How to Use Music to Get Past a Creative Block

This is my favorite technique for getting something down on paper. It has never ever failed me. I’m not promising it’ll work for you, but you may find it worth a try. If you’ve ever heard of automatic writing, it’s a lot like that, except … it’s not.

It starts like this: I have a really strong connection to certain music. I’m sure a lot of people do. I often find myself making soundtracks in my head for my writing projects, the books I read, and even the everyday scenes of my life. I love to find the song that perfectly suits the mood or situation.

So, when I want to write about something but I don’t know how to approach the topic, I find a song that seems to echo the way I feel about that topic. Today, for example, I wanted to write about technology in a way that’s not “sciency.” I believe the human aspects of technology (how and why we use it, make it, and relate to it) is essential and really says a lot about human nature. So, I picked a song that I think relates to that feeling: “Digital Ghost” by Tori Amos.

Then, I put my headphones on, put that song on repeat, turned the volume up, and started writing. Quick tip: the volume should be just shy of that level where it starts to hurt your ears. This is probably bad for your ears, but it’s good for the thought process. It drowns out any external sounds but also weird internal sounds like the spit in your mouth, your own breathing, and yes, even some of your own thoughts. I find this allows me to turn off my inner critics for a while.

Some people may find this to be the hard part. The next thing is that you have to tap into it. What’s that mean? Well, this is another reason your music needs to be loud. You have to physically get into the music. Let your mind slip in between the notes. You are not listening to the music, but you’re letting it surround you and using it as a tool to pull up the particular set of feelings that you want to get into words. This probably won’t work with a subject you really don’t care about because you’ll find it harder to make the visceral connection between the sound and the idea, but I guess you could try it.

Once you tap into it, start writing. I like to do this by actually writing the words “tap into it” because this sends my brain the message that we’re going into writing mode now. After that, the first couple sentences sometimes come out a little wonky, but I just tell myself to keep going and let it all out. Edit later, etc. Just write until you feel the words tapering off. It’s like emptying a glass of water onto the ground. You’ll know when it’s done because there’s just nothing else coming out of the glass, and nothing else hitting the ground.

Don’t judge it. Don’t re-read it. Don’t go post it online immediately. Just let it sit a while, and come back to it later. I don’t promise that what you write using this technique will be useable every time, but I do think it’s a great way to get past some of your little blocks in order to get something on paper.

I hope you’ll try it. If you do, let me know how it turns out.

best journal entry titles from 2011
Stella and the Chickens

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