Corona Depression and Lack of Motivation

creativity, productivity, self-love, Songwriting Musings

I hadn’t written anything in weeks – no songs, no stories, no morning pages. I was struggling to get up to do yoga in the morning (so, I didn’t). I stopped playing music. But today I had a date with a friend – we were going to meet in a coffee shop and write. Both of us hadn’t been able to find the motivation to do anything creative for a while, so we both needed it. And once I sat down in the cafe (not without its struggles – I had forgotten my mask), I realised that writing felt good. I was enjoying it.

After an hour and a half of straight writing, we paid for our overpriced Boxhagener Platz coffees and went outside. “That felt good, didn’t it?” I exclaimed, somewhat surprised because I had expected I would just sit in front of the computer, dried up and empty, unable to get a word down. My friend nodded and said: “I finally feel like I’m shaking off the Covid winter depression. For months, I couldn’t get myself to do anything. All the things I’d once enjoyed doing just became the things I was forcing myself to do because I knew they were good for me. Now, I feel like I’m enjoying them again.”

When she said that, I stopped walking. That’s exactly what my life had been, too. Only, the last few months, I couldn’t even get myself to do the things that I knew were good for me. I’d just spent a month binge-watching ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and hating myself for it. It felt good to know that others were going through the same thing. And maybe it was unrealistic to expect that, once everything opened up, we’d be back to our old, sociable, productive selves right away. We did just spend over a year holed up at home, unable to share our music with anyone in real life.

For me, being able to go to smokey bars and gigs that stretched well into the night again was a blessing. But at the same time, I was struggling with keeping up the routine I had developed in lockdown. Seeing all my friends again and meeting new people felt great, but I felt overwhelmed and exhausted most of the time. After several weeks of gigs and open mics, I realised that maybe what I needed was not a night out, but a night in. But I also realised that it might take a while until I felt like the person I used to be before Covid hit.

In the last year and a half, a lot of my priorities have shifted. I’ve become less obsessed with money because I had nothing to spend it on during lockdown. I started appreciating my friends more and paying more attention to the close ties I’ve formed with people. I fell more in love with music because of what it did for me and not because of how it made people see me. In other words, I started paying attention to the right things, but it did hack away at my productivity. Now that we weren’t living in a vaccuum anymore, I needed to get back into the swing of things. Here are some of the things that helped me regain my rhythm:

1. I cleaned my space.

Maybe it’s my inner control freak talking, but when my surroundings are cluttered, I lack the motivation to do anything. When I clean and reorganise my flat, I always feel way more motivated to get stuff done in my life in general.

2. I agreed to a standing writing date.

Sometimes you just need an outside incentive. That writing date I had with my friend? We made it a weekly thing. So, now, I know that no matter what happens, I will sit down to write again next Monday. It won’t have to be good. But I’ll have to get it done because I’ll have my friend there who’ll be doing the same thing.

3. I started writing my morning pages again.

It’s amazing how much morning pages change my working habits. When I don’t do them, I always feel like the day is getting away from me. When I start my morning by writing 3 longhand pages in bed, I always manage to hype myself up enough to actually do all the things I claim I will in my diary. It’s pretty much my first step towards recovery in any difficult situation.

4. I made rules.

If something makes me feel bad but I can’t stop doing it, I make a rule. I can’t watch more than one episode of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ a day. I’m not allowed to anymore. I also can’t skip two days of yoga in a row. I have to go to bed before midnight if I’m not out at a concert. Sometimes, we need some self-discipline to get ourselves back in line. Having these rules in place forced me back into some form of normality, where I can find the time to make music because I’m not watching six episodes of a soap opera back-to-back.

5. I try to remember that every day matters.

Tomorrow will come when it does. But I want to make today count, too. And I want today to count every day, no matter how tired, shitty, or unmotivated I feel. When I don’t accomplish what I want and when I do, I try to remember to be appreciative of the time I have NOW because it’s the only time I have, right? I have a quote above my desk that’s a little cheesy but that I like anyway (I got it off some blog post somewhere, but for the love of God, I don’t remember which one):

Your mind has the ability to transform your day from a crappy, hide-under-the-covers day to a fabulous, dance-around-the-kitchen kind of day.

