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July 2024
Vol. 23, No. 10

Talkin’ Craft

Block Busters: Strategies for Shaking Off Writer’s Block

by Lindsay WhiteApril 2024

I’ve never experienced a writer’s block quite like motherhood. Sure, I’ve written and released a few songs since River’s arrival, but the output is dismal in comparison to my typical haul. When I experience a writing slump, I can usually count on the simple equation of: community + prompt + deadline. (Check out Cathryn Beeks’ The Game, Unison Colthurst’s Songwriter Book Club, WritersRoundSD’s Prom(pt) Night, and my own Noted Song Swap for examples and inspiration). But with a rambunctious two year old demanding most of my attention and the task of keeping a roof over her head demanding the rest of my attention (not to mention nearly six months’ worth of a live-streamed genocide and forced famine keeping me awake every night with a mean case of the ugly cries) my thinking cap is a little worse for the wear. Just turning in this column every month is a tall order for my foggy brain.

I’ve been working in therapy on fighting through that fog, creatively and otherwise. After about two decades of sitting on various psychologist’s couches, my coping toolbox is about as full as all the tissues I’ve snotted into. Logical Lindsay knows allllll the things that help untangle me from a web of woes: rest, nature, exercise, meditation, medication, nutritious foods, hydration, hygiene, community service, and dedicated time to process and create. Only trouble is, the toolbox feels locked most of the time. How do I carve out dedicated time to process and create when I can hardly carve out 30 seconds to pee? Seriously, I’m asking.

Like most of life’s challenges, I know a shift in perspective does a world of good. In moments when I feel my artist-self slipping away, I remember that motherhood is in and of itself the most magnificent art form and that River is the most important body of work in my canon, if you will. Annnnnd it also helps a heap to remember that I’ve got a hot date with my laptop in a French chateau for two glorious uninterrupted weeks later this year. (C’est merveilleux mais j’ai besoin d’aide.)

As we prepare for this month’s Songwriter Sanctuary on April 26, I thought I’d check in with this month’s featured artists on their go-to solutions for breaking through creative blocks.

Calman Hart

Missy Alcazar

Bug Guts (rosebud and Scott Ireland)

Calman Hart is a seasoned local troubadour who has won
multiple San Diego Music Awards, among other accolades—for his solo project and his celebrated folk/Americana duo Berkley Hart. Reflecting on his approach to overcoming creative hurdles, he shared:

“When I’m stuck creatively, I read. Novels, short stories, screenplays, poetry, magazine articles, anything that gets me to think about stuff or teaches me something new. Some of my favorite songs came that way. I wrote ‘Jaguar Sun’ after reading a National Geographic article about the mystery surrounding the end of the Mayan civilization. I read Grapes of Wrath and wrote ‘Barrel of Rain.’

Multi-instrumentalist and professional dueling pianist Missy Alcazar has garnered TV placements and an SDMA nomination for her original music. When she’s feeling blocked:

“I either try to paint, go for a walk, take a trip into nature, visit a museum, watch a concert, or simply visit friends. One technique that has always helped is something I picked up from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron called ‘morning pages,’ where I write every morning (or when I feel like it). Whether it’s blabber or nonsense, I just allow myself to write free from judgment.”

In their years together, dynamic free-range misfit-folk duo Bug Guts (rosebud and Scott Ireland) have released an impressive array of albums featuring an award-winning blend of alternative, folk, punk, experimental, and Americana music. Having witnessed their joyfully raucous performances, I’m hard-pressed to believe they would ever hit a creative wall, but rosebud indulged me with these strategies for breaking on through to the other side:

“I get out of my head (the source of ‘block’…the place block exists), get outside into fresh air, walk/hike my body into a more peaceful state of neutrality where the reality of the natural world (sun, air, birds, trees, flowers, bees) calms the overwhelm, untangles a spinning mind, and uplifts a dark mood. Walking as a bipedal animal gets me into that rhythm that facilitates the calming/healing benefits of ‘EMDR’ (as ‘science’ and experience show). Left-right legs/feet walking, and arms/hands swinging. Simple, effective, awesome. Any state of playtime brings re-lease. Swing in a park, dance barefoot in grass/sand, and a barefoot walk on a beach with sounds of waves and fresh air is an amazing reset! Frost the calming cake with walking a dog, talking with a friend, singing a song-in-progress, and the open flow can lead to limitlessness when writing. Oh, and riding a bike (especially in a place away from cars) always induces the sheer joy of childhood’s freedom…a great space to create!”

Final Thoughts
I feel so fortunate to be able to pick the brains of some of San Diego’s finest songwriters and am closing out this article just a little less foggy and more inspired than I started. Maybe I’ll pull a Calman and read a book, make like Missy and paint, or take a page out of rosebud’s PLAYbook and go dance in the dirt like no one’s watching. Or perhaps I’ll spend the next 16 years dissociating, doom scrolling, and neglecting my personal hygiene until River leaves the nest. It’s a toss-up. My therapist and I will mull it over and get back to you.

In any case, don’t miss our next Songwriter Sanctuary show at Normal Heights United on Friday, April 26, which will be full of creative flow! The one and only Lizzie Wann will be our guest host/mc, adding to an already marvelous evening of music with some of her stellar spoken word. Come and be inspired!

Thanks for Talkin’ Craft with me!
Photos provided by artists.



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