Writer's Block? More Like, 'Writers Rock!'

It's been a while since you've written anything, huh? No judgement here! I know the feeling and have some ideas that may help. I've updated my running list of songwriting prompts gathered over the past year (gasp - I can't believe it's been over a year already!) from my songwriter group. Hope these help!

writing
  1. Using a different melody, write an additional verse to one of your favorite songs...and then finish your song with new verses/chorus.
  2. Write a song with an unusual form (for example, start with the chorus! or if that's not out-of-the-box enough, go even crazier - I challenge you!).
  3. I love this idea but feel free to take elements of it and make it your own since it's a bit more involved. I call it 'Picture Plot': Using a series of photos (which you can collect from any source you like - internet, garage sale, walking around, your camera/phone, Instagram, etc. etc.), arrange them into a 'story' and use that as the basis of your song plot. Happy photo-ing :)
  4. Write a song as if you were a specific artist of band. For example, pretend you are Metallica and write a song that sounds like they wrote it. Get it? Awesome. PS. You don't have to choose Metallica.
  5. Write a song using, or inspired by, 'found sounds.' What does that mean, you ask? Feel free to interpret in whatever way is useful, but here are some examples: Record different sounds throughout your day and then compose a song using your audio software of choice with clips from said recorded songs. You could also record and/or jot down notes based on sounds heard throughout the day and use them as your song inspiration (i.e. you heard two people discussing a family argument and use that as the subject matter, meanwhile, a sound clip heard at a nearby coffee shop forms the basis of your melody, etc. etc.).
  6. Write a song inspired by a proverb. What exactly is a proverb, you ask? Well, it's a short pithy saying, stating a general truth or piece of advice. For example, 'the pen is mightier than the sword' or 'when in Rome, do as the Romans.'
  7. Write a song about outer space. Awesome.
  8. Use a different instrument OR use a non-instrument (i.e. physical object or computer-based) OR use an alternate tuning (for stringed instruments).
  9. Pick up any book or magazine, open it up to a random page and chose the first sentence on that page. Make that the first line of your song.
  10. Choose a song or album at random (shuffle on iTunes or grab an actual CD/record, etc.) and write a song inspired by that style/genre.
  11. Write a song without using any pronouns.
  12. Choose a phone number out of your phone and write a song using the chords from the number. Pick any key. If you want to limit the number of chords in your progression, choose a number with a few zeros. You can decide to keep the chords in the same order or mix it up. For example: 508-243-5454 in the key of C, would be: Gmaj - (skip the 0) - Cmaj - Dmin - Fmaj - Emin - Gmaj -Fmaj - Gmaj - Fmaj
  13. Finish an unfinished song!
  14. Try an online random prompt generator. Some examples include: Creativity Portal and Learn How To Write Songs
  15. Write a song in which the chorus is one verb repeated as many time as you like.
  16. Take an existing song and 'turn it on its head.' It's up to you how you want to interpret that - you can remix it, rewrite the lyrics, rearrange the music, change the style, you name it! But don't be afraid to take it in another direction completely and ultimately create a brand new song out of the exercise.
  17. Write a song in a style (or genre) that is different from what you normally do. For example, if you typically write pop songs, try a ballad or narrative - or go classic rock!

Songwriting Prompts

Songwriting Prompts Image

Over the years, I've participated in a few different types of songwriter groups, where people get together to workshop their material. This past September, I started a new group of my own (affectionately referred to as 'Fury Wrote' ... I'll give you a hint: think 'Mad Max'). For each meeting, I provide an optional writing prompt and at this point, I've assembled a small collection of prompts that I thought might be helpful to share. So please enjoy and I hope these inspire!

