A community approach to breaking free from writer’s block

Thanks to the amazing response by readers to my last editorial, “What is missing from music today?

I recently posed another question (in this case a two pronged question) to my Facebook friends and Twitter followers, asking, “Who has experienced writer’s block? If you’ve ever broken free of writer’s block, what inspired you?

I was fascinated and inspired by everyone’s feedback, as seen below:

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These responses were helpful to me as I’ve recently experienced a bout of writer’s block. I tried many of the tips provided by everyone, with many of the suggestions pointing to the productivity gained by getting in a room with like minded individuals to foster a creative spark. I immediately organized a writing session at my home studio with an array of artists, producers, and creatives of many kinds coming and going throughout the day, working in various rooms, all providing a burst of creativity that was productive and exhilarating.

Those who came to this writing session included:

  • Vicu Schek on the production and lyrical tip,
  • Matt Veirs working on drum production and songwriting,
  • Julian Coles and Gabby Nguyen working with me preparing instrumental tracks for their future vocal sessions,
  • videographer Cameron T. Williams capturing the action,
  • musicians emailing their parts, including
    • Yoed Nir String Productions sending cello parts from New York,
    • Marcus Mitchell sending saxophone layers from Washington D.C.,
    • Markus Huber sending his bass guitar from Nashville, TN,
    • David Joubert sending his keyboard playing from New Jersey,
    • Lana Lubany sending her lead vocals and harmonies from Israel,
    • Vahagn Stepanyan emailing us piano parts from his studio in Armenia, and
    • Kenny McNeil consulting via phone from Las Vegas, NV.

A big shout out goes to Vicu & Matt V. for working the entire 12 hour day and helping to make progress on five new songs; even helping out with Gabby, Lana and Julian’s song productions.

 

Private link to Matt Veirs & Vicu Schek’s full demo:

Basically, it was a crazy productive Saturday and a lot of it has to do with the inspiration that everyone gave me.

However, this still requires further analysis. What do you do when the following scenarios occur and you’re friends aren’t around to encourage you and spark your creativity? One or many of the following scenarios my be occurring:

  1. You can’t come up with an idea for a song. *
  2. You have a ton of ideas for songs but can’t commit to any of them.
  3. You have the first half of a song completed and have no idea how to finish it.
  4. You have a terrible feeling your song is not making sense and you just hit a dead end.
  5. You’re bored with the song before finishing it.
  6. You keep imagining all the reasons people are going to say your song sucks, and it paralyzes you.
  7. You can’t think of the right words for what you’re trying to convey.
  8. You had this incredibly cool song story idea in your head, and now you’re turning it into words and music and it’s suddenly dumb.
  9. You’re revising your work, and you just can’t get it right.

In most of the above scenarios, the solution is often to remove the pressure that you put on yourself to be epic, dope, amazing, legendary, etc. and rather get your ideas out on paper no matter how dumb they may seem, make a rough recording, and revise more critically later. For me, it’s often second guessing myself during the revising and editing process where I get stuck, so this advice is easier said than done, but keep at it.

I am learning from everyone’s feedback, that even if a song might need to be scrapped, it is not the end of the world. One bit of advice that has helped me the most is the reassurance that a lyric or a song idea might be salvageable to be used in a future song. With everything in mind, be encouraged and don’t give up.  Like anything in life, the more you do something, the better you’ll be at it.

* Back to the first issue on the list. Passionately conveying emotion is one of the most important aspects of songwriting. If coming up with a powerful song concept is your major hangup, Camile Robinson has created a song concepts list to get your creative juices flowing.

 

Camile Robinson writes:

I came up with this list as a tool for kick-starting the songwriting process. It was made by listening to a Beach Boys best of, a David Bowie best of, and my favorite couple of Beatles albums, and trying to reduce the concept of the lyric for each song down to a one word kernel (you’ll notice I didn’t always succeed with the one word thing). Each one is an abstract although hopefully emotive starting point from which to begin brainstorming lyrics.

  1. Alienation
  2. Being in love
  3. Worry
  4. Hope
  5. Escape
  6. Defiance
  7. Fear
  8. Fragility
  9. Nostalgia
  10. Paranoia
  11. Helplessness
  12. Fate
  13. Wonder
  14. Shock
  15. Altered perspective
  16. Fantasy
  17. Seduction
  18. Idolatry
  19. Betrayal
  20. Jealousy
  21. Pride
  22. Flirtation
  23. Tragedy
  24. Breaking the rules
  25. Desperation
  26. Need
  27. Loss of control
  28. Obstinancy
  29. Feeling lost
  30. Confusion
  31. Being at a loss
  32. Obsolescence
  33. Commodification
  34. Greed
  35. Excess
  36. Time
  37. Ageing
  38. Contempt
  39. Loss
  40. Conspiracy
  41. Having the answer
  42. Sexual politics
  43. Rejoicing
  44. Shame
  45. Heartbreak
  46. Melancholy
  47. Toughness
  48. Irony
  49. Memory
  50. Reminiscence
  51. Desire
  52. Gratitude
  53. Protection
  54. Loneliness
  55. Joy
  56. Giving
  57. Universality
  58. Be careful what you wish for
  59. Dashed hope
  60. Outrage
  61. Searching
  62. Submission
  63. Devotion
  64. Contentment
  65. Showing off
  66. Reassurance
  67. Refuge
  68. Lecherousness
  69. Change
  70. Communication
  71. Excitement
  72. Mystery
  73. Danger
  74. A journey
  75. Regret
  76. Growing up
  77. Elation

RockDaFuqOut readers, please comment below and add to this conversation. I hope everyone’s feedback can help creative people everywhere overcome writer’s block.

