Writer’s Block? Try Filling Up. 

I saw this home brewed lending library in Petaluma yesterday. A community of residents has begun erecting lending libraries like this simply because it’s a cool thing to do. That was pretty inspirational to me. Then I talked with the homeowner about it, and she informed me that the local government and others were conspiring to levy taxes on the transactions – even though there’s no money being exchanged! There’s not even a clerk present. Everything is done on the honor system. Take a book, leave a book. Enrich the community. Inspire imagination and creativity! 

It really got me thinking about just how profound nearly anything can be when you peel back the thin surface veneer and examine the underlying nuts and bolts. Some people are just naturally creative, and others or not, right? Not exactly… Even the most creative people require discipline and ritual to nurture their innate creativity.

Around 1990-91, I had the honor of working with one of the best songwriters on the planet, John Lang. The cousin of Mr. Mister’s lead singer, John cowrote two #1 hits and a top-5 in the mid ’80s: Broken Wings, Kyrie and Is It Love. 

John and I did a couple cowrites. Man, what a learning experience! Along the way, I asked him if he was prone to getting writer’s block. He answered, “No.” Then he explained that his less-than-productive periods were incredibly important to his writing success because they were the times when he did what he called “filling up.” 

Filling up for him meant living a life rich with experience. I recall John as being in the moment whenever we left the studio. Dinner, walk on the beach, my wedding… Wherever we went, he was there. He was interested in pretty much any topic of conversation. Once he momentarily got stuck on a lyric, so he dragged everybody at the session down the limerick rabbit hole. After a few good laughs, he was recharged and he nailed the lyrics. 

I’ve used John’s technique religiously over the years. All my various life experiences give me lots of material from which to mine. They affect much more than lyrics—they also help me to empathize and see things (even song arrangements) from different perspectives. 

I fill up in any number of ways. Good book, movie, bike ride, dinner with friends, etc. While doing it, I don’t think about how the experience will affect the music. Instead, I immerse myself in the moment. All in. 100%. That way, I don’t miss anything because I’m focused on the experience, not an agenda. The richer the moment, the more vibrant the art. 

If you’re immersed in the moment, I bet you can find inspiration in just about anything. In the picture above, taken at LACMA, bassist extraordinaire/soccer mom/friend Kelly Bowen is walking through an interactive sculpture. Immediately several song-worthy images and themes come to mind: Technicolor rain, fields of grain, finding your way, breaking free, etc. 

The photo below is of Kelly’s 9-year old daughter Aidyn. The kid and I ran two miles up a steep mountain trail, then barreled down it and met up with her mom and my wife, Irina, who is a restoration ecologist. Irina took Aiden on an interpretive walk the day before, and Aiden wanted to prove that she absorbed some of the information that she heard. Thus we snapped several portraits containing a wide variety of wildflowers. The experience of running with a nine-year-old was inspirational, not only for the sheer joy of doing it, but also because of the themes of young & old, open spaces, awe & wonder, the cycle of life, springtime, etc. 

Next time you feel like your creative powers are lacking, break your usual pattern and do something different. Immerse yourself in the experience, and it is likely that you will fill up with new ideas.


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