It’s Okay to Take Time Off From Making Music

artist, creativity, music, productivity, self-love, songwriting

Last year, I didn’t write a single song all summer. I didn’t touch my guitar until September and only read non-fiction for three months. I didn’t want poetry and I didn’t listen to music, except for Lana del Rey’s “Lust for Life” that I already knew by heart. Sometimes, I watched Netflix, mostly “Gilmore Girls” that I had already seen twice, and lay around on the couch eating ice cream and thinking about quitting music.

I have friends who worry about writer’s block. I don’t have writer’s block, I have stretches of time when I believe music has ruined my life and I should become a lawyer and make my parents proud. Sometimes, it’s when I have one too many gigs where somebody shouts a sexist comment from the bar or walks out in the middle of a song. Sometimes, it’s after I get another rejection email about how my voice is not folky enough (even though it’s not, that’s true). Most of the time, it has nothing to do with my music and everything to do with what other people think about my music.

And it’s not that I’m one of those musicians that put in hours every day playing their instrument or warming up my voice, so, at times, I don’t even notice when I haven’t played or written any songs for over a week. But, after a time away, I always feel the urge to come back. Artists split themselves open to show others the pain and the rot inside, to share their joy and the love they feel, and sometimes, all that splitting open, all the honesty can feel like too much. And it’s okay to take time to heal from that once in a while.

“If you’re having difficulty coming up with new ideas, then slow down. For me, slowing down has been a tremendous source of creativity. It has allowed me to open up – to know that there’s life under the earth and that I have to let it come through me in a new way. Creativity exists in the present moment. You can’t find it anywhere else.”

Natalie Goldberg, “Writing Down the Bones”

Last September, after a summer with no music, I went into a bookstore in New York and bought a notebook (okay, five) and got home and started writing. I didn’t stop writing for the next three months. Not just because I had missed it, but because I’d spent the time away from it living my life, and I had stuff to write about.

Sometimes, we just need a break. Every time I take time off from music, I believe I’m quitting forever. But I never do. And neither will you.


5 Habits that Helped Me Overcome Self-Doubt

artist, productivity, self-love

For a long time, I didn’t think I was a professional musician. I still scroll through my friends’ Instagram accounts, decide I’ve had a good run, and consider quitting music for about two minutes every morning. As a creative, there are no objective criteria to check yourself against, and it inevitably seems like everyone you know is going at 100 mph, while you are driving around the same roundabout with a flat tire.

At first, that feeling was eating away at everything I did, and whenever I came up with a project, I heard a voice in my head saying things like “not good enough”, “you’re an amateur”, “nobody cares about what you have to say”. But throughout the years, I’ve learned to cope with that voice, to hear it mumble something hurtful and recognise it for what it is – fear.

But a year ago, I had put away my guitar after crying myself to sleep for months, and decided I would never be a musician. I went to the library, got out some books on politics and economics, and spent my summer reading, trying to imagine what it would feel like to study something ‘normal’. Studying music in university had proved harder than I had anticipated. It was the first time I was confronted with real criticism, with other musicians who were better and more motivated than me, and I felt like an impostor, as if I’d blagged my way in and didn’t belong.

June went by, then July, and then August came around. I hadn’t touched my guitar and hadn’t written a single song. I wrote a travel article thinking that being a journalist sounded less crazy than being a musician, but then realised it was probably still too much of a stretch. Then in August, I got an idea.

My Songwriting tutor, Lisbee Stainton, says that when you’re not writing, you’re “planting seeds”. I think all through June and July I had been planting seeds, and in August, I woke up in the middle of the night in a garden. I had an idea for an EP, fully developed – I could picture the artwork, hear the arrangement, see the press release. I started recording a week later. I realised that despite my anxiety, the panic attacks, the tears, quitting music was not a solution. Figuring out how to deal with my self-doubt was.