With that in mind, go forth and be creative.

on-losing-focus-picking-up-what-you-should-be-putting-down

On Losing Focus and Picking Up What You Should Be Putting Down

creativity, productivity, self-love

I’ve just had one of those weeks when you question everything, are too exhausted to do anything, and end up watching ‘Jane the Virgin’ and eating pizza instead of doing what you probably should be. I don’t know why I have these weeks, and they don’t come often. This time, I blame it on the fear of graduation, the shifts in my personal relationships, and the realisation that I’ve been in Berlin for a while, wondering if it’s time to move on.

I was feeling drained and unmotivated, trying to work at my boyfriend’s place. Suddenly, I noticed myself rearranging his bedroom in my head, imagining what it would look like if I brought one of my fleece blankets over or bought some flowers for his desk. “I’ll help you clean your bedroom when I’m done writing my thesis,” I said. He looked at me with a look of confusion and said: “Cool. You don’t have to do that, but yeah nice.” In the evening, he finally got into a workflow after a day of running around, and since I didn’t want to interrupt it, I went to the supermarket and made dinner for us instead. Then we watched Netflix and went to bed.

In the morning, I woke up angry. It was one of those weeks, remember. “What’s up? Are you mad at me or something?” my boyfriend asked, and I shook my head and packed my bag, getting my bike and half-shouting: “I just need to be alone. It’s not you.” It wasn’t him. Not at all. I just had a flashback. I had a flashback to the last time I felt lost and decided to find myself by building a life with someone else. I neglected university, lost the few friends I had made in London, realigned my goals to fit his. Again, it wasn’t his fault. But this is what I do: when I don’t know what to do, I project it by trying to help others. If I can’t be useful to myself, I might at least be useful to others.

I cycled home on that Friday afternoon and when I got home, I crashed in bed and slept until the evening. I never have naps because I find it hard to fall asleep in the middle of the day, but I just felt drained. I had no idea what I was doing – I was angry with myself for falling back into old patterns but I was used to running away from my head when being inside it became uncomfortable.

Somehow, a shift happened between that Friday and today. Well, not somehow, I know exactly how. Instead of falling headfirst into fixing other people, I took time off. I spent time by myself. On Saturday, I went for a walk and sat by the river while listening to Laura Marling. I read a book and watched a movie. On Sunday, I cleaned and cooked. On Monday, I lit some incense, meditated, and journalled. By Tuesday, I was back in my body.

This morning, I was listening to a podcast while running in the park. It was sunny, and that was probably the real reason I felt optimistic about life after several grey weeks in Berlin. But I was listening to Hattie Hill talk to Marie Forleo about how women tend to carry instead of to care – how we feel compelled to take on other people’s problems and fix them because that’s how we’ve been brought up. I loved the distinction she made between caring and carrying because it’s so accurate. However, I notice that I often choose to take on other people’s problems not only because that’s what’s expected of me – and very much how my mum operates too – but because it’s a way to escape my own ambitions.

Ultimately, it’s a form of self-sabotage. The thinking that drives this is: “If I don’t try well enough, I can’t fail. If I say that I couldn’t go for something 100% because my time was taken up by helping this other person, it won’t be my fault if I don’t succeed.” Not to say it’s bad to help other people or be there for others. But my boyfriend doesn’t need me to rearrange his room or make his dinner (unless it’s just a nice thing I want to do). And you can care about someone and be there for them without having to uproot your life to make theirs more bearable.

The thing is, sometimes I choose to lose focus. I lose focus because I’m afraid to fail. I lose focus because I think that what I want is stupid and unworthy of my undivided attention and commitment. I lose focus because I don’t want to miss out on all these other paths I could take if I spread myself thin. But it all comes down to fear, and we don’t ever want to base our decisions on emotions that ultimately hold us back. We want to make decisions we wholeheartedly believe in. I’ve already spent a year of my life losing focus before and I don’t want to go there again. If you’re going through one of those weeks where you’re desperately looking for something to distract you, here is what I try doing now instead:

1. Switch off.

I mean switch off from technology, work, and other people. Sometimes, we want to escape because we feel overwhelmed, but instead of slowing down and taking time for ourselves, we overload ourselves with social engagements and new projects instead. Turn off your phone, throw out your to-do list for a day. Go for a walk, journal, read a book. Be with your thoughts. If you’ve been running around for a while, it will feel incredibly relaxing to just be.

