Jose Feliciano’s soulful rendition of the Doors’ ode to seduction, “Light My Fire,” is one of my favorite covers of all time.
The title also speaks to me about how I might rekindle a creative flame that’s suffering from burnout. Over the years I’ve come to recognize certain things I can do to keep from getting frustrated and giving up too soon. I touched on the subject in a previous blog entitled “Blocking Writer’s Block,”but since my own discoveries about helpful habits are constantly expanding, I’d like to take it a bit further here.
Here we go!
1. If you want to write a song that evokes a certain mood, first try listening to other songs that make you feel that way. The intent is to simply access and absorb that feeling so you can offer it up yourself. For example, give Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” a listen if your song is carefree, or Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License” if you want to channel that disappointed heart.
2. Trust in the morning. A good night’s sleep is incredibly restorative. Your brain is working even when you’re not wracking it. Sleep is where tired synapses and cells recharge. You’ll be surprised how fresh you feel when your alarm goes off.
3. If you can’t get un-stuck, walk away. Make a sandwich. Call your mom. Allow yourself some retail therapy. Ignore creative block as you might a high school crush back when you played childish games. Watch how fast “it” comes back.
4. Do not be a slave to that screen, no matter how helpful a rhyming dictionary or search engine can be. Get up and move. Motion stirs up natural word-play and, at times, even unexpected rhyme.
Digression alert: I’m actually tapping this article while on an elliptical machine. Added perk: Workouts go much faster when your mind is active. Even faster than they do when you’re (passively) listening to music.
5. Check out an old photo album — hard copy or digital — and wait for the feels you used to feel for an old flame. There’s nothing like the memory of that magical summer with the One That Got Away to trigger a vulnerable opening line. Case in point: “Almost made you love me,” the first line of my song “Almost Doesn’t Count,” fell from my lips while turning the pages of an album of my own.
6. Pick up a different instrument. You don’t have to play it well. In fact, it’s probably better if you don’t because you’d be too in control. And that’s not what creativity is about. Happy accidents can happen when you stumble on the keys or fumble with the strings!
7. Seek out a new collaborator with a different sensibility. Just when you have no idea how to advance your song, they very well might know exactly what to do. Your rut is their no-brainer. And their rut is yours. If you’re lucky enough to find each other, you’ll want to hug and kiss constantly. Even jump up and down. I’m not kidding. I speak from experience.
8. If you’re getting bored of your own predictability, have a listen to other songwriters. For example, check out the way Silk Sonic changes key on “Leave The Door Open.” I might not have thought to go there myself, but I totally dig it so maybe I’ll consider something like that in the future. There’s no right or wrong — just an invitation to open your mind and widen your palate.
9. Less is more. Sometimes we overthink and want to make all of our creations masterpieces, even though many of today’s pop songs are actually more like nursery rhymes. Consider a simpler, sparser lyric on a verse, or a chant instead of a conventional bridge.
10. Go easy on yourself if you just can’t get into the zone. We’re not supposed to be in that space every day; otherwise, there would be no need to differentiate the area by calling it “the zone.” Maybe today just wasn’t the day. But it’s no time to wallow in the mire. Let it go. Because you know what they say about letting go: If it comes back, it was meant to be yours.
You can read a new From the Muse blog on the second Monday of every month. Check out Shelly’s other postings.