About the author, Matthew Shell

matthew-shell-at-grammys

Matthew Shell aka MTS, is an audio production engineer, music business instructor, and multi-instrumentalist. Based in Alexandria, VA, his versatile production style spans genres as wide as jazz and rock, to RnB and soul. Matthew writes and produces music released as solo productions under his own name, as well as for other bands and solo artists. He is the founder and CEO of publishing house and record label MTS Music, a company founded on integrity with the goal to provide the highest quality services & products.

Shell’s work on the production for Marcus Johnson’s album Flo: Chill reached #7 on Billboard Top Contemporary Jazz Chart in 2009. Later that year he worked as the engineer on O.A.R.’s album Rain or Shine that reached #5 on the Independent Albums Chart and also #7 on the US Alternative Albums Chart. In 2011, his work on Grammy Nominee Carolyn Malachi’s Beautiful Dreamer was featured on FOX 5 DC Morning News.

Shell’s career as a Recording Artist took off in 2012 when “Freedom”, his collaboration with Trey Eley was launched by the Recording Academy via a Worldwide Exclusive First Listen at GRAMMY.com in 2012. The album was also featured as one of Generation Bass’ Top Albums for 2012.

In 2013, Shell collaborated with Arun Shenoy on “Genesis”, a jazz instrumental which received massive airplay as the lead single on the full length album, “Victorious”. The video for “Genesis” was released via Steven Slate’s youtube channel in a cross-promotion for the Raven MTX multi-touch control surface.

In 2014, Shell released a single “My Baby”in association with DJ Flexx. The song featuring the vocal talents of IhsAn Bilal, Honore’ & D.C. Don Juan was a song Shell co-wrote and produced for his wife, Terra.

Shell released his follow-up to “Victorious” in 2015 titled “Spiritual Relationship: The Deeper Meaning”. The music on the album was conceived over a 15 year period. During this process, over 200 songs were created and scratched before this final version of 11 songs were picked to be recorded and release as part of this project. Shell’s wife, Terra, inspired the completion of this concept album which goes from two destined souls being alone, to meeting, to growing in love, to protecting each other, to finding true love that lasts a lifetime.

As a freelance audio production engineer, Shell has produced for several other artists including Kenny Wesley, Gerald Albright, Greg Adams, Paul Jackson Jr., Wouter Kellerman, Rocio Marron, Vicu Schek, Kenny McNeil, Collin Brooks, Substantial, Rafael the Drummer, D2D, Kolten Perine, Javier, and Marcus Johnson, has remixed for Selena Gomez, assistant engineered for Philip Lawrence, engineered for O.A.R., and mixed for Free, Jeff Lorber, Ricky Kej, and Marcus Mitchell, among others.

CEO: MTS Music
Producer: The Opportunity
Engineer: The Sweet Spot, Assembly Line Studios, Blue Room Productions and DJ Flexx’s “The Pocket”
Adjunct faculty: Omega Studios

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7 thoughts on “A community approach to breaking free from writer’s block

  1. Gorgeous music composition and I thank you for including it.
    I think as a writer finding a community to bring support to one another is paramount to getting over speed bumps like writer’s block.
    A writing tribe is a priceless community to be part of.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I think this discussion could really help artists develop practical strategies for overcoming writers block. Much of the feedback from the question seems to suggest that writers block may be overcome in various ways by changing one’s STATE. Suggestions such as going for a hike, taking a break, meditation, experiencing new creative works by other artists, remembering something, and many others like these, point to the alteration of one’s current state of being (i.e. a change in one’s normal trend of thought, mood, physiology, etc.). There seems to be many healthy (and unhealthy) ways to do this, all of which help fresh ideas to emerge. Sometimes casting ‘uninspired’ work in a positive light and using it as fertilizer for future inspired works can make all the difference.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. For me songwriting is a form of expressing an emotion, an idea, a reflection, etc. A lot of times the reason we don’t have much coming out of our hearts and heads is because we have spent that energy on other things. Think of the times when you don’t feel like writing, and then ask yourself why that might be. Then think of the times that you have felt like writing, and then ask yourself why that might be. I usually like to write when I have given out of my want to someone who is in need. I am inspired to give out of my want when I take time to reflect on how grateful I am for what I have. Other times are when I just simply want to make someone smile and encourage a person I come across that is stressed or unhappy, or maybe someone who is elated because something great happened to them. Sometimes my songs come from dreams and analyzing my dream helps me connect with relationships with others and learn more about myself. These experiences allow a space to open up in my heart, and there begins stems for new songs. The melodies come pretty quickly too. When I can empathize with others or when I have a conviction, the spirit of songwriting comes on strong. I believe in many ways that songwriters are messengers. We are both spiritual and natural. What we do in the natural is reflected in the spiritual, and then reflected in the message/songwriting. We can all learn notes, scales, theory, technique, and the natural part of music making, but if we are messengers I think it’s crucial to identify what the message is… The message is usually what we feel passionate about. Being true to our hearts is when songwriting is really the most fruitful. It’s easy to craft a “catchy” love song, but to write a true song requires courage, authenticity and belief. We have to dig deeper for those songs and that takes time and quiet reflection. What is your heart trying to say? Take your time, no need to rush… 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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