2. Have a ritual.

I’m not talking about routine here. I’m saying that sometimes, you need to reset yourself. If you’re feeling low and you feel like there’s no point to anything anymore, you need some symbolic new start to breathe new life into your aspirations. For me, that was a full moon ritual on Monday – I saged my room, journalled about what I wanted to release and what I wanted to welcome, and burnt the pages over the kitchen sink. On Tuesday, I felt like I was starting fresh. New starts are important, so think of one for yourself and how you can mark it – maybe you can journal or meditate, or start a new resolution. Examples of new starts are Mondays, birthdays, new moons, full moons, new months.

3. Meditate, manifest, write.

Once you’ve taken time out for yourself and you feel well-rested, it might be time to reclaim your focus again. Meditate on what you want and ask for guidance, write down your vision, make a mood board. Remember why your focus matters, think about where you’re going. Instead of trying to flee your fears, work through them – write down your limiting beliefs, think about the real reasons you’re feeling lost. Is it because you don’t know what you want? Or is it because you’re afraid?

single-by-single-release-culture

Should We Fight the Single-by-Single Release Culture?

artist, creativity, music, productivity

In October 2020, I planned my release calendar for 2021. I was going to release four singles throughout the year – nothing more, nothing less. “The release cycle of a song is three months,” my tutor said at uni, and that served as my guiding principle. The only flaw in my plan was that the four songs sounded much better together than they did as singles. They were written more or less at the same time, talked about similar emotions of heartbreak, growth, and learning. They were just about good enough to be singles, but they would have been a much better EP.

I know a lot of artists who struggle with this. The other day, one of my musician friends complained about how he felt he had to release all of the songs from his EP as singles, which made me wonder why he bothered to release them as an EP at all. By the time the EP comes out, everyone will have already heard the songs out of context.

I started asking myself that question after recording the demo album I mentioned last week. The songs all talked about one period in my life and went together well, but as standalone songs, they didn’t sound quite right. The album told a story. Besides, the recordings were as lo-fi as they go, and getting into the vibe of the sound would take some time, and if the listener would be jerked out of it after one song, it just wouldn’t have the same effect.

Then I heard another friend talk about how this single-by-single release culture affects our artistic output. We’re expected to release a single every few months at the most, or we’re dead to the world. We’re expected to produce content but we’re not content creators, we’re artists, right? But taking time to ruminate over our work, to experiment, fail, and grow without it being documented by social media and Spotify isn’t a part of our culture anymore.

Art takes time. It takes time to get an idea, get excited about it, work hard, hit a roadblock, start working again, throw it away because it was shit after all, start again. Ideas form over time through experimentation, failure, stagnation. If we’re pressed to produce stuff all the time, we’re excluding vital parts of the process. And that opens up a whole other can of worms: the fear and guilt that come with the idea that we have to be working and creating ALL the time. Who can ever live up to that?

First of all, no office employee ever works the whole time they’re paid for. I grew up with a dad with a 9-5 job. He used to read the paper on the toilet until another employee would come to look for him. My ex-boyfriend hid in the toilet to watch the final episode of GoT during his working hours. My current flatmate comes into my room at least five times a day to chat while she’s technically on shift. I read books behind the reception desk of the hostel I worked at. All this to say that no job ever involves constant effort. There are always breaks, downtimes, coffee chats. But somehow, people are outraged when artists take time off to live.

When I have free time and I don’t use it to work on my music, I feel guilty. Not to say that I work on my music all the time because I don’t. But that doesn’t take away the fact that I feel horrible whenever I turn on Netflix or read a book instead. But to create art, artists need to live first. If I’m not learning or experiencing anything, I have nothing to write about, no matter how hard I’m working on my music.

