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How To Overcome Writer's Block: Use Music As Inspiration

by Natalie Wilson, Professional Musician & Writer

Quick links on this page:

Introduction by Chris Fielden

I've played drums in rock bands for over 30 years (see the music section for details). So when Natalie approached me with her idea for a guest post about using music as inspiration to help cure writer's block, it appealed to me.

Natalie had suffered with a bout of the dreaded block while writing a blog post for Bohemian Guitars, a business that manufacture guitars based in South Africa and the USA.

Bohemian Guitars Logo

I'm lucky. I've never experienced writer's block. However, I do find films inspirational. The music in movies often evokes an emotion that triggers ideas and then a story spills out of my brain. So I understood the concept on that level.

Anyway, I accepted Natalie's idea and she wrote the post, sharing how she used music to overcome writer's block and inspire a blog post that was published.

I hope you enjoy Natalie's post. As always, please leave your comments, questions and thoughts below.

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How To Overcome Writer's Block: Use Music As Inspiration, by Natalie Wilson

Writer's block is an age-old problem that, at one time or another, affects almost everyone who gets involved in the art form. Most of us know the feeling: sitting down to write and all that comes out are a few scattered ideas lacking any sense of coherency. You just can’t seem to create a flow of ideas.

At other times, we can't seem to get the words on the page quickly enough.

These ups and downs are all part of what it means to be a writer. I often find that my best writing will emerge after a bout of the block. However, that doesn't mean there isn't anything I can do to combat, overcome and cure writer's block.

Writer's Block

For most of us, music evokes emotion. For this reason, using music as writing inspiration is a great way to address periods of stagnancy in your writing practice. Old songs trigger personal memories and new songs allow us to connect with the artist. Whether or not your writing is emotional, putting our thoughts on a page requires us to connect with ourselves. If we don't have self-awareness, we won't be able to clearly establish what it is we want to say to our readers.

Recently, while I was writing an article about music and politics, I experienced a serious wave of writer's block. After trying countless writing exercises, I decided to use music as a way to trigger different ideas and emotions. I was shocked at how well it worked.

So let's take a look at what music you can use to beat writer's block in four simple steps:

  1. Define your writing goals
  2. Choose your music
  3. Listen
  4. Build your ideas

Step 1: Define Your Writing Goals

Before you use music as writing inspiration, you should identify your goals. Maybe you want to write about a political event. Maybe you want to write a poem about spring. Or a story set in outer space. It doesn't matter what your goals are, but it's important to establish them. This focusses you on a specific task and is the first step in beating writer's block.

Stop Writer's Block

Try writing down what it is you hope to communicate to your readers. For example, when I was writing my article, I identified who I wanted to direct it at. Then I wrote a straight-forward sentence outlining what I wanted to communicate, and another about the feelings I hoped to evoke in my readers. This is what I came up with:

I want to tell my readers about music's complex role in politics.

My audience will be researchers who are interested in music's social influence, or individuals who are interested in political strategies - I hope to create feelings of enlightenment and curiosity to learn more.

This exercise helped me focus the task and stop my mind wandering.

Step 2: Choose Your Music

This is where the music comes in. It's important to stir up the right emotions to get you closer to your writing goal.

Whatever your topic, pick a type of music that will surface the right feelings to get that flow of ideas going. Are you writing about a recent world event that made you feel angry or hopeless? If so, I wouldn't suggest turning on a happy-go-lucky tune. If you really want to channel frustration onto your page, then you need to embrace it fully. Don't distract yourself from it with music that evokes the opposite emotions.

Musical Instruments

Similarly, nature-inspired poetry might be best accompanied by a type of music that reflects your thoughts about nature. If you're hoping to create serene imagery, maybe avoid metal music. Conversely, heavy metal may work well if you're writing about a hurricane. Just ask yourself what your personal goals are and choose a song accordingly.

