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Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Mixed Tape for Beating Writer's Block

For most people, writer’s block can be a huge issue. Whether you’re staring at a blinking cursor while finishing a term paper, poem, or perhaps the next great American novel, I feel your pain. Unlike freaks of writing nature, like Woody Allen, who claims to never get writer’s block, I experience it all the time. Getting started is always the hardest part for me. Often, I’m not sure what I want to say, or if I even have anything to say at all.

Usually I turn to music. Certain songs just make me feel like I need to write; they can range from ones that I feel are some of the best written to those that are just thematically appropriate to my life, or what I want my life to be. Many times, I hear a song, and it instantly becomes the soundtrack to some picture in my mind, and I feel forced to write what I see down. I’d like to share some of the songs that have helped me break through the wall of writer’s block. Coincidentally they all folk songs, but that makes enough sense; they tell some of the best stories.

I owe this song a lot. I have no idea how many times I’ve listened to it; probably hundreds of times, but I distinctly remember one time. I had wanted to write a screenplay, but of course had no clue what the movie was to be about. I had my music on shuffle as I stared at a blank notebook page when this song came on. As soon as lead singer Tillman’s voice began to sing, I perked up and began to write. By the time the four-minute song was over, I had an outline for about half of a screenplay. When it ended, I turned off shuffle and decided to go back to the beginning of the album, “Fear Fun.” Sure enough, about three songs in, my outline was done. I was obsessed with the album for about a week after. I’d love to make a film with “Fear Fun” as the soundtrack. J. Tillman, if you’re down, hit me up!

This 8 minute epic tune is highlight of Fleet Foxes latest album, “Helplessness Blues.”
It’s a song that could probably be sung over creepy campfires in between discussions of family lineage and ghosts. I would say this is one of the quintessential folk songs written in the last decade. I’ve attempted to write songs that tell a story like this, but they never come out this well, not even close — in fact, I always throw them in the trash — but the point is the song makes me want to write; more precisely it pushes me to write well

 I heard this song for first time when I watched The Royal Tenenbaums at age nine or 10. The movie was over my head then, but that song stuck with me. I’m not sure if there is a more perfect soundtrack moment than when Margot gets off the bus to pick up Richie and the finger-picked guitar begins to play. Nico’s voice is so haunting. If you find that you just can’t write anything, take a walk around the block at night and listen to “These Days.” You won’t regret it.

Dylan is one of the best songwriters of all time. This song from his debut, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” is one of his greatest. It’s packed with so much material; an incredible amount is going on here. Dylan said that each line is actually the beginning of a new song, but he didn’t think he’d ever have time to write all of them so he just packed them all into one song. One of the lines I find most interesting is: “I saw a new born baby with wild wolves all around it.” The imagery here is palpable, few songwriters, if any, do this better than Dylan.

I’m putting this on the list at the risk of being cliché. It is one of my all time favorite songs. To me, this creepy dream song is as good as it gets. Paul Simon is one of my heroes, and all of Simon and Garfunkel’s songs mean so much to me, but “The Sound of Silence” is on a whole other level. I Listen to this almost every time I sit down to write seriously, especially when I am revising. The story told in the song is so concise, so perfect. “People talking without speaking/ people hearing without listening.” Lines like these make me want to be a better writer. Paul Simon wrote this in his bathroom while the lights were off and the water was running, if that not the coolest, most inspiring thing ever, I’m not sure what is.

These are just some of the songs that work for me. I encourage everyone to find ones that work best for them, but maybe you can give these a try!

-William Ruof

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