I found a note yesterday that I wrote down some months ago:
„I wanted to write something but I’m going to put the pen back down and just sit and breathe and watch. Silent and peaceful is a blank page (when the mind is calm).“
I remember that I felt very at peace when I wrote this. Sitting in my flat in Berlin, seeing my friends later that day, going out dancing with them. Life was very different back then. I guess for all of us.
I’ve faced many blank pages so far, in fact I do daily. Writing songs, producing music, it’s my job to face an empty canvas and to fill it with my ideas. And there were a couple of situations in my life where I didn’t know what was to come next. Will I be able to study, when will I have my next paid commission, what city should I move to. At one point I thought I was prepared for any blank page. But then there was COVID-19, then there were people losing their jobs, struggling financially, mentally, suffering, dying. Then there was quarantine, social distancing, then there was not seeing my friends and family for months, then there was this huge empty page, that wasn’t even mine but one that I shared with the whole world.
The Blank Page
Somebody asked us to write a song, the whole human-being clique, and they gave us this blank canvas and we sit here discussing how to start, where to start, if we should start at all, why we don’t start, what the result should look like, what colors we want to use. Some of us are angry, some of us panic, some of us don’t want to participate, some of us are engaged, some of us are inspired, some of us are restless, some of us are calm. It’s a scary time and challenging, but it’s also the first time in a while that we are forced to create and work on something together.
I’m not an expert on politics, economy or any of these globally important things, but I am an expert on facing blank pages as a songwriter and producer. So, in this article I want to share an insight on how I deal with the challenge of facing an empty canvas when writing music. And maybe, hopefully, it will inspire you and make you feel more prepared for what is (not) to come.
The First Steps
When I start writing a song, the process already begins before I even think about sitting down and writing. The moment I wake up and get out of bed, I check my mood. How do I feel, how does my body feel, where is mind at today. Most of the time, I meditate before I start working to make sure that I am fully aware of myself and my current mood. It doesn’t matter how I feel, but it’s important that I know how I feel, that I accept how I feel and that I don’t judge it.
After I did that, I take the mood that I’m in and communicate with it. Yes, sometimes that means I talk to myself but mostly that means listening to what my feelings want from me and nurturing them. Not as in feeding the fear or something like that, more as in telling that feeling what it is longing to hear and giving it space to breathe. Sometimes, that simply means writing a song where that feeling is able to express itself, i.e. a song about feeling lonely, happy, sad, depressed. And sometimes it’s writing a song that offers the feelings what it is longing for. For example: I’m anxious about somebody abandoning me, so I listen and find that my fear wants the assurance that I am loved. So, I write a song about that.
Overcoming the Fear of Failure
Another thing that happens very often when facing an empty page is self-doubt, being insecure, feeling small. Luckily, I don’t know this one very well, as there were very little people judging what I created when I grew up, but lots of my songwriter / producer friends struggle with it. There is one thought that I feel like helps with that. The music, the art, the things that you create are not you and they are not yours. You are a filter, some kind of valve that processes the energy around you. That doesn’t mean that you’re not in control of what you create, it merely and mostly means it’s not about you. And that, on the other hand, means you don’t have to be afraid of failing or others judging you. Because you’re not failing, and you’re not being judged. It’s simply failing and others judging, you are never part of it.
Take a Deep Breath
The last thing I do before I start writing, is very simple but the most effective to me. I pause for a moment and remind myself that I am grateful. I can be grateful for the blank page I’m facing, for the people I love and spend my life with, for the lunch I had yesterday or really anything. To me practicing feeling grateful helps with any struggle.
And then I start writing. Sometimes it ends up being a song, sometimes I end up with just one word, sometimes with nothing, sometimes it’s a piece I release some time later. Whatever it is, it’s ok. Breathe, don’t judge it, don’t judge yourself, and enjoy wherever you are at in this particular space of time. That’s the inspiring and joyful thing that a blank page – this blank page – is offering you; being present and enjoying the very moment you are in.
Novaa‘s new album The Futurist unfortunately isn’t out before September but we’ll get a few more tracks from it over the next months.