I spent a year trying to work through my fears. I can’t say I never wake up and question myself anymore. I do. But I don’t doubt myself the way I used to, I question myself because that’s what good artists do to get better. But I also believe I am enough now. I believe I am already a professional musician. I believe that I have my own path and I don’t have to be at the same level some of my friends are. And these habits helped me to get to where I am:

1. I Changed the Way I Talk to Myself

We’ve all been told this before. Don’t talk down to yourself, how you see yourself is how others see you, etc. But I never realised how true this was until I started practising it. Overly positive self-talk is exhausting, and I couldn’t get behind it at the best of times, but you can make small changes in what you say that will make a massive difference.

For example: instead of talking about your goals, talk about your challenges. Goals are stressful, and if you don’t achieve them, you feel like a loser. Challenges, however, are exciting and playful, and a challenge is not something you need to achieve, it’s something you want to have a go at. For me, this meant that I stopped beating myself up when I didn’t reach a goal and that I felt extra proud when I tackled a challenge. It also meant that I stopped putting so much pressure on myself and started enjoying myself more. Think about what you say that stresses you out and how you could rephrase it to make it sound exciting.

2. I Took up Running

I’ve always hated sports. At the same time, I’ve always been jealous of people who were good at them because they seemed so damn perfect. So, after another low point of watching Netflix and stuffing myself with Walkers Max, I decided I could either start running every morning or keep wallowing. I chose running.

I didn’t think it would have any effects on anything other than my health. And for the first two weeks, it didn’t. But the longer I kept doing it, even when it was hard and I wanted to quit, the more I started to enjoy it. And I started to get better at it.

Running taught me two things. Firstly, that I am not a quitter, which I had always thought I was. And secondly, that tough stretches result in growth. Those lessons changed the way I saw myself and made me confident enough to take on new projects.

3. I Started a Gratitude Journal

I have always found it hard to get behind the spiritual stuff. I have tried meditation (and I keep trying!), but I find it hard to sit still for more than five minutes. I do yoga, but mostly because it makes my body feel good, I don’t particularly care about my third eye. So, I was also skeptical about gratitude practice, but I thought I’d give it a go.

For months, I sat down before bed every night and wrote down five things I was grateful for. And after a couple weeks, I started noticing how, during the day, I would make music or sit down for lunch or talk to a friend, and make a mental note to be grateful. That warm feeling of content started expanding from my diary pages into my life, and instead of beating myself up for things I didn’t have or hadn’t accomplished, I started thanking the universe for giving me so much. It’s easy to doubt and even hate yourself for what your life lacks, but it is even easier to love the abundance in it.

4. I Took Time to Remember What Mattered

In December last year, I organised an EP release show. I didn’t have any particular reason to do so, other than because everyone else was doing it. It was an extremely stressful process, and in three months time, I had barely got any sleep. The show went well, and I was ecstatic and proud for about two hours, and then it was over and everyone went home. After the release show, I asked myself why I had even bothered putting it on. I got into music so that I could live passionately, doing something I loved. And here I was, doing something I had never planned to do, mindlessly following in other people’s footsteps, so I could tell myself I was doing just as well as my friends.

Over Christmas, I made a list of things that mattered to me – what brought me joy, why I was making music, what life I wanted to live. Sometimes, life goes so fast that, without noticing, we adopt other people’s dreams as our own and try to achieve milestones we don’t care about and then beat ourselves up about failing at something we never wanted in the first place.

When I wrote out my list, I noticed that I was doing much better at what I wanted to do than I had thought while comparing myself to others. At the same time, I noticed that I could cut out a lot of miscellaneous stuff I was doing that was not serving me (like obsessing over my Instagram account) and use that time for things I enjoy (like writing spoken word). Now, I make lists like that every once in a while to check in with myself.

5. I Redefined What Success Meant to Me

When I first started studying music, I didn’t have many expectations – I wanted to write songs, have a good time, maybe learn something. But being surrounded by so many talented people made me want more. I started craving recognition, bigger venues to play in, more followers, and streams on Spotify. Whenever my expectations were left unfulfilled, I felt like a failure.

Over the last year, I started unearthing that person I was before I went to a music university (here’s a blog post on what helped me to figure out what mattered to me) – the one who thought that being able to make music was in itself successful, who believed that success didn’t lie in money, fame, or Instagram. The one who believed that success was doing whatever makes you happy.

