I’ve been a songwriter since I was six years old. I can still vividly remember the first time I wrote a song, sitting on the edge of my dad’s bed as he was strumming his guitar. He said, “Carrie! Make some words up to this melody.” I didn’t even think twice about it; I just started spitting out random words and sentences. To be honest, most of the lyrics were about disliking homework, how much I loved my dog, and how I wanted to eat candy every day, but hey, we all start somewhere.
When I go into a songwriting session now, I often think back to that time. How innocent and free my thoughts were. How I didn’t care about the rules. How I was just feeling the music and having fun. As an adult, it’s easy to get stuck inside a box, overthink, become tired, distracted, and eventually lose all motivation.
While there are specific rules and a true craft to songwriting that we should follow, it’s also so important to walk into a writer’s room and not think about the outcome so much. What if we freed our minds a little bit and let the inspiration and the magic come to us? Here are a few ideas that I’ve used to help me think outside the box, open my mind, and get unstuck.
Freewriting increases the flow of ideas and reduces the chance that you’ll accidentally censor something that may turn out to be brilliant. I usually do this for 15-20 minutes. Then, I take a break and read it back to myself. I’ve found tons of song ideas like this.
* Grab a pen and a piece of paper. I like to start this process in the morning, but you can do it whenever you feel most creative and comfy.
* Start writing down every idea you can think of about your topic, no matter how “crazy.” You can judge later! (And no one else is going to see it.)
* DON’T worry about correct grammar or spelling.
* DO write in sentence and paragraph form.
* Keep your hands moving even if you have to repeat a subject.
“The consequence [of writing] is that you must start by writing the wrong meanings in the wrong words; but keep writing until you get to the right meanings in the right words. Only in the end will you know what you are saying.” — Peter Elbow
A study done by Stanford University found that when people spend time in a natural environment, they experience a shift in how they view time. In other words, when you spend time in nature, you tend to feel a sense of “awe,” as though time is expanding. Instead of feeling pressured by time, or a lack thereof, people tend to enjoy “time abundance” when they are in nature.
* If you are feeling stuck, simply go outside and take a little walk around your block. Get some fresh air and look at the sky.
* Take a trip somewhere. Anywhere! Maybe even for a week or so, and make sure you bring a pen and some paper. Write down what you see and how you feel.
* Notice things around you. Stop and smell the flowers. The more in touch you are with your senses, the more inspiration will find you.
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, to have my senses put in order” — John Burroughs
FOCUS & LESSEN DISTRACTIONS
Finding the focus to write can be as big of a challenge as finding the time. In some cases, writers think they need more time when what they need is more focus.
* Take a social media hiatus. I know this is hard because we are all so connected to our devices, but I’ve found that this is truly key when I need to write. Sometimes social media can be discouraging, which sucks the motivation right out of us.
* Turn off notifications and Wi-Fi when sitting down to write since some people use a notes app on their phones to write songs these days.
* Find a positive distraction such as calm instrumental music, white noise, meditation, or exercise breaks.
* Focus on one task at a time. Breaking writing sessions into tasks can help. If you schedule thirty minutes to write, stick to that schedule, complete the task, and move on to the next thing. This also can help with day-to-day life as well.
“Along with a strong belief in your own inner voice, you also need laser-like focus combined with unwavering determination.” — Larry Flynt
BE LIKE A CHILD AND TAKE RISKS
A childlike mindset is essential for any creative craft because it takes us beyond the first idea and forces us to see the problem from a different perspective—not just writing but in life.
* Play and have fun. Don’t judge the outcome so much, and be open to writing something silly and weird. Studies have shown that when we fully immerse ourselves in joyous doing, we can become more creative.
* Make mistakes and learn. Creativity begins with experimentation. I always say it takes ten bad songs to get one good one.
* Encouragement. I put this one in this category because as children, the hope is that our parents will encourage us to be creative. As adult creatives, we can choose to surround ourselves with inspiring people. I call them expanders—people who help lift you and encourage you. These can be friends, co-writers, producers, etc.
“Every child is an artist; the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” — Pablo Picasso
I hope this helps at whatever stage you are in entering in your songwriting journey!