  1. Pick up any book or magazine, open it up to a random page and chose the first sentence on that page. Make that the first line of your song.
  2. Choose a song or album at random (shuffle on iTunes or grab an actual CD/record, etc.) and write a song inspired by that style/genre.
  3. Write a song without using any pronouns.
  4. Choose a phone number out of your phone and write a song using the chords from the number. Pick any key. If you want to limit the number of chords in your progression, choose a number with a few zeros. You can decide to keep the chords in the same order or mix it up. For example: 508-243-5454 in the key of C, would be: Gmaj - (skip the 0) - Cmaj - Dmin - Fmaj - Emin - Gmaj -Fmaj - Gmaj - Fmaj
  5. Finish an unfinished song!
  6. Try an online random prompt generator. Some examples include: Creativity Portal and Learn How To Write Songs
  7. Write a song in which the chorus is one verb repeated as many time as you like.
  8. Take an existing song and 'turn it on its head.' It's up to you how you want to interpret that - you can remix it, rewrite the lyrics, rearrange the music, change the style, you name it! But don't be afraid to take it in another direction completely and ultimately create a brand new song out of the exercise.
  9. Write a song in a style (or genre) that is different from what you normally do. For example, if you typically write pop songs, try a ballad or narrative - or go classic rock!

If I Had the Roadmap, I'd Already Be There

I have lamented the challenges of having a dream and no direction as to how achieve said dream so many times. I used to wish I wanted to be a doctor: this is a profession with obvious milestones; a clear direction. It's not an easy path - hardly so! - but if you work hard, it IS an achievable path. I've wanted such a roadmap for a music career most of my life. But alas, if it were really that easy, we'd all be working musicians, wouldn't we?

I'm purposely glib, but the sentiment is true: if it's easy to do, then there's nothing stopping us. But it's not easy; so now what? How do you get from A to Z when you don't even know how to get from A to B? Some of the best advice I've ever heard is to stop trolling the internet for how-tos, stop whining about how hard it is to be in said position and to just start doing....something. When I apply it to my current conundrum, I get easily frustrated: I wish this album was happening a lot faster than it is. But at least it's happening. So there's a B....sort of.

What would you do to make headway on a seemingly undefined path? Do you just start running? And if so, what does that mean to you and your creative pursuits? I've been told you need to be prepared to fail and to 'fail with style'.... and since failing is an action, it's definitely better than sitting on the couch mentally paralyzed by unknowns. Given this advice, my goal is to keep chipping away at tangible achievements: write, write, write; arrange, arrange, arrange; record, record, record. But the progress is still slow going and can be disheartening. Any recommendations for keeping positive?

I love Julia Cameron's Morning Pages idea. It really takes to heart the notion of 'just doing something!.' I'm thinking of modifying the idea a bit so that it applies to songwriting, but to start, I'll just write whatever comes to mind,

Here's to getting things done!

The Inner Circle

The writing process is not unlike that of an incubator: you begin with a spark of an idea which requires time and nurturing in order to develop into a full-fledged piece of work. Constructive criticism is an integral part to a writer's growth, but I think the timing of it is crucial: too soon and the idea will fall apart before it could ever fully form; too late and your confidence is in great danger of wavering. Everyone has an opinion. Art is subjective. Thus, knowing who you are and what you are trying to achieve is crucial.

I've been a part of a few singer/songwriter groups, in which we get together to share ideas, receive feedback and ultimately attempt to better our craft through collaboration. It is because of groups like these that I have made great strides in my writing and for that, I'm so appreciative. However, I've also been a part of meetings where I walked away feeling despondent and completely insecure in my skills. I attribute most of these moments as consequences of bad timing:  sharing a song at the wrong time (in the writing process). When is the right time to let someone into the 'inner circle'?

Preproduction for an album is a bit like the witching hour - anything can happen. You need the right people in your corner who will help you develop your material to its full potential; constructive criticism that ultimately keeps you very focused in the right direction. I keep learning this fact the hard way - rushing to share half-formed arrangements with people who aren't privy to the circle. These people have no idea what ideas were discussed the day prior, no idea as to what drives said arrangement, they just hear sounds without context. Ultimately, your songs WILL have to stand alone but not necessarily as fledging incarnations. Thus, exclusivity has a place in the creation process.

I struggle with finding the right balance within my 'inner circle.' I seek objectivity with support; challenge with understanding. How do you find your 'voice' in barrage of feedback?