Looking over the last six or seven years, I can see I’ve been a relatively productive songwriter. I don’t have an exact count, but I’ve written well over a hundred songs. Yet in recent months I’ve only written a few.
Before that, in the last year or two, I’d already slowed down somewhat, mostly because I realized I was stockpiling songs at a much much faster rate than I could perform or record them. As much as I always want to improve as a songwriter (which mostly happens by writing steadily), I especially needed to improve my ratio of songs-written to songs-recorded. So for a while I put less emphasis on writing songs, although I still wrote regularly.
Over that time I did increase my recording; I’m about to release a new album at the beginning of October. I also have quite a few songs in my recording pipeline. (But I’m still way behind!)
But taking a bigger break recently has made me think about the three main ways I deal with hitting a lull in my songwriting, when a break seems worth considering.
1) Push Through. This has been my go-to. Just keep writing, stick with my schedule, keep producing. Eventually I work my way through the period of low inspiration and/or low quality. And quite often the bonus is that what I’m writing isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was. Sometimes it’s even not bad.
2) Take A Short Break. This can mean anything from taking an hour off during an unproductive afternoon – to read, take a walk, call a friend, etc. – to taking a whole weekend or week off. Like a mini-vacation.
I plan out how long I’m going to take. I come back to writing when my break is over. This can be the Pause That Refreshes. That’s the idea, anyway.
3) Take A Longer Break. This is what I did recently. This is scary. It’s not exactly that I feel like I might never write again if I stop for too long… but it’s not far away from that either. And anyone who’s ever taken a break from something like going to the gym or practicing an instrument knows that the hardest part is starting up again.
That first step back can seem overwhelming. So it seems better and safer not to stop (for too long) at all.
Unless you’re one of the very few songwriters who write on assignment, writing is an optional activity. And the rest of life can seem very busy and ready to grab the songwriting time away. So when I took this option recently, it was with trepidation.
Now, a month or two later, I think I’m getting back in the groove again, so I can report that I’ve survived. But this doesn’t make me confident that I can get away with this too often. I did need the break; my batteries needed to recharge. But it was the longest I’ve taken (in this decade), so although it was useful and I’m glad I did it, it wasn’t without anxiety.
I don’t see the three options I’ve offered here as being totally separate. They’re just three places on a spectrum, which has in-between areas too, when I need a break.
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