How to Get Out of a Songwriting Rut

You know the feeling– you’re sitting at your desk, cup of coffee in hand, waiting for inspiration to strike and… nothing.
How did you get here?
What do you do when you just aren’t inspired?
Where do you even start?

Just like most great things in life, this will take hard work and patience, but hopefully in the meantime I can help you reach a real breakthrough with some of my tried and true tips for songwriting success.

1. Write something every day:
Ok, ok I know. This one is the worst. And it’s the answer literally anyone out there will give you. But don’t close your browser yet! I just wanted to get the obvious one out of the way.
So seriously- write every day. Think through your ideas every day. I know some some writers and authors who have a word minimum that they have to hit per day, but I also know writers who don’t have a word limit, they just start writing and don’t stop until their brains start to go gooey. So wake up every day and take a bite of the elephant sandwich– that’s the real secret to getting started, you just have to start.
When you sit down with the intention to write and hours pass and you’re still staring at a blank sheet of paper, it’s not because you’re a bad songwriter or you aren’t creative enough. Some days you’ll write nothing, and then some days you’ll write a whole song! There’s no real science or rhythm to it. What’s important is showing up every day.

2. Draw inspiration from your songwriting heroes but (and this is cheesy) stay true to who you are:
I have songwriters that I really admire and aspire to be like, but I don’t limit myself simply because that one songwriter didn’t do this one particular thing that I think would be cool. I draw inspiration from them, but I certainly don’t use them as templates to try to change who I am. My husband Jason told me one of the ways he figured out his songwriting style was by trying to write like someone else. It just didn’t work! But he was able to use this as an opportunity to see where he was boxing himself in and where his creativity really wanted to take him. Like Conan O’Brien said (and Jason paraphrased), “It’s in our failure to become our perceived ideal that we stumble into being ourselves.”

3. Improve your musicianship:
If you don’t already play an instrument, now is a really great time to start! If you do play an instrument, never stop improving. It will help you immensely in your songwriting if you can play what you hear in your head.

4. Know that you (probably) can’t write a truly great song in 10 minutes:
Edit, edit, edit!– I don’t know if you guys have seen the trailer for the I Can Only Imagine movie, but I have. Not to throw shade on MercyMe if that’s your thing, but there’s this line where he’s sitting in the studio with this girl talking about how he wrote the whole song in ten minutes. Now I’m not trying to be rude here or anything, but I was watching thinking like… “yeah it’s very obvious to me you wrote this song in ten minutes. It’s not good.” I don’t want to be discouraging but those kind of songs are what I like to call 7/11 songs because they’re cheap, easy, and generally low quality.
Another (less shade-throwing) way of looking at it is to think of writers as Producers or Tinkerers. Producers like to crank out song after song so that they have a big pile to pull from, & don’t mind Frankenstein-ing songs together or just throwing songs out completely. For them, the momentum of songwriting helps them to stay at their most creative. On the other hand, Tinkerers are more interested in creating a world within each song, really living in it, & hammering away until it’s perfect. For them, obsessiveness becomes a virtue and they won’t consider a song “written” until it’s perfected in it’s final form.

5. Don’t let your “One Liners” take you hostage:
If you’re like me, you will think of potential song lyrics sporadically, and often incompletely. You may even have pet lines that you have your heart set on and hold onto like they’re your own children (I know I sure do). But these lines can actually hinder your creativity because what you’re really doing is boxing yourself in trying to write an entire song around one line. So here’s what I do: I have a little section in my notebook full of one-liners that I think of. And this is where they live in permanent infamy. And if they work in a song, great! If not, they still get to live here in this little notebook and I get to feel like a genius for writing them. Haha!

6. Record yourself listening to new music:
Some of my most creative ideas come when I’m hearing something for the first time. I’ll set my iPhone to record a voice memo when I’m in the car and play something I’ve never heard before. I’ll often sing or harmonize along to what I think the melody is going to turn into, but because I’ve never heard the song before I have no “biases” as to what it’s supposed to sound like. Oftentimes, I’ll leave the car with an entirely new song, completely different to the one I was listening to.

7. Write down ALL of your ideas:
I’m not kidding. Get yourself a little notebook or start a new note on your iPhone (though I’m partial to pen and paper myself as I’ve had pages of really great ideas suddenly disappear off of my phone) and every time you have an idea, write it down. Now here’s the important part: don’t you DARE judge that little baby idea. Just write it down. I guard my little notebook with MY LIFE. My own HUSBAND doesn’t even get to see it. Because it’s SO cringey. You’re going to have a lot of cringey ideas that you look back at later and go, “what was I thinking, this is so bad!” But I want you to take time to go back and really work through it. See if there’s something there. I’ve found concepts for entire songs hidden inside of a terrible line that I thought was so inspirational when I was 20 and heartbroken.

8. Treat yourself like a professional writer and respect your time:
Write for the job you want, not the one you have! My mind is the clearest and I’m most productive when I act like a professional songwriter. On days when I’ve scheduled myself to write something, I’ll get up in the morning, get ready for the day in a way I imagine myself doing it if I were getting paid to do this. I’ll set “office hours” for myself and stick to them. I treat it like it’s a job– I respect my time and my process and most importantly, I respect myself.

9. Fight for your passion
A lot of times, us adults with our boring adult jobs and our boring adult responsibilities and our boring adult lives can get into ruts. But you can’t inspire others if you can’t inspire yourself. And when life gets crazy (as life does), we really need to fight for that inspiration. So fight to write about what moves you. Fight every day and fight passionately.

I hope this post helps you in your songwriting endeavors! Let’s start a dialogue! Did these tips work for you? And feel free to comment below with your own favorite methods of fighting writer’s block.

xx Katelyn


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