The Songwriting Cycle: Getting Stuck…and Unstuck

Writers Block

This is a guest post by Rob Lytle:

One of the major challenges that any writer faces is the need to be inspired – and the need to just keep working. Songwriting is a complex stew of ingredients, but one thing I know for certain is that writing generates more writing.

Ideas generate other ideas

In other words, using the machinery all the time is very important. I write something almost every single day. A snippet – or a complete song. It is truly amazing what you can do when you put the work in and act with intention.

That said, I am personally often in a position where I KNOW that I have a part of a song that is a keeper, but I also know it is not finished. The conventional wisdom in such situations is to buckle down and complete the song – and I often do. I put words on the page that complete the basic structure of the story or moment. But I know when the lines ring false or the song just does not work.

I think that is often when many songwriters give up.

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Jump-start your songwriting with alternate tunings


Four years ago, I wrote about alternate guitar tunings as a way to step up your songwriting. I interviewed my friend, a talented singer-songwriter named Denise Jordan Finley, who teaches workshops about the wonders of alternate tunings. Alternate tunings, she explained back then, are great because:

…because it helps to break out of the box… as songwriters, the last thing we want to do is to write songs that sound just like everybody else’s songs… and WORSE, to write song after song ourselves that ALL sound the same!  alternate tunings give you a fresh look for ways to support a melody you may have in your head already, OR the interesting chords you get with alternate tunings will offer inspiration for writing beautiful melodies.

You’d think I would have jumped right on board the alternate tuning train. After all, Joni Mitchell, Nick Drake, Ani DiFranco and Bob Dylan can’t all be wrong! However, at the time, I was admiring but unconvinced. In the post, I said: “Personally, while I’ve started songs with alternate tunings several times, I’ve never finished one. But I remain enamoured of the idea of it — and will continue trying.”

Well, I still haven’t finished a song in an alternate guitar tuning, but I’m finally convinced. My guitar is almost permanently in an open D tuning (DADF#AD), and I’m truly inspired.  I’m so close to finishing a song in Open D that I can taste it!

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