The single-by-single release culture has affected artists in various ways, but most of them don’t stand out to me as beneficial. Of course, there are reasons why artists choose to release single tracks instead of EPs or albums. I have too, so I’ll explain my reasoning here. First, it’s cheaper to have to pay for the recording and production of one song as opposed to a whole collection of them. Another is that it allows you to reassess and tweak your strategy for the following releases. The last one I can think of is that you might not have enough songs for an EP or an album, but in that case, it’s probably too early for you to release any music at all. But ultimately, most of us are releasing singles because we’ve gotten it into our heads that it’s what we’re supposed to do. And it’s just not.

do-i-trust-my-own-artistic-judgement

Do I Trust My Own Artistic Judgement Now? When Did That Happen?

artist, creativity, music, songwriting

I was walking down the street in late autumn and sobbing on the phone. “I don’t understand why my dad hates my new songs,” I said. “I thought they were the best songs I’d ever written.”

The day before, I had enthusiastically sent my parents demos of some new stuff, songs that I thought would blow their minds with their brilliance. When my dad called the day after, he said he wasn’t overly impressed. For other people, the moment when they stop caring about what their parents think probably comes when they’re teenagers. For me, however, that moment never came. And my parents rarely told me they didn’t like what I was doing, so I grew to need their validation. Whenever my dad told me he didn’t like my songs, I started questioning everything about them, often abandoning songs because I started believing he was right.

“Erika, this is ridiculous,” my friend said. “Of course, you want validation and approval. But you also know what’s good and what’s not for yourself. Music is inherently subjective. So what if he didn’t like it? Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it just means you’re growing. Maybe this is the Universe telling you that it’s time to start trusting yourself.” Of course, it was the fucking Universe.

I spent a week forcing all of my musician friends to listen to those songs, none of whom told me they hated them. I started thinking that maybe sometimes, what my dad said was an opinion rather than the absolute truth. I was playing one of those songs in my childhood bedroom when I went home for Christmas. My dad came into the room and listened, and when I finished, he said: “This is a great song. When did you write it?”

One of my closest friends criticises my music incessantly. “That lyric really jars with the rest of the song,” he’ll say. Or: “It doesn’t rhyme at all.” Or, my favourite: “It just needs some work.” But hearing his feedback at the same time that my parents decided that the direction my music was taking was not sitting well with them has helped me to let go of wanting to please anyone. I couldn’t please the people closest to me, so what did it even matter? I just started doing my own thing.

A few weeks ago, I recorded a demo album and sent it to my parents for feedback. I don’t care, but it doesn’t mean I’m not curious. My mum called me and said: “I liked it better when your voice sounded pretty.” My dad said: “You sound too angry.” I knew I was growing as a person when those comments didn’t make me burst into tears. Maybe I am a massive wimp, but I was extremely proud of myself when I shrugged at their words and carried on with life after our phone call.

Today, I talked to my Songwriting Tutor at uni. I showed her the arrangements I had in mind for some new songs, and she said: “Well, if you trust your artistic judgement, that’s the only thing that matters.” And when I got off the Zoom call, I thought to myself: “I do trust my artistic judgement, don’t I? When the hell did that happen?”

poets-that-taught-me-to-write

How My Favourite Poets Taught Me to Write

creativity, songwriting

The first poem I liked was Bukowski‘s ‘An Almost Made Up Poem’, about a heartbreaking love for a woman that took her own life. I had read poetry before that – I had read and liked Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Kipling (not knowing the implications of that at the time), but they hadn’t grabbed me by the throat and turned me inside out. There was something about Bukowski’s writing that sounded like he was furiously scribbling away in his journal, and I felt like I was in his head, and there was no time for rhyme or for beautiful words except they sounded beautiful anyway because they were true.

I was fifteen when I read that poem and I’ve since met a lot of men who love Bukowski, especially the ones that are just starting as poets. He’s the Hemingway of poetry, he’s a lad’s lad, he’s cool enough to openly admit you like him (despite the numerous claims of him being a misogynist). I still like Bukowski and I have realised that my soft spot for embarrassing honesty comes from him, just like my disregard for rhyme. I have never cared for lyrics that sound pretty but don’t mean much, and I only like abstract imagery in moderation.

