Writer’s block is a highly discussed topic among creatives, some believing it to be nothing more than a fallacy or an excuse for inaction on the artists part. Those that have gone through the phase are familiar with the feeling it triggers of not being able to create anything ‘worthwhile’.
I’m not sure whether it exists or not, but I do believe that what it triggers, is. Let me explain.
Writer’s block is often thrown around and used as excuses for inaction, or another phase I hear a lot is ‘uninspired’. Sitting around waiting for inspiration to suddenly hit you before you get started on a project is the fastest way to never creating anything. In fact, that’s not even how inspiration works. You have to be inside a project, navigating around your thoughts and ideas, starting to peace something together before anything ever suddenly ‘hits’ you’. This notion that inspiration strikes you like a bolt of lighting just isn’t real for 99% of artists. Sure, there are mutants in our society that operate in different ways to the norm, if you’re part of that 1% then please dismiss this advice. I’m speaking to the 99% that I believe myself to be apart of. The best ideas come when you’re sat at your station, creating.
The next half of this post will be a few ideas that have helped me through stages in where I’m struggling to create, these concepts will be for music producers, but you can apply them to your craft with a little imagination.
When you’re struggling to create something, it may be for one of two reasons I’ve found. The first is that you don’t have anything, in particular, you want to create, you’re just going with the flow and seeing what happens. But, because you’re approaching a project in this way, it can be hard just to get started. I believe once you get yourself started, the floodgates will open, and ideas will come pouring in. My advice? Copy. Find a track you like and copy it. Copy the drum pattern, the baseline, the melody, the synthesisers, copy everything. What will happen is that you’ll get so far through this process, and suddenly something else will start to form. You may decide that you don’t like their snare drum or melody, and you’ll begin to change things, but little by little, this track you copied will turn into an entirely new idea. Nothing from the original record will be remaining upon the completion of your new track. Don’t believe me? Try it. This concept works because the hardest part is getting started. Once you’re working with sounds it becomes easy to bounce ideas off one another, find out what works and more importantly, what you like.
The second is putting self-inflicted pressure on yourself, perhaps comparing your work to others and feeling its always falling sort. The other kind of pressure is to create a ‘full track’, I addressed this concept in one of my tutorials as I believe it is a common issue among musicians, one I’ve surfed with many times. It’s this idea of always having to create a 3 to a 4-minute piece of music and call it a track. Not every idea is meant to be 3 minutes, most of the records released today are only 60 seconds in length, the other 2 minutes are just a repeated version sometimes with little variation and sometimes with none!
One of my favourite albums of all time, ‘Donuts’ by J Dilla is the best example of this; the album is a collage of musical ideas some 30 seconds, some 90 seconds and others around the more accepted 3-minute mark. Dilla made the majority of this album in his hospital bed while suffering from thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP), a very rare blood disorder in which blood clots form in small blood vessels throughout the body, limiting or blocking the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the body’s organs. Even more, he left hidden messages embedded in the tracks for his loved ones. Sadly, he passed away only three days after Donuts was released, at the age of just 32. Dilla’s MPC, his instrument of choice, has since been added to Washington DC’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, where it belongs.
For me, this album is a true work of art and is a constant reminder of how great music should feel. I encourage everyone reading this to have your own influences that you can turn to in your time of need, often it’s only a gentle reminder we need.