5 Ways to Beat Writer's Block

The blank screen stares back at you. All those ideas you had have suddenly evaporated. How do you get those creative thoughts flowing again? In this blog post I give you 5 ways to get back in the flow.

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By Adrian Earnshaw

We’ve all been there. Ideas for your next opus have been bouncing around your head all day and you cannot wait to hit the studio. However, when you get in front of the screen those ideas become like mist in the wind and evaporate. 

The first thing to realise is that starting from a blank piece of paper or screen is the hardest part. It is always easier to pick up something partially completed.

By the end of this article you should have some ammo to fire against that nasty monster called “Writer’s Block”.

1. Start with a Chord Progression

As a musician we all know how to form chords and are probably familiar with certain progressions that work out of the box. A gazillion songs have been written using just 3 chords, I, IV & V. Programme a progression into your DAW, cycle/loop it for a period of 16 bars and jam over the top of it.

It is amazing how the fact you have actually made a start and put something down kick starts the brain. However, if you are not well versed in chord progressions there are tools out there to help.

Plugin Boutique offer a plugin called Scaler, which comes jam packed with chord progression suggestions ready made. You can also experiment by using the progression builder and dragging the final arrangement into your DAW as MIDI.

Another option out there is an offering from Xfer Records called Cthulu. This is quite a nifty piece of software that allows you to rework Bach Chorales into new progressions. I will, however, review these two plugins in a future blog post. 

The first thing to realise is that starting from a blank piece of paper or screen is the hardest part. It is always easier to pick up something partially completed.

2. Have a Favourite Patch Folder

If you are not feeling inspired grab your favourite synthesizer and make a favourites patch folder. A simple sound can ultimately inspire your next track. Using this approach gives you a starting palette and takes some of the pressure off from programming the sound before you tuck into writing.

If you are dead set against using presets then set some time aside to have a programming session in the studio. That way when you come to write it is a writing session. 

3. Start with a Drum Loop

Nothing beats (no pun intended) a good groove to get those creative juices flowing. This approach works nicely with the chord progression suggestion. Put these two together and you are already part way to writing a track – well done.

I would also suggest you experiment with layering drum loops to get something unique. 

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4. Use the Dice, Luke!

Sometimes facing the blank screen feels like taking on the Death Star. There is one little trick that can help you write melodies. All it takes is a simple set of dice.

This trick usually works best with a set of six dice but if you don’t have any physical ones to use there is always the virtual variety.

First pick the key you would like to write in. For this example we will use A minor. If the dice roll the following number 5, 1, 3, 6, 2, 5 you transfer these to the respective note names. This would translate to E, A, C, F, B, E on the keyboard.

If you couple this with a drum loop to get a sense of rhythm. The notes then slot into place in what seems like a completely random sequence of events.

5. Map out a Track

Here we are, the final tip to beat that writer’s block. Grab a track, import it into your sequencer of choice and create a template map.

By this I mean to map out the track, for example when the drum/rhythm track starts, when certain instruments are brought in. Does the piece go verse, chorus, verse, chorus or is there something else at play?

When you have this mapped out save it as a template. That way you can use this and any other template tracks you create as a starting tool. You then simply transfer your ideas into the map and you have your unique track.

It is okay not to stick religiously to the template, in the end it is just a tool to get those creative ideas flowing.

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