After I made my list with priorities over Christmas, I decided I needed to allow myself more time to do the things I loved. And if I managed to get through the day with a smile on my face, I would think myself successful. After that, I did my first spoken word open mic, travelled to Budapest, and dyed my hair pink. Doing those things made me feel alive, present, and, ultimately, confident. Being successful is not about material things, it’s about living your best life. So, live a little.


How to Start Focusing on What Matters

productivity, self-love

In a society that glorifies busyness, we tend to go along with other people’s ideas of success and start chasing dreams that are not our own. I know I did for a long time, and I still catch myself doing so occasionally. The only way not to get swept up with the current is to take time to understand what success means to you, why you do what you do, and what makes you tick. I have already written a couple posts on how re-evaluating what mattered to me changed my mindset and the way I approach being an artist, but I’ve never explained how I set my priorities straight, so I thought I’d write this little article by way of explanation.

1. I picked up journalling.

I’m not great at building habits, I’m more the type of person who will be extremely enthusiastic about something for about a week and then drop it as enthusiastically a week later. It was the same with journalling, but I still enjoyed writing and doing my gratitude practice, so I stuck with it sporadically. On average, I still journal about half an hour a week, and that seems to be enough. There’s no need to explain how this helped me because of how obvious this is. It helps to get all your thoughts down on the page, and a journal provides you with a judgement-free zone, where no one’s opinion matters. Except yours.

2. I had my gratitude practice.

I have mentioned this before in my post about dealing with self-doubt, but practicing gratitude is important. It shifted my mindset from blaming the world for my first world problems to being grateful for all the love, friendship, and comfort I have. But after a while of doing it, I also started noticing a pattern in the things I was grateful for. At the end of the day, what mattered to me were my friends, my family, a good book I’d found, or some amazing song I’d listened to. I never wrote down how grateful I was for a Facebook comment or my Spotify streams. Why? Because who cares.

3. I made a list. Okay, a bunch of lists.

I LOVE writing lists. My diary is full of lists with books I want to read, films I need to watch, holiday plans, etc. If I can make a list out of something, I will. So, obviously, when last winter, I realised that I needed to focus more on things I enjoyed, I started by making a list of things I wanted to do. It included a bit of everything – things I wanted to try, things I missed doing, things I was already doing.

After I finished it, I picked what I really wanted to do, like travel more (before the coronavirus hit…), perform at spoken word open mics, start a blog. I didn’t want it to be things that were all connected to my music because sometimes, the point is just to have fun. Once I had written it down, I made a point out of scheduling items from the list in my day-to-day life. I started going to more poetry nights, spending more time with friends, and I did do that spoken word open mic. It’s only by trying stuff from your list that you can figure out what brings you joy.

4. I started going for walks. Without music.

It’s hard to think about anything when you never give yourself time to think. Although life in London is often hectic, and everybody (including me) is always complaining about how little time there is in a day, most Londoners spend at least an hour a day on public transport. And when they’re not on public transport, they’re speed-walking somewhere, usually in their suit, bumping into everyone with all the anger they’d suppressed at work. So, we really do have time to think. We just prefer not to. When I realised that I spent two hours a day listening to music or a podcast or leafing through a book on the tube, I decided to try to get on the bus and just sit there. I also started walking places more often without listening to anything.

Some people meditate, but I can’t bring myself to sit still with my thoughts. Yoga or running are the closest things to meditation I have, but by leaving my headphones at home from time to time, I realised I could build in more reflection time into my day. And sometimes, I walk and nothing happens. But sometimes, I walk and a thought pops into my head that turns my day around.

5. But really, I’d just realised I was not in a good place.

I don’t know if any of these things would have changed much had I not been in the right frame of mind when I started doing them. After all, being considered successful by others usually feels good. So good that we often don’t realise it can be better. I think I needed to crash and have a bit of a mental breakdown to realise that something was off. Success looks different to everyone. Figure out what it means to you.


