Tell me, are you hungry? Thirsty? Hot? Cold? Angry? Depressed? Need a nap? If so, take care of it. But if this isn’t the case, we can say your brain is functioning normally, which doesn’t say much about the way we use our brains. “Wouldn’t it be great,” we ask, “if there was some switch we could flip to get our brains to endlessly churn out brilliant ideas?” Let me tell you, it’s the wrong question.
When you “don’t have any ideas” it’s not that you can’t think of anything to write. What’s going on is that you can’t accept anything you’ve written. Your mind is coming up with all sorts of ideas, dismissing them, and instantly forgetting the whole process. And it’s doing this so quickly and so effectively the only thing you notice is your sense of frustration.
If you examine your mind closely, you’ll observe a flurry of mental activity that goes nowhere. Your brain is working at full capacity, but you haven’t read the owner’s manual.
On days when you’re really stuck, accept the fact that your brain isn’t going to like anything you come up with. Go ahead and flip the script. Think of the worst, most terrible idea you can possibly imagine and write it down. And then dare your brain to judge it. What you need to do is pretend you’re an Olympian athlete and your event is Horrible Music Sprinting.
Now your brain is cornered. It wants to be uncooperative, but since you’ve asked it to hate your music, it can only like it. Inevitably your brain will say “well, that wasn’t too bad.” And you’ll say “boo yah” and you’re off to the races. As you tinker with your mediocre idea you’ll gradually fall in love with it.
Just remember you can’t begin this process until you’ve settled on something long enough to let your imagination pour over it. And to do that, you have to give yourself permission to suck. And that’s all there is to it. “What’s the secret of writing great music?” you ask. Write terrible music instead.