After Bukowski, I moved on to more broody things. I fell in love with Sylvia Plath. As a teenager, I related to ‘Mad Girl’s Love Song’, especially the line “I think I made you up inside my head”, and kept the poem as the screensaver on my phone for months. I remember classmates laughing at me for being pretentious (which I was), but that’s how I learnt the power of repetition, that love is supposed to tear you apart, and that exaggerating is acceptable even when you’re striving for honesty in your writing.

When I realised I actually liked poetry, I started taking out poetry collections at the library. I’d choose them at random – picking out two or three every other week in the English language section. That’s how I stumbled across Helen Farish, and her poem ‘Look at these’, a short poem where she writes: “Seeing you makes me want to lift up my top,/ breathe in and say Look! Look at these!” It’s a snapshot in time, vulnerability that’s confined to a very specific action. With its eight lines, the poem stunned me with everything it encompassed. It showed the universality of a brief moment. After that, I started writing about small things, too. Nothing was too small to be made into a song – blue sweaters worn by ex-boyfriends, catchphrases friends used, the scent of someone’s cologne.

In a poetry anthology of female poets, I found the poem ‘Bitch’ by Carolyn Kizer, where seeing an ex-lover provokes the dog in Kizer to first growl, then bark, and then, as the conversation about old days unfolds, to whimper and grovel. It’s a metaphor that sounds exactly right, the lines “Down, girl! Keep your distance/ Or I’ll give you a taste of the choke-chain” describing my thoughts when I interact with my ex-boyfriends. It was funny, it was fitting, it was – again – relatable. I haven’t mastered the art of elegantly constructed metaphors yet, but she inspired me to try. She also inspired me not to be afraid to use self-deprecating humour.

When Maya Angelou came, so did life. ‘Caged Bird’ taught me that pain matters, ‘Phenomenal Woman’ taught me to believe. She didn’t teach me how to write, she taught me how to live. So many small wisdoms that she imparted I live by today. I was told yesterday that I’m too full of myself and need to learn to be humble. I don’t think that’s what my friend meant. I think he meant I need to be more modest, but Maya Angelou taught me there’s a difference between the two and what I need is humility, not modesty. She said this, and it’s ingrained in me forever and ever:


You see, I have no patience with modesty. Modesty is a learned adaptation. It’s stuck on like decals.  As soon as life slams a modest person against the wall, that modesty will fall off faster than a G-string will fall off a stripper. Whenever I’m around some who is modest, I think, ‘run like hell and all of fire’. You don’t want modesty, you want humility. Humility comes from inside out. It says someone was here before me and I’m here because I’ve been paid for. I have something to do and I will do that because I’m paying for someone else who has yet to come.

Dr. Maya Angelou

Later, I became more interested in my roots and started reading Russian poets, like Yesenin, Akhmatova, Akhamadulina. Their melancholy, dark humour, detailed descriptions (like Akhmatova describing putting on the left mitten on the right hand in ‘A Song of the Final Meeting’) taught me to pay attention to the mundane, to romanticise, and to remember. Yesenin’s lilacs, Akhmadulina’s green dreams in winter – I remember visiting Russia when I was seventeen and going through my grandmother’s bookshelves, taking photos of these poems I didn’t want to forget. Two years later, I’d find a compilation of Russian poets in a second-hand store in Marylebone, remembering poems I heard when I was too young to understand them, underlining phrases that I wanted to mimick in my lyrics.

Then the age of Instagram poets dawned, and I discovered Rupi Kaur and Charly Cox. Rupi Kaur’s ‘milk and honey’ was the first poetry collection I bought, and I brought it with me on my trips around Europe. She helped me through my first breakup in high school and taught me that my feelings were valid enough to write about. Charly Cox came much later when I stumbled upon ‘She Must Be Mad’ at the library in Ghent, while visiting my parents over Christmas over a year ago. She was speaking about her experiences, but it was like reading my own diary. I had been moving in that direction all along – confessional storytelling and embarrassing truth are what I live for. But here was someone almost my age, doing it at the same time as me, and I felt seen. It gave me hope, like good poetry always did.

how-i-steal-from-other-artists

Here’s How I Steal from Other Artists – and Why Everyone Should

artist, creativity, music, songwriting

I don’t think it’s much of a secret anymore that all artists steal. Not because we’re not creative or original enough, but just because it’s inevitable. We’re building on hundreds of years of craft and creativity. This morning, I was listening to a meditation that described it perfectly: we’re like the wave that’s being pushed forward by the whole ocean of our ancestors.

