In the latest installment of “Sound Advice,” Razorcake’s advice column, cosmic femme punk Taleen Kali offers tips on how to get out of a creative rut. Send all questions about punk rock, self-care, and creativity to @taleenkali via message on Instagram.
How do you deal with a writing/playing rut? I feel like I keep writing the same “thing” or “idea” over and over again. Years ago, with my first gigging band, someone told me, “Hey, you guys are cool but all your songs sound the same,” so I’ve developed this weird complex where I obsess over songs for months, if not years. I’m just generally feeling uninspired when writing lately, and I also feel like my skills have declined. There’s more to all this but I don’t wanna ramble!
There’s always more to it, isn’t there? I totally feel you on this one, and I’ve been here more times than I’d like to admit.
Since you didn’t technically submit this anonymously, I know that I’ve seen you shred in the flesh before. So I gotta tell you: the assholes seeing you live have no clue about music.
The thing to keep in mind during dry spells is, more often than not, our art isn’t what’s in a rut: it’s us. There’s nothing wrong with your actual playing. It’s just that you may not be feeling so hot right now, and that’s blocking the flow of good energy and inspiration.
To get you back into a good vibe, I’ve compiled a list of handy tricks I’ve picked up over the years. Oftentimes the worst thing we can do when we’re rutting is put additional pressure on ourselves. These tips help me saddle up when I’m down, and they do so by introducing gentle ways of reawakening the imagination. You don’t have to do ’em in order; and some might ring out to you more than others. Try some out and see what happens!
1. DO NOTHING
I’m fucking serious. In the winter after making my first record I decided to give myself a ten-day songwriting challenge. Worst idea ever! Borderline masochistic levels of overachiever, type A personality bullshit I thought I’d discarded years ago seeped back into my art making. They were remnants, I suspect, of my immigrant “hard working” upbringing. Can you believe I thought it was actually a good idea to push my tired ass after an entire season of making an album? On an empty tank?! WTF? Pure torture.
“Don’t try” is the classical Bukowskian version of this advice. Sometimes we’re not supposed to write. We’re supposed to be. So try it. Do nothing. Just be.
2. HONOR YOURSELF
Maybe you’re going through some shit. Maybe an idea is cooking that just isn’t ready yet and needs more time to form in your psyche. Or maybe something needs to line up cosmically to make sure your idea gets the mojo it needs. Who knows?! Thank yourself for being a rad human, and honor whatever you might be going through right now.
3. YOU ARE ART
My friend Aurora Lady (https://www.auroralady.com/) made a T-shirt with this statement a few years ago and it changed my life! Remember that YOU ARE ART. Every part of you. Each and every single cell.
So since you’re literally art, what you do in times of ruts defines how you come out of them, as well as the art you make out of them. It’s tricky, because capitalism wants us to believe the opposite, that we have no self-worth when we’re not producing “content.”
The bonus of being the very thing art is made up of is that you don’t need to pressure yourself to reinvent the wheel each time. So what if a lot of your songs sound the same? If it’s the right shit, I want to hear as much of it as possible. Entire discogs. Gimme infinite variations of those polyrhythms, brah.
4. BE DRAMATIC
I can’t stress this one enough. It’s fucking hard to make shit, any kind of shit, in our capitalist hellscape. Sometimes you’ve gotta break it down to build it back up again, and that’s okay. Call your fellow artist friends, your partner, your neighbor, your therapist, whoever, and just whine about it!
I used to live in a punk house where the painter across the hall would scream at the top of his lungs every night while painting. It was terrifying at first, until we asked him about it one night. He told us it’s how he got his bad vibes out. Never underestimate a bit of drama! Complaining about this shit like a straight-up diva has fucking saved me on occasion. Vocalizing our pain and struggle is how we bond and get support. Your squad will cheer you on!
5. CHANGE THE CHANNEL
That being said, if you stay stuck in whine mode or if your shit is legit getting too reductive, maybe it’s time to change things up. Are you tired of thinking the same old thought again and again? Time to change that channel! It’ll help undo the negative mental grooves that are contributing to, and possibly sustaining, your creative block. You can also change mediums, genres, and art forms to get a similar effect. Make a zine about it! A new playlist! Whatever it takes to get your mind off the negative focus and creating new pathways to supercharge your creative synapses.
5. GO TO THE ROCK SHOW
Isn’t that why we’re all here? Why aren’t we having this conversation at the show? C’mon! I’ll say no more.
6. FILL THE TANK
You can’t make art on an empty tank. Classic mistake! That’s what I was trying and failing to do with my ridiculous ten-day songwriting challenge in #1. You’ve gotta nurture your inner artist as much as you do your body, your feelings, and your commitments. So after you change the channel and see a show, why stop there? Bring something new in, however you can. Is it a new reference? A trip to a rad craft store? An impromptu jam sesh? I also love getting into nature when I can! Mama Nature is the original artist, after all.
8. AND THEN EMPTY IT
I find that after all the venting and drama and pivots, emotional self-sufficiency is the only way to truly get deeper into the issue. Empty your tank by practicing meditation or journaling about it! A tried and true way of doing this is a ritual I do every single morning, which I picked up from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: morning pages. It’s like a writing meditation. Each morning, I write three pages of uninterrupted stream-of-consciousness blabber in a lined notebook. It’s a total brain drain, and it purges your mind from negativity so you can focus on what you truly desire.
9. MOVE YOUR ENERGY
This one is so underrated that I’ve saved it for the end! When we find movement via physical or mental exercise, we are moving energy. No matter your ability, you can totally access this! I had limited mobility for more than a year and I blasted music and meditated about moving, visualizing myself playing again. Take a five-minute walk outside, meditate, shake your booty while you do the dishes, shower, yoga, masturbate, or simply nod your head along to your favorite record. It will move your energy, and that can change your outlook for the rest of the day.
10. LISTEN TO SILENCE
Listen and let it surprise you. Allow yourself the opportunity to hear something uprising from deep within, or the faintest sound of a lawnmower across the street. That might be your next bass line, or the next thread you’ll pick up on your way out of this rut.
Good luck buddy. You’ve got this. Can’t wait to hear what you play next.
Got a question about punk rock, self-care, or creativity? Send your questions to @taleenkali on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/taleenkali).
Look out for her solo debut Soul Songs out now on Lolipop Records. Poetry, essays, and photography appears in The Onion, Filter, SPIN, Entropy, TL;DR Magazine, The Bushwick Review, Funhouse Magazine, and zines in all your favorite cities.
Hey there! If you appreciate what we post on this site, please consider making a donation during our donation drive. You can see all the donation-only gifts we have available here. Thanks!