The Blank Page: Dealing with Writer's Block as a Composer

Coming up with that first idea can be a very frustrating part of composing. Once you have that initial germ of an idea, the compositional process becomes much easier, but getting there can require large amounts of time. Even if you don't have writers block, there are practical steps you can take to improve your writing.

Avoid taking your writers block too seriously, the more you stress about the problem, the worse it becomes. This is a time in which your brain is looking for new ideas that it can't yet express. Sit down to write every day, and you will eventually break through this block and ideas will start flowing freely again.

Get Some Air

Sometimes getting outside is enough to initiate a new idea. It may not always be possible to get outside depending on the local conditions, but exercise and a change of routine are crucial for composers. Find a way to get some physical activity to help distract you from your work.

Often, just taking a break is all you need to get out of a rut. I find that driving, hiking, running, and walking all have a beneficial effect on the compositional process. There is something about getting your body moving, and exposing yourself to changing scenery that invokes the creative process. Composers are often sedentary because of the nature of their work and a daily stroll can help you relax and give you space to solve problems.

If you are working an active job right now to pay the bills it may not seem necessary, but as you begin to gain recognition, exercise becomes more crucial, especially as you age. I realize it may come as a shock that I am telling composers to exercise, but think about it. Every aspect of your life depends on your health. If you aren't healthy, your brain doesn't function properly, your body is weak, and you won't have the energy needed to fulfill your obligations as a composer.

Writing Schedule

If getting outside and getting some exercise doesn't help you, the next thing to do is add a writing schedule. Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven and many other masters of the craft all wrote on a daily schedule. Philip Glass, a modern composer, is known for his discipline to write at the same time each day. Glass believes that the schedule allows his mind to prime itself and prepare for writing. He has stated that this simple process allows him to have more ideas and be more creative. The result is that he is more productive and he finds that the mind is naturally more active and creative during his scheduled writing time.

Setting a specific time aside to write is important and will help you get into a routine with your music. If possible, write before you go to work or at the very least write at the same time each day. This makes writing a priority, and it allows your mind to mentally prepare. If you decide to try a schedule you don't need to set aside more than 45 minutes at first. Even if you can only set aside 15 minutes a day to sit in front of a desk and think, it is still beneficial. Once you sit down, commit yourself to a set time and do not leave until that time is up, even if you end up with nothing, you are setting the stage for future work. (If your house catches fire, you have permission to leave.)

My own personal schedule only allows me to sit down and write for about 30 minutes each morning. However, I do that every single day, and it helps me to run through ideas that I otherwise wouldn't address. Then, when I have larger blocks of time, I sit down and expand those ideas into complete compositions. The daily schedule is something that everyone should try to implement. You will find that once you get into a habit of writing at the same time each day, not only does it get easier, but when you don't follow the schedule, ideas start coming to you during that time anyway!

Counterpoint Exercises

Counterpoint used to be the main method of instruction for fledgling composers. Today, it is a great tool for keeping your mind sharp and allowing you to compose when your time is limited. Counterpoint is great for your 15 - 30 minute daily writing schedule and helps keep your skills sharp. Exercises can be completed in as little as fifteen minutes and provided you play the examples back, it helps you to continue to make progress when you would otherwise be unproductive and staring blankly into the great void of space.

Concerts

Go to live concerts. Don't just listen to music on your computer or electronic device. Concerts have an atmosphere that is motivating and you may even find yourself coming up with ideas for your own music during the concert. Music does not exist in a vacuum and listening to other composers music will only help you to become more diverse and aware of what is out there.

I know too many composers that refuse to listen to any music but their own. They are fearful that expanding their musical horizons will somehow limit their creativity! Living in a box does not make you more creative. It stifles your writing and the audience is able to pick up on the experience that is lacking in your music.

Everyone experiences periods with no ideas or motivation to write. When this happens, discipline becomes crucial to the craft. Force yourself to sit down at the same time every day and complete some theory exercises, come up with a melody, or just sit still for a predetermined length of time and think about music. Eventually, your creativity will come back and you will be glad that you worked through your periods of creative paucity.

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