song writing

I’m Out of Ideas…

Not really! But I do want to talk about inspiration and what one CAN do when they feel the ol’ creative well is dry.

Inspiration doesn’t always come in a glorious flash of brilliance. The old lightbulb analogy, while occasionally apt, is usually not the case. The Muse is sometimes shy and often requires work to coax out of hiding. So what can you do when you’re staring at a blank page with nothing coming out of your pen? Here are five tips I believe are helpful to find inspiration when inspiration doesn’t want to find me.

1: Let your mind wander. While this may seem like an obvious thing to do, it can be challenging when faced with a deadline. When one over-focuses on the finish line, you tend to lose focus on your work, so the deadline becomes a distraction and your mind can’t naturally wander for ideas. Let that go, even if it’s just for fifteen minutes, and fiddle around on the guitar or whatever instrument you’re writing with. Just relax and play whatever comes out. Be it random chords or even someone else’s song. This might appear to be easier said than done, but doing this can loosen the brain, so to speak, and allow your thoughts to flow more freely. PLUS you might even come up with something you can use in your song!

2: Go backwards. There’s no set way to write a song. If you’re having trouble with your song, try writing the end first and work backwards. This works for any part of the song, really. If you end up stuck on one part, go to another part that you maybe have a slightly better formed idea for. Be it the music in the mid eight or a bit of lyrics in the third verse, nothing says you have to start at the beginning or even a whole part of a song in order. When stuck, I’ve left blank spots in verses to swing back to. I do this more now with the weekly songs, but I find it very helpful. Just don’t forget to come back to them! Admittedly, I once forgot about a lyrical blank spot in a verse and had to write it in when recording the vocals. It worked out in the end, but now I leave a note or something to flag me to come back to that spot.

3: Listen to other music. This might seem detrimental, as you’re trying to be original in your work and, you know, not get sued. But hearing what others have done can open some creative doors. Just don’t copy their work. The trick is to take the FEEL of what they’ve done and filter it through yourself. I’ve done this a couple times specifically with a song’s structure. I’ll hear whatever song and say (to no one) “I want to do something like THAT” and point to the stereo (also for no one). Then I’ll try to apply that feel into whatever song I’m working around it. DO NOT lift whole rhythms or chord structures. That’s when you get into lawsuit territory. To avoid this I’ll listen to whatever song once, maybe twice to get the idea down, then stop listening to it altogether until I’m finished. That way the other song is less “in my head” and my song takes over.

4: Keep your eyes and ears out for ideas. The world is chock full of ideas, you just need to be receptive to them. Always have your “writer’s glasses” on and keep an eyes and ears out for these ideas. A seemingly innocuous phrase heard in passing or a random sign on the street could be the spark to fire your imagination into creating a great song. If you’re creatively stuck, change your scenery (if safely able to do so) and look and listen around. Not only will this refresh your brain, but it’ll give you to the opportunity to discover these ideas. I’ve also found that when you’re already in “writing mode” you’re more receptive to these ideas because your brain is already thinking in that way. Just don’t forget the idea when it appears! Which leads me to my final tip:

5: Keep a cache of song ideas. Be it a small notepad or an app on your phone, having the ability to write down your ideas at any time is extremely important. It also gives you something to look at for inspiration. I personally write and save an email draft on my phone. That way my ideas are backed up on the cloud in case my phone is lost/stolen/thrown in a lake by a toddler.

So there you have it. Five tips for finding inspiration when inspiration seem nowhere to be found. I hope you find some use from these and feel free to share your own tips in the comments.