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Songwriting Tips: Create Psychological Distance


When approaching a song, sometimes it can be difficult to confront some of the emotional issue you are trying to write about. A new study posted in Scientific American found that creativity is boosted in situations where there is “psychological distance”. What does this mean for your songwriting? Try and write a song from someone else’s perspective so you can really dig in to the character without focusing on yourself and how people will perceive you. You’re likely to find that when telling someone else’s story, you’re really telling a more intimate story about yourself.

Or perhaps it means creating a situation in your song that is unreal, unlikely and completely fantastical (usually what concept albums are all about). Often, the more you can let yourself sink into the fantasy world, the more creative you can be. Psychological distance can also mean giving something more time. If you’re trying to write about something tragic that happened to you, it often helps to give it time so that you have proper perspective and can survey the damage after the wound has healed a bit. Either method you chose, tuning out to go inward is a good way to open up the flow of creative juices.

Reader Comments (9)

Great advice Todd! Focusing on yourself only makes you worry what your Mom will think when she reads the lyrics ;). Probably not the best creativity booster! I often start from a title, and follow where my creativity leads. It doesn't have to be a "true story" to be moving and poignant.

August 15 | Unregistered CommenterBrian Hazard

Poetry is emotion recollected in tranquility.

August 25 | Unregistered CommenterJinsai

Good post, but let's not forget about simply writing from the heart. Sometimes too much thought about a process can confuse, and often times stifle, creativity. Be genuine and the genius will flow.

Dave Lopez - Mixing and Mastering Specialist
Cr@zyEye Music Services
Marketing Music Online

August 25 | Unregistered CommenterDave Lopez

I'll just stick to screaming "BOOM" and grunting into the mic like every band on modern rock radio. If it ain't broke...

-=Wicked Celtics

August 26 | Unregistered CommenterWicked Celtics

Brian Hazard- Nailed it! LOL. So funny because it's so true.

September 4 | Unregistered CommenterChris Barron

I need to change my perspective in my songs more often. I am guilty of writing about my real life experiences and from my point of view a lot.
- Chad

January 15 | Unregistered CommenterChad Sharp

For some reason, hearing that creating "psycological distance" can help the creative process from Scientific American sounds about right.

But since when did science and creativity go hand in hand (with apologies to all those, including my father - at one time a research chemist and still playing keyboards to his delight - who prove that it sometimes can)?

This is a positively dreadful premise, and if embraced by many may lead to even less truly passionate, evocative music than we currently have coming out.

I recognize plenty of memorable songs were not based on personal experience, but overall...

My God, man - artists should MAKE it personal, bear it ALL, dig DEEPER within - EMBRACE the hurt, loss, fear, despair...THAT is what will make the listeners FEEL IT. And the same for sharing deep love, joy, fearlessness, hope.

Artists, let us FEEL you. If you can do that by creating "psychological distance", then fine, by all means. But as a generally recommended technique? I say leave it in the laboratory, get out and LIVE, then tell us about it in creative ways (please remember the creative ways part).

And same for waiting for time to heal or whatever - forget it! Write it when you are in the middle of it, feeling it MOST (whether up or down). And keep it RAW - be careful not to overanalyze lyrics or licks - it's when a hitter thinks about his swing that the flow stops!

DISTANCE...or INTIMACY and IMMEDIACY? Do both then see what you (and others), feel is your more compelling work...

January 16 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

And no disrespect to Scientific American...been on my parents coffee table since my memory was formed. Although never did get through many articles come to think about it...

January 16 | Unregistered CommenterDg.

All of the Above :)

October 17 | Unregistered CommenterJoeyd

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