by Rick Jones
Anyone who has ever tried to write a song is probably only too familiar with the dreaded ‘writer’s block’. Rick Jones, however, has an entirely different perspective on it. In this article he explains how writers block can actually indicate, and act as a catalyst for, your progress as a writer.
Rick is an outstanding, Jersey based, guitarist and singer-songwriter. With years of live experience under his belt, he is currently working on the follow-up to his well recieved 2010 EP, ‘Eden’. If you ever find yourself in Jersey on a Friday night, head on over to ‘The Watersplash’, where you’ll probably find Rick doing a set – and an open mic, for the brave.
Earlier today I caught up with a friend of mine.She is a music loving, guitar playing girl who I’ve watched grow in confidence and performing ability solidly over the years I’ve known her. I hadn’t seen her in a while, as she’s been off living on the mainland whilst getting edu-ma-cated in one of those University type places I hear a lot about. As it’s been a while since I’ve seen or heard her play, I asked her if she fancied coming along to the open mic I run at Chambers on Sunday, and playing us a few songs. Her answer was “Not until I have a new set!”, and she went on to explain how she was really suffering from writers block, and was tired of her own material, but felt like she couldn’t come up with anything ‘better’. She also asked me if I had ever had writers block.
This got me thinking, which is no mean feat in itself, well, unless it’s about guitars or any of the other stuff I get a bit geeky about (but can get away with ‘cos I don’t look like your typical nerd…..please say it’s true…!)…..
Ok, so, yes I have had writers block. More than once. The thing is, I view it as a sign of progress…..if you bear with me, I’ll explain why/how I feel this way, but it might get long winded. Shock!
I’m going to use music and singer/songwriting as the subject here, because that’s largely what I’m familiar with, but I suppose it could equally apply to other creative outputs. I think. I imagine, by using myself and a few other musicians I have watched in ascension as a template, that when we start out and have acquired a basic level of competence on an instrument we then look to our favorite musicians as ‘the way to go’. This is us ‘having influences’, and, with each of us being unique and not, I presume, some kind of cell for cell clone of our idols, we tend not to sound identical. This can be frustrating, but it’s a blessing really. Singers especially seem to start out trying to emulate other singers they admire. When you don’t sound like that person exactly, and realise you probably never will, you start to realise your approximation of them is really just you.
The other thing that happens, is say you learn the chords G, C and D, as most of us do early on….they are bread and butter for us acoustic players and a good starting point. When you start off, you take these chords, and you write a song. You love it, because you wrote a song. It’s the best thing ever, ‘cos it’s your first song. Then, you write some more. Maybe you learn another chord, and you throw that in there too. This goes on for a while generally, and if you are blessed with a great capacity for writing lyrics, or a wonderful unique and spell binding voice, or even something odd about you that makes you different somehow, this might be all you ever need.
Someone like me however, is not really remarkable in any of those fields, and had to develop at least one if not all aspects of my playing/writing/singing further if I was to ever take it further than my bedroom. So you’re driven to write something with that something extra…..something special….at this point you could easily write something that’s identical to what you have done before, but that isn’t enough. Now you bang your head metaphorically on what you already have, rejecting things that may be similar to what you know you can do already, and trying to make it better, trying to make it as good as it could possibly be. Often, when nothing you think of as ‘special enough’ is coming you start this viscious circle of being too frustrated to think differently…and you deem it as ‘writers block’.
I imagine this is the time that those who use drugs or whatever turn to those for a way to think outside the box, if I may steal the cliché……but this is something I know nothing about, as I have stayed completely away from drugs,drink and anything more mind altering than caffeine so far in my life. But my point is, it would seem ‘writers block’ is nothing more than setting yourself a new standard to attain. Looking for progress. Whereas in the beginnings of your journey, G, C and D chords and lyrics about “Feeling fine ‘cos she’s mine, Love from above” and all those kind of things would ‘do’, and you never got stuck for those things, because they are obvious to you. Exponentially, the more involved you get, the more things seem obvious…..chord progressions, melodies, lyrics and so on. So you either draw a line, and use what is obvious, or you progress past the obvious, sometimes into the surreal as happens to many great musicians who get so good at playing they go off into things that to the average person don’t make sense to listen to any more. They are getting away from the obvious, but are at the point where the obvious to themselves includes other peoples ‘next level’. These are your Zappas and Vais and to some extent your hardcore bebop jazz guys. The music gets more niche as it gets further away from the obvious. The lines are always moving though, look at how the next generation’s music is always noise to the generation before.
It’s all about finding a balance, knowing what you want, and accepting what you are and aren’t in pursuing your own voice creatively.
So when you are ‘blocked’, view it as a sign that you have progressed, and build on what you know so you can get to the next ‘block’. Sooner or later you’ll be stood on enough ‘blocks’ to see your path clearly.
Don’t give up.
Buy Eden on Rick’s website, here.
Or check out some of Rick’s tunes on Musicians Together, here.