to favour a plugin with a bunch of presets to flick through, or hardware with plenty of knobs for the immediacy of tweaking and tactile interaction). Get it as far from the original as you can, totally transform it, and more often than not, you end up with a new texture to use, or a new direction and fresh inspiration! Plus, it can turn feelings of failure / wasted time on material that wasn't working, into a positive win.

  • [Deleted User]
    edited April 6
    The user and all related content has been deleted.
  • Sarah
    Sarah admin
    10 Comments 25 Likes First Answer Spitfire Employee

    @Holbeck, Still thank you so much for sharing this sweet memory with us. What a treasure to have in your studio! And your advice for returning to old ideas is a great one, something I often overlook. :)

  • Thank you for this thread, Sarah. I've been stuck like a giant cargo ship. (No need to go into the tedious details.)

    Reading these reflections is helpful. Maybe I'll break free tomorrow. Meanwhile...

    There should be a composer's stomp box, like the Talent Booster for guitarists. Let's design and sell one! We could call it Block Buster!


  • p.s. It would require a true bypass, plus an imposter bypass. Overdrive, I guess...

  • @billstokesmusic 😂 absolutely! The name might need some work though...

  • "...a potent mixture of avoidant procrastination and a feverish imposter syndrome".


    Me, in a nutshell.

  • Defining what you are going to do as precisely as you can before you start doing it. "First part has everything going on, horn arpeggios and a piccolo going wild, tinkly bells, then it gets quiet, string chords fading into each other and a vibraphone... then the drums come in". The more of that you do the easier it is to break the empty DAW screen into a series of tasks you can do. Compose away from an instrument is another way of saying that.