One of my friends and I often end up arguing about the throwaway comments I make. I say stuff like: “I hate Bob Dylan. He has a whiny voice.” First of all, I don’t hate Bob Dylan. I just don’t love him. And I recognise his contributions to folk and singer-songwriter music. But I also think he’s not that great of a singer and his guitar could use some work (although that’s rich coming from me). Anyway, my friend always gets incredibly worked up about me saying this, and I asked him why the other day. He said that you can’t deny that everything you do is based on what came before you and that, as musicians, we ought to recognise that. I couldn’t argue with that, although I don’t want to encourage any Bob Dylan idolatry here.

However, we are a part of a tradition. I came across this video of Paul Simon talking about how he wrote ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. He describes how a part of the song slipped in from a Bach chorale, and how listening to the gospel group The Swan Silvertones led him to use gospel changes after he got stuck. Then Simon describes listening to an up-tempo song with the lyric: “I’ll be a bridge over deepwater if you trust in my name”, and pauses briefly before saying: “Well, I guess I stole it, actually.”

If this is how one of the greatest songs ever came about… well, I guess there’s a good reason to try doing it yourself. Here are some ideas on how to harness the greatness of the incredible songwriters of yore:


1. Recreate.


In her book ‘The Creative Habit’, Twyla Tharp wrote about dancing:

That’s the power of muscle memory. It gives you a path toward genuine creation through simple recreation.

Twyla Tharp, ‘The Creative Habit’

The same goes for music. I spent years trying to write songs only knowing a few chords and two different strums. Limitations are healthy and can become fertile soil for creativity, but not when those limitations stem from laziness. Deliberate practice tends to be effortful and exhausting, but there’s a bigger chance you’ll persevere with your practice and learning if you start by learning songs by an artist you love. I had a pretty extensive Joni Mitchell period. Some musicians never get out of it and spend most of their careers sounding like an artist that already exists, but most artists spend at least some time imitating someone they admire. With time, you’ll start adjusting the guitar licks you’d learnt, adding your own lilt to the accent you’d been mimicking, you’ll start whispering where you used to belt. Someone else’s style will slowly grow into your own. But you need to start somewhere.


2. Write down everything that sounds good.


I underline sentences in books and write them in the back of my songbook. Whenever I’m stuck with a lyric, I leaf through my notebook and look at how I can spin the lines I liked in a way that will fit my own song. Sometimes, a line in a poem or a story will spark a song. I was reading ‘She Must Be Mad’ by Charly Cox, and these words struck me: “I got a fork stuck in a dishwasher/ And now I can’t stop crying/ Whoever said depression was glamorous/ Has clearly never considered dying” from ‘all I wanted was some toast’. That sparked the song ‘Tomato Stains’ that begins with the line: “I can’t get the tomato stains out of my new faded jeans/ And I can’t stop crying”. It ultimately goes into different thematic territory, but it would’ve never been written without Charly Cox. But a lot of the time, the origin of a lyrical idea is wildly different from what makes it into the song in the end.


3. Listen to artists that sound different.


I’m currently listening to Jon Batiste’s new album ‘WE ARE’ that combines gospel, funk, and R&B with hip-hop, jazz, and classical music influences. It features Zadie Smith, how cool is that? But I only heard of it because there was an interview with him in The Cut. It’s a stellar album, and I’m glad I came across it, but it’s also so different from the stuff I often listen to that a lot of the elements that will seem obvious to regular listeners of Jon Batiste’s jump out to me as exciting and new. It immediately inspires me to learn more about jazz and to experiment with sampling voices. Imitating one person makes you a copy, but combine that with another influence, and you have an idea.

morning-routine

I Can’t Function Without My Morning Routine

artist, creativity, productivity

When COVID-19 hit, it was the first time in months that I didn’t have to jump out of bed in the morning, and didn’t have any structure imposed on me by the outside world. At first, I revelled in the freedom. I slept in, spent up to an hour in the morning scrolling through Instagram, washed my hair twice a week instead of every day. But after a while, I noticed my productivity plummet and my motivation wane. I spent hours reading books and watching Netflix, but little time creating. Then I stumbled upon the miracle morning routine.

