by Katie Anne Mitchell
Recently I saw a post on Facebook that if you didn’t have the words consistently pouring out of you, then you shouldn’t be writing. This year has been a really fortunate year for me musically and, to end it all, I’m recording my very first album in November (woo-hoo!). However, in finishing putting everything together to get ready to record, I hit a bit of a creative rough patch. So, after reading the Facebook post, I had a brief flash of existential crisis. Fortunately, after a few hours, I came to my senses and I realized that this is, in short, complete baloney. First and foremost, I don’t believe anyone has the power or knowing to dictate how your creative expression should manifest or what constitutes someone worthy of spending their time on an art form. Secondly, I’ve done enough interviews to know that some of my absolute favorite songwriters have taken years off of their craft….sometimes willingly, sometimes from external factors outside of their control and yes, sometimes because they weren’t inspired for a while. Fortunately for me, my creative block is currently on leave so, for any of you out there who might be currently down with a case of writer’s block, here are a few things that helped me through:
1) Writing every day. In whatever form. I usually did Morning pages and then tried to write a couple lines of something lyrical, even if that meant (which it oftentimes did) writing absolute crud. Trying to write a few lines even if I hated them and felt completely uninspired got me through the sludge enough to write the better lines. As was stated in a Birds of Chicago interview “Even if you’re not feeling inspired, write something, maybe you won’t ever sing that to anyone or keep it, it won’t be something that you use, but it has a use in that it’s like you’re getting rid of the dross so you can find those gleaming gems of good songs in there somewhere.”
2) Friendship. I think that when you admit to someone else that you’re struggling, the less power that struggle has over you. For me, being uninspired is attached to a sense of shame, so it can be humiliating to admit when I’m in a funk. Luckily in my case, I have a friend who was kind enough to see I was struggling and approach me about it and give me the space and acceptance to talk about what I was going through without judgment. However, even if someone doesn’t come to you, calling up a loved one in your life and talking about it can take enough weight off of you and give you enough power to move forward. There is nothing wrong with reaching out for help when you need it. We’re all human and we all need someone to confide in sometimes.
3) Taking control. The creative process is tricky in that you have to let it flow through you and surrender to it, but you also have to take enough control and initiative in order to prepare yourself so that you’re ready when it does come around. In my case, that meant taking more lessons, booking more gigs to test out new songs, and creating a space where inspiration could come to me. In a recent Art of the Song interview with famed “Peaceful, Easy Feeling” songwriter Jack Tempchin, he describes how Glenn Frey used to court the muse through setting out rockstar wine and candles. Sometimes, taking initiative to set the stage for inspiration to come is as important as the actual process of creating.
4) Trusting that you have something to say. As we say at Art of the Song “Everybody has a song to sing.” I don’t know about you all, but this is immensely hard to believe when you are staring down at a blank piece of paper regurgitating some half-hearted cliché line. However, not only do we all have experiences that are unique to us, but I think it’s also importantly to conversely remember that we all are human and do share certain experiences so anything that you write will be relatable to someone out there. So, for me, embracing both my individual voice and as well as my part in the larger human experience helped me to access inspiration.
Just my two cents, but I’m rooting for all of you out there. If you have any wise tips to add, let us know and we’ll add them on our social media.