How I Stopped Freaking Out About Not Doing Enough

artist, productivity, self-love

In theory, being a musician could mean many things. It could mean sleeping in late on weekdays, doing what you love, living a bohemian life that doesn’t conform to the world’s materialistic standards. In reality, being a musician means getting up at six in the morning to run to work before uni starts, to be able to pay rent because music doesn’t. It means spending more time on reading about Instagram algorithms than writing songs, and worrying about whether your music is commercial enough.

Most musicians, contrary to what some people may think, have very little time and a lot to do. We design our own websites, record and produce our own songs, perform, write, keep up with our social media, make our own videos, and often have another job on the side. I don’t know if other musicians feel the same way, but I often feel like I have too much on my plate. I struggle with the pressure to do as much as other singer-songwriters I know.

The first two years of making music as my primary occupation, these thoughts freaked me out. Every time I sat down to watch a film or read a book, I felt guilty because I knew some of my friends were still rehearsing at eleven in the evening. Days off were unheard of – you either worked a regular job or you worked on your music. The busyness culture had crept into the most bohemian of occupations, and I was being swept up in it. But slowly, I started figuring out little ways to trick my mind into relaxing, finding ways to get stuff done, and to rest. It’s been an arduous journey, but I think I’m getting there. And for all the other workaholics out there, I hope this will help:

1. I began timing myself.

As a musician, there are a lot of tasks you need to accomplish that could take ten minutes, or – if you’re a perfectionist – will take actual hours. Shooting an Instagram video, anything with music production, recording a vocal take – you name it. And sometimes, it’s hard to know when to stop. So, now, whenever I know I might lose track of time doing something, I set a timer before I start. For example, when I work on a recording of a song, I set a timer for two hours. It pushes me to work faster and be more decisive and usually delivers the same results as I would have had otherwise.

2. I started making time for my friends.

When I moved to London, I found myself alone. All through my first year, I lived in a hostel, so I had plenty of social contact, but none of the deeper relationships I kept hearing were important. At the end of my first year at university, I felt lonely, stressed, and tired. I remember sitting down at a table in our university cafe with some classmates and talking about it, only to find out that everybody felt that way. I had spent my first year working on my music and stressing about whether I was enough, but never once did I consider just talking to someone. Now, I regularly meet up with other musicians, and we all complain about how much we should be doing and how little we are actually doing, and it takes some of the pressure off.

3. I developed a morning ritual.

Every morning, I wake up and do yoga or go running, write for about twenty minutes, and have breakfast. These things take about an hour but make a massive difference in my day. Doing sports gives me energy and motivation, writing gives me some reflection time so that I’m ready to tackle my to-do list later on. It also gives me structure, which is the first step towards a peace of mind. Mornings are my time, and especially since musicians often can’t keep regular hours, it gives me the semblance of a routine, whether I’m doing it at seven in the morning or at eleven.

4. I started scheduling everything, including time off.

Although I’ve always been a control freak, I never believed in rigid planning. Until my job started getting in the way of my music and I had to find a way to maximise my free time. I have a friend, Manon Vix, who sits down every weekend to write an hourly schedule of her week (she is also a great musician and you should check her out). I always kind of admired it and thought she was kind of crazy at the same time. But then, I decided to try it for myself, and it changed my life. It includes what I previously mentioned about timing yourself – if you only give yourself so much time to do something, you will find a way to get it done. But most importantly, it made me see how much time I spent working, and made me feel less guilty about scheduling nights off and time to rest. Whenever I write out my schedule now, I try to do similar activities around the same time, which brings me closer to a routine than I’ve been since high school.

5. I embraced slow living.

This has probably been the biggest change in my mindset over the last couple years. I used to think that there was something admirable in being exhausted all the time, but I stopped seeing the point of it half a year ago. All of a sudden, I couldn’t bring myself to do anything. The motivation was not there, the energy was missing. I started re-evaluating my life. Slow living doesn’t have one set definition, but it revolves around being prepared to make more time for the things that matter and to let go of the things that don’t. By cutting out miscellaneous tasks, I had more time to rest, which made me more productive, less stressed, and gave me the opportunity to maintain some kind of social life. Too often, I catch myself thinking I’m wasting time when I’m resting, but in reality, I come back from it twice as productive and in much better spirits.