To write my forthcoming novel, The Next Thing You Know, I had to get inside the psyche of a guitarist: The creative flow of writing a song, the exhilarating rush of taking the stage.
The pain when the process isn’t working like it should.
There are so many parallels between all the creative arts, it’s no wonder so many of us populate our stories with characters who are painters, sculptors, crafters, creators. Characters we intuitively understand something about.
The other day I was watching an interview with acclaimed musician and songwriter John Mayer when he said something so profound about writer’s block that I felt compelled to pause the video and run for a pen to jot it down. That got me wondering: How do other musicians view creative blocks? And what else can we writers learn from them?
Here are three great tips worth singing to yourself when things get tough.
Focus small to write something big.
Here’s that insight from John Mayer that stopped me in my tracks:
“Whenever I want to write a big song, I can’t. A big song meaning spatial: I want to write about outer space, I want to write about the huge, glacially large space inside of the heart … that’s when I get writer’s block. Because I try to put a song to fill the entire galaxy, and I’ve never gotten a song that way.
“But if I write a song about something the size of a glass of water, and I do it right, I notice a week later it’s got the universe in it. So I’d rather have the universe in a glass of water than try to make a glass of water fit the universe.”
Remind yourself to have faith.
“I’m sure every writer’s had [writer’s block]. But it’s just a lack of confidence. You have to remind yourself that it’s lack of confidence. If you did it once, you can certainly do it again. If you start doubting yourself, you can get in that frame of mind. But you’ve got to remind yourself, ‘This is what I do. And I’ve done it a lot. And there’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to do it again.’” —Tom Petty, From Conversations With Tom Petty by Paul Zollo
(For more on refilling your creative well, don’t miss our 5 Summertime Lessons to Fuel Your Writing All Year.)
If you’re forcing it, take a break.
So often I hear writers talk about keeping their butt in the chair, no matter what,I found it interesting that multiple chart-topping musicians have a different take. Here’s more from Conversations With Tom Petty:
“I’ll tell you what happens. If I’m doing a record, and I’ve written ten or eleven, it’s almost like the well just needs to be refilled before any more is going to come out. I’m out. I’m out of ideas. When I can come back in eight months and boom, there it is again.” —Tom Petty
Ed Sheeran spoke even more definitively on this at the Berlinale 2018 Songwriter Premiere:
“What I’ve learned about writer’s block is it doesn’t actually exist, you should just not push it. If you’re trying to write a song and you can’t, you shouldn’t just try and write it—because then the block will happen and then in your head you’ll think, oh, I’ve got writer’s block now. So what I do when I can’t write a song is I just put the guitar down and go and do something else for a couple of weeks and then come back and I’ll be able to write a song. The way that my mind is now is that I’ll be able to write songs forever.” —Ed Sheeran (watch him say it himself here)
Do these takes resonate with you? How is your experience different? Visit Career Authors on Facebook to join our discussion.