Arranging & OrchestrationBehind the Scenes

How to Overcome Writer’s Block and Avoid It Altogether

overcoming writer's block

Here’s a bit behind the scenes of what I am up to at the moment. The Key to Change Studio and Classical KING FM 98.1 have partnered in a new artist-in-residence program. Low and behold I been have selected as the inaugural composer and will compose 7 new works for violin and piano. So for today’s article, I decided to revisit the topic of overcoming writer’s block.

Writer’s block arises when we are too focused on creating masterpieces instead of perfecting the process of expression through music.

If you are a music creator, you may know the struggle of overcoming writer’s block. It can cause a sense of panic.

When faced with writer’s block it is tempting to give up and wait for a moment of inspiration.

However, if you hope to become prolific you need to create music on a regular basis – good or bad. Writer’s block arises when we are too focused on creating masterpieces instead of perfecting the process of expression through music.

overcoming writer's block

If time permits, we’re probably better off spending one day composing ten themes and choosing the best of the bunch.

Instead, we are led to believe that is the path to greatness is spending one week searching for “the one” great musical idea. Consistent output will help us create masterpieces due to the constant honing of our skills. Here is some insight from other music creators.

5 Tips for Overcoming Writer’s Block

1. Isolate

Overcoming writer’s block begins with clearing all distractions. No matter how much of a multitasker you think you are, distractions will derail your creative flow every time.

2 to 3 hours of laser focus will yield an incredible quantity and better quality work. This is because it takes us an average of 23 minutes to recover from a distraction. The more often you are distracted, it is likely that you will become frustrated with the creative process.

2. Sketch

Stop striving to be “perfect”. Instead, keep it simple and build from there. You have to be in touch with the way each sound, chord, scale, arpeggio, etc. makes you feel. Once you find something that you connect with write it down or record it.

This method will help you complete a quick sketch. Once you have a sketch, you can then begin to “fill in the blanks”.

3. Be honest

We all come up with ideas that are not so great. That’s okay. When this happens it is important to assess why the idea is not so great. This may result in a few tweaks or, possibly, throwing the entire idea out. Don’t take it personally, even Johannes Brahms destroyed at least one dozen of his works.

4. Capture interesting ideas regularly

iPhone’s Voice Recorder app is one of my favorite apps. I capture motifs or interesting melodic lines while watching a movie or at the grocery store. We all have these ideas, but we let them go.

So often times when I sit down to compose, I have a few voice notes that I can refer to. This can really kickstart the creative process!

5. Improvise your way out

The entire writing process is one big improvisation that I am simply attempting to capture. As soon as I run out of fresh ideas, I improvise. This creates “forks in the road”.

As soon as I realize that I like direction one of the “roads” is going, I follow it. This can sometimes keep me busy for another 1-2 hours before I have to repeat the process.

Quotes from Music Composer and Music Producers

Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)

Conductor and composer of West Side Story, Candide, On the Waterfront

overcoming writer's block

“To achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time.” –Leonard Bernstein

John Williams

Conductor and Composer of Stars Wars & Indian Jones franchises

overcoming writer's block

“You never write a theme for a movie thinking, ‘This will live forever’.” –John Williams


Rapper, singer, songwriter of Be Okay, Boom Boom Pow, and I Gotta Feeling

overcoming writer's block

“If you know how to freestyle, you will never have writer’s block.” –Will.i.am

Move out of writer’s block and into a constant, creative current by writing faster. In order to write faster, you’re going to need to accept mediocrity.

–Andrea Stolpe, songwriter for Faith Hill, Julianne Hough, and Daniel Lee Martin

Maria Schneider: Overcoming “Composer’s Block”

Composer’s Block is fear of not coming up with something as good as before and that I really have to believe that the richest things in my life are what’s yet to come.

–Maria Schneider, Jazz Composer

End Writer’s Block: 20 Songwriting Tips from Andrea Stolpe | Berklee Online | ASCAP | Songwriting

Food for thought from composer John Williams

“I’ve never experienced anything like a block. For me, if I’m ever blocked or I feel like I don’t know where to go on the next turn, the best thing for me is to keep writing to write something. It could be absolute nonsense. But it will project me into the next phase of thinking.

And I think if we ourselves as writers get out of the way and let the flow happen, and not get uptight about it (so to speak) the muses will carry us along. The wonderful thing about music is it never seems to be exhausted. Every little idea germinates another one.

Things are constantly transforming themselves in musical terms so that the few notes we have, 7, 8, or 12 notes, can be morphed into endless variations and it’s never quite over. So I think the idea of a block is something we need to work through.”

John Williams
(excerpt from The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth by John C. Maxwell)

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