By Paul Mitch
In a writer’s rut? Feeling uninspired? Can’t seem to finish a thought without trashing it?
I find that the only way to get out of that rut is to force it for a little while. You’ve always had your studio setup (with your guitars, or your keys or your computer) and I’m not sure what yours looks like right now. I know that it can be tough to use the home studio because it’s like getting a treadmill. ‘I know its right there, but I have so many other things going on, and this TV show is good. I’m watching a movie, it takes too long to get things started..’ etc., etc,. Unfortunately that’s just all the bullshit that separates the successful folks from everyone else.
Sometimes we write songs that suck. It’s part of the process. The more you write, the better the odds that you’ll find a keeper. Think of it methodically for a little while. Sit down and practice alone. Sing. Do what you do. Yes it will start sounding like all of your old stuff, but it will progress to something new. Play along with live shows on TV, play along with songs you like on the internet. Riff. Even old stuff can become new stuff. You are always your own worst critic, and there’s nothing worse than getting into a song, and then abandoning it partway through because you already don’t like it.
I’m going to put some thoughts down in a list, and you can do what you want to with it.
1. Don’t classify yourself. Let other people do that because they will anyway.
2. Don’t judge your songs. Finish your songs. (When was the last time you wrote a full song?)
3. Finish your songs in practice. When was the last time you played through a whole original song you wrote as practice?
4. Open your eyes. The world is full of things to write about.
5. Keep a notebook in your pocket. No joke. Write down a phrase you think of, but then fucking come back to for fuck’s sake.
6. Write a bad song. It’s okay. You don’t ever have to play it for anyone. Write about how it’s hard for you to get through this writer’s block (but don’t say it directly in the song.)
7. Exercise. Your body and your mind. If you feel like shit about yourself, it can be harder to write material. Running clears my mind. Start small.
8. Songwriting is a muscle. It takes work.
9. Visit a fellow musician. Sit and write some stuff together.
10. Don’t be afraid to play for people. I’m terrible at this. I’m trying to get better. Bring your guitar to a friend’s house and when they say “Hey, why don’t you play some tunes?” Do it. I’m not sure if this one applies to you and your friends or not.
How do you get inspired?
– Little things. A moment. A fleeting thought. A phrase that pops into my head.
How do you stay inspired?
– Go to work. That’s a motivator actually. People that suck win awards and I don’t suck. I just need some motivation. There’s only one to blame here. (There. Write a song about that.)
Where are you writing?
– Mainly in my basement. Sometimes in my living room. I wrote a song at work the other day, but haven’t put it to music.
Do you write better by yourself?
– I think I write well with others, but the people I’ve written with don’t live in Madison. So I mainly write by myself. There are websites out there for doing this thing over the net. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m a member on Kompoz dot com.
How can you detach yourself from the pitfalls of knowing what you know about the industry?
– You don’t. You use it to your advantage. Not all of your songs are going to be Grammy worthy (not that that means anything anymore). All you can do is try. Write. Write enough that you don’t need to play all of your songs at a show. Then you can try them out on people and figure out what works. You don’t have to like all of your songs.