Hal Elrod, the writer of ‘The Miracle Morning‘ – a popular productivity book – sets out these six steps to set you up in the morning: silence, affirmations, visualisation, exercise, reading, and scribing. If you do these things when you wake up (early in the morning!), he promised I’d feel happier and more energised throughout the day. Lacking any form of structure and being a big believer in the power of routine, I started building up my own.

Having a morning routine became a challenge, and I was set on keeping it fun. Whereas Hal Elrod’s system definitely works for most people, I adapted it to suit my own needs, and came up with a few extra ideas. If you’re getting sick and tired of this lockdown bullshit, you might get some ideas on how to spice up your life.


1. I set a challenge for myself



Firstly, don’t call it a ‘goal’. Calling it a ‘challenge’ tricks your mind into thinking you’re doing something fun and it reminds you you’re pushing your boundaries. Set a clear challenge for yourself of something you want to achieve, that you will steadily work on every morning for about twenty minutes. For me, it was writing 45,000 words. It has to be something that excites you and gets you out of bed. After writing for half an hour in the morning, I already started my day having done something productive, having worked towards a higher goal.


2. I write morning pages


Every morning, I need to do a brain dump and write down whatever pops into my head. Once I set all my concerns to paper, they stop taking up space in my head. It also helps to write down what I have to do throughout the day, set my intentions, and check in with myself.


3. I do yoga


I don’t always meditate in the morning, but doing yoga most days brings my focus back to the breath, gives me a break from my thoughts, and gets me moving. It’s also perfect for those who are working in a home office all day, so you get your stretches in before you sit down in front of a computer. Same for musicians who practice with the same posture all the time. While I wait for group classes to resume, I use Leslie Fightmaster‘s Youtube channel. It’s slightly more energetic than Yoga with Adriene, although she’s also class.


4. I visualise


For ten minutes every day, I visualise my perfect life while listening to a guided meditation. It helps me to stay motivated and focused, knowing what to focus my energy on, and what to-do’s don’t align with the bigger picture. It’s also a great way to start your day if you believe in manifestation.


5. I take a shower


Taking a shower is my quiet time. It’s time I use to reflect and prepare for the day ahead. In a time where many of us lack the motivation to go outside or put on pants, it helps to feel clean when you start the day and serves as motivation to change out of my pyjamas.


6. I eat breakfast and catch up on messages


After my shower, I make porridge or eat some yoghurt, while catching up on Facebook and Instagram messages. With most people communicating through social media during the pandemic, it helps to get this out of the way before I start work because otherwise, I spend hours obsessing about whether I forgot to reply to an important message. I never even get important messages, but it’s the FOMO that distracts me from getting anything worthwhile done.

manifest-visualise

I Probably Spend Too Much Time Visualising But Here’s Why

artist, creativity, self-love

I have a sweet morning routine going: I write my morning pages, do yoga, meditate, have a shower, and have breakfast. One of my best friends has been pressing me to add in visualisation. When I told her about all the other stuff I was already doing, she was uncompromising. “You need to do it. It keeps you motivated. It helps you work through your limiting beliefs.” In case you’re wondering who the best friend is, yes, she is the same person who had already coached me through my limiting beliefs once.

I had tried visualisation earlier. If you’re unfamiliar with it – you basically spend some time during the day imagining your perfect life to the tiniest detail, which is not very hard. Imagining nice things is – it turns out – pretty easy. But when I did it in December last year, it left me feeling anxious about everything I was doing. When you have a clear vision of where you want to be, you get really fucking stressed about ruining your chance at future happiness by doing something wrong.

