Us media composers have it tough these days. Between ever-shortening turnaround times and endless revision requests to “make it sound more epic”, a writer’s block is the last thing we need. Here are some tips, and tricks to help with that dreaded blank page syndrome, gleaned from my own learnings dealing with writer’s block.
0 Diverge and Converge
The biggest takeaway is to break down the creative process into 2 simple steps - diverge and converge. It’s simple,
When diverging, give yourself some time (2 - 20min) and generate as many ideas as you can, as quickly as you can. Take off that judgemental hat and just improvise! Write down whatever comes to mind, and if you write straight to midi with a midi instrument like I do, just leave the DAW on record and jam your heart out.
And remember, don’t judge your work just yet! That comes after.
Time’s up! It’s time to converge. Put your judge’s wig back on, it's time to face the music (ba dum tsss). Ask yourself, which of these ideas do I like best intuitively? Which would fit my film/game/director’s vision the best? Start by eliminating candidate ideas till you’re down to 2-3, then go from there.
Now for the more common sense tips.
1 Set a routine
Establishing a routine can be a great way to combat writer's block. Try setting aside a specific time each day for composing, and stick to it. Even if you're not feeling particularly inspired, just showing up and putting in the time can help get the creative juices flowing. Writing a piece, or several pieces of music incrementally over many days is a much more pleasant process (even if you’re only adding a small part) than trying to squeeze yourself dry in a single sitting.
2 Start with the end in mind
I found that it helped me tremendously to plan out my process ahead of writing. That entails defining a form/structure for my piece, as well as making creative choices before I begin writing. These choices include tempo, harmonic material, a particular time signature, and which acoustic instruments (if any) I’ll be using. I’ll also spend some time building a sonic palette that I’ll stick to for the piece, finding sounds, collecting samples and synth presets, as well as making new ones.
Of course, I don’t necessarily have to follow my plan, that’s the beauty of the creative process. But limiting yourself in terms of choices helps with reducing my anxiety around writing.
3 Putting yourself in the right mental state
This varies from person to person. Some composers might even find that anxiety, fear and negative emotions help motivate them and inspire them. For me personally, I thrive when I’m comfortable and not having to deal with endless torrents of anxious thoughts. Besides a hot shower, enough sleep (I know, a luxury, but a much needed one) and plentiful tea and coffee, I found that mindfulness meditation helped me tons in quieting my mind and letting my emotions sit.
4 Take breaks
It's important to take breaks throughout the composing process. Taking a walk, doing some stretches, or even just stepping away from your workstation for a few minutes can help clear your head and give you a fresh perspective. Plus, taking breaks can help prevent burnout and keep you motivated in the long run.
5 Experiment with different styles
Trying out different styles of music can be a great way to shake things up and get out of a creative rut. If you're used to composing in a specific genre, try experimenting with something completely different. If you’re worried you might go completely off the rails and disappoint your clients, try just experimenting with 1 element. You might be surprised by the results!
6 Collaborate with other artists
Collaborating with other artists can be a great way to get inspired and break out of writer's block. Whether it's working with a vocalist or collaborating with a producer, bouncing ideas off of someone else can help you see your music in a new light. Get feedback is also a great way to generate new ideas. Not only can it help you identify areas where you can improve, but it can also give you a fresh perspective on your music.
7 No Pressure!
Finally, it's important to remember that writer's block is a natural part of the creative process. Don't be too hard on yourself if you're struggling to come up with new ideas. Take a break, try something different, and remember that inspiration will come in time.
So there you have it! By incorporating these habits, tips, and tricks into your composing process, you can overcome writer's block and keep making beautiful music. Happy writing!