Different music resonates with us in different ways. Music that I find calm may induce feelings of irritation or anxiousness in other listeners. That's the great thing about music: it's an extremely personal experience, just like writing. So, if you find a certain genre relaxing, use that as an accompaniment for writing about a calming topic.

When I was undertaking my music-listening exercise to overcome writer's block, I was writing an article about music's effects on social and political movements. In order to recreate the feeling of the different time periods I was writing about, I decided to play music relevant to those specific political movements. For example, I chose to play Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words, as his remarkable music was banned in Nazi Germany because of his Jewish background.

Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words

This set of pieces was a great choice to trigger some reflective writing, as it is shocking that the music of such a talented composer could be deemed unfit for society.

After pressing play, I suddenly felt sad, but also compelled to write about the importance of cultural diversity in the music we listen to. Suddenly my pen was on the move again.

If you want some song suggestions (Chris will probably approve of these), click here.

Step 3: Listen

The first time through the song you've chosen, I'd suggest you just listen. If you've been experiencing writer's block, attempting to write a novel right off the bat may be counter-productive. Try sitting with your eyes closed, absorbing the music and reflecting on the content. You might find a few ideas or emotions surfacing, which can help you overcome writer's block.

Writing Music

When I played Songs Without Words and simply listened, rather than attempting to write my article right away, I remembered all of the other fantastic music I'd heard created by Jewish composers. I couldn't believe how much art would have been ignored due to Nazi censorship and I was relieved that the music had surfaced these feelings. I quickly jotted down names of other Jewish composers, like Schoenberg and Mahler in my notes.

I'd recommend you try it yourself.

Step 4: Build Your Ideas

Once you've immersed yourself in the music you've chosen, you can listen to it again and build on any ideas that might have surfaced.

This is where those notes you may have made in Step 3 can come in handy. For example, I decided to dedicate a large part of my article to musical censorship. Using music as writing inspiration will hopefully enhance or deepen any emotions that you felt prior to sitting down to write. Not only did I remember other remarkable Jewish music and feel sadness, I also felt intense frustration, which compelled me to write.

If you still feel like you need more, you could print out the lyrics to the song you've chosen and do a more in-depth analysis. This might intensify your connection with the music and give you more insight into what the artist was trying to convey through their music.

Conclusion

I hope you find these tips useful. Writer's block can be tough to beat.

Just remember that it happens to most of us, including some very famous authors. You can read some interesting quotes on the subject on Goodreads.

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Natalie Wilson's Biography

Hi, everyone. I'm Natalie Wilson.

Natalie Wilson

When I was five years old, I stumbled upon the instrument that changed my life forever. After strumming a six-string guitar for the first time, I knew I had found what I wanted to spend my life doing: music.

So that's what I did. I became a professional musician and performed regularly while teaching guitar privately. While I loved seeing my students grow and excel at guitar, it wasn't enough for me. I wanted to take things a step further. I wanted to take advantage of my ability to connect with people around the world through the internet.

Musical Advisors Logo

I learned a lot of country music when I was growing up, but I've always loved music too much not to explore other genres. I've played rock, folk, classical, metal and electronic music throughout my career, meaning you'll find articles catering to all different genres on my website.

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Big Thanks to Natalie

I'd like to say a big thank you to Natalie for openly sharing her experiences about using music as inspiration for writing.

If you have a topic you think you could write about for my blog, please check out my submission guidelines.

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Anthony H
Hi, I also played in a band in the early sixties and have always used music as inspiration for my poetry. For instance, I can watch Later with Jules and dictate my poetry down as I listen. It's a fantastic feeling and one that I hope never to lose.

Kind regards and keep your musical ears always open.

Chris Fielden
Thanks Tony.

I agree, Later with Jules Holland is a great show for gaining exposure to new music and inspiration along the way :-)

Natalie W
Thanks Anthony, I agree with your opinion.

Music is a part of life. I think using music as inspiration is interesting. It makes me love music more.

PS, I'll watch Later with Jules - it sounds good.