Running out of ideas

At Songwriter’s Tip Jar forums, we often get questions about how to find new ideas when the well has run dry. There are lots of ways to do this and I like to use as many different ways as I can, to keep it fresh. Here are a couple of ways.

Start with a drum loop. If you use a loop as a creative jump start, you don’t necessary need to keep the loop for the recording. Once you’ve got a melody and some chords and lyrics, you can choose to drop the loop or replace it.

Whenever I get stuck, I try to go back to basics. For one thing, I lower my expectations. So instead of trying to write a #1 hit, I set my sites on something simpler, even as simple as a lullaby or nursery rhyme.

I do this because it takes the pressure off and frees my mind. Then, as I’m working on it, inevitably a simple song leads me to a more interesting song as I embellish here and there and hear a syncopated chorus to contrast with the straight verses (or vice versa).

Intentionally starting simple works well to get me unstuck.

For lyrics, I find it best to stick with something I know well, which is often my own feelings or episodes from my own life. It can also be something I’m passionate about and have studied, researched and/or been immersed in or grew up with. If you write about something you are passionate about, it will show in your writing and it will come through in your singing and playing, if you perform.


Examples of things you might be passionate about can include your family, friends, pet, heroes, hobbies, favorite actors, singers, songwriters, sports or sports team or a cause (like the environment or a charity).

It can even be your favorite beer, favorite vacation spot, favorite time of day, favorite Greek god, favorite ice cream flavor…

Sticking to what I know (and am passionate about) makes it much easier and faster for me to write lyrics.

Musically, I find that it helps to zone out. I mean get yourself into an almost sleep state, while strumming your guitar or sitting at the piano. It helps to have a tape recorder or digital recorder running to capture it all. I do this late at night. If you’re in the market for a small digital recorder, look at the Zoom H2. There are cheaper ones, but none that offer all the bells and whistles and high quality as the H2, at this price.

If this doesn’t work for you, try walking. The idea is still to zone out (I mean get out of your logical thinking brain and into the more non-linear, creative side of your brain).

Walking for me provides a way to notice and pay attention to everything I see, hear and smell and focus on that, instead of the internal self-talk that is usually going on in my head. I want to turn off that voice that says “you can’t write songs” and “just give up,” and instead focus on what’s up right now, whether it’s a butterfly or a siren or an untied shoelace. Just focus on one thing and then the next thing, whatever you observe. It’s good to not have an instrument with you, but you could take a notepad and a recorder, keep it low tech.

See what happens.

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