“You can’t visualise your whole future every day,” one of my lecturers told me when I shared my dilemma with him. “You’ll burn yourself out.” Wait. Huh? “Sure, plan ahead. But remember to stay in the moment, too.” I love how a lot of self-help advice is contradictory. Live in the moment, but visualise your future. Dream big, but be happy with what you have.

I told my friend this, and she didn’t seem fazed. “Of course you need to stay in the moment. But you need to spend a few minutes every day remembering what you’re doing it all for. Visualisation is the framework that makes the small stuff fall into place. It gives you purpose.” Actually, I don’t know if she said that, but that’s what I took from that conversation. The key was only doing it for ten minutes every day, instead of spending every waking minute imagining how a decision might affect my visualised ideal life.

I found a guided visualisation on Insight Timer, a free meditation app that I was already using (if you don’t know it – it’s great and free and features talks by Elizabeth Gilbert, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield) and did it in the morning instead of an ordinary breathing exercise. I still think breathing exercises are valuable, but visualising what I actually want from life first thing in the morning – similarly to morning pages – set me up for the rest of the day. I was way more productive and in a much better mood than usual. So, I did again the day after. And the day after that.

For someone who always takes on too many projects, most of which are usually completely irrelevant to what I actually want to do, visualisation has proven extremely useful. If you don’t know what you want, you won’t know what to work towards. If you don’t believe you can have something, you’ll never bother trying.

The other upside of this is the energy you put out. This is not just spiritual babble, it also just has clear psychological benefits. If you know what you want and believe you can have it, you’ll be more hard-working, focused, positive, and will bounce back from setbacks way more quickly. (I confidently proclaimed having no psychological training whatsoever.) Positive energy is key for artists who deal with rejection on a daily basis.


Visualisation Ideas:

  1. The classic letter exercise. Write a letter to yourself in five years. Then in two. Then next year. How are you going to get there?
  2. Write a list of the qualities you want your future partner to have. I was told to do this by my friend, who said: “It was insane when I did it. The guy I met after I wrote down what I wanted matched everything word-for-word. I only forgot to add mentally stable to the list.”
  3. Guided visualisation and manifestation exercises online.
  4. Sometimes, I just spend ten minutes or so in bed thinking about how I want my life to pan out, visualising everything in the smallest detail: how I will finally be able to afford organic vegetables, the soap containers I will buy to pretend the cheap soap I buy at ALDI is fancy, etc.
  5. Pinterest! It’s like… almost useful.

what-to-write-about-in-lockdown-songwriting

What I Write About When All There Is to Do This Year Is Stare Out of the Window

creativity, productivity, songwriting

A couple days ago, a meme of Bart Simpson staring out of the window at the grey sky outside started circulating on my Instagram. In Berlin winter, it was strikingly fitting, considering how that was exactly how my friends and I spent most of our days. Writing this, I’m looking at the sky and trying to remember what the sun looks like, but all I can see is a grey nuclear cloud enveloping the city. Even without corona, this would have been a depressing sight, but knowing that I can’t go to a bar or a club, or spend the night singing songs with my musician friends, makes this time even more unbearable.

But another problem is starting to affect artists. I was talking to a friend the other day, who remarked: “I have never had this much free time to write, but what the hell am I supposed to write about? All I do is sit at home and drink tea.” It was a good question. Songwriters often pull from their own experiences, writing about the people they meet or the places they see. If all there’s left is your apartment and the people you see on Netflix, what stories do you still have to tell?

A while ago, I talked about keeping an inspiration journal and how that prevents me from having creative blocks, but even an inspiration journal has its limitations. Poems, photos, quotes from films are all great sources of inspiration, but sometimes, what we crave is to write about something we care about and feel, more than what just sounds good. And with this pandemic, the main thing we care about is getting through it. Songs about love, connection, hope are harder to write because we feel less of those things.

Maybe I’m only speaking for myself here, but I prefer writing songs about speed-walking to a concert while eating noodles, about frantically trying to rub off a curry stain off my new jeans on my way to a party, or about fumbling with someone’s leather belt in the dark. I feel like I’m close to exhausting the repertoire of “I went on a date and we greeted each other with an elbow bump” and “I had coffee with the only friend I see every day but she had come over the day before so we mainly just talked about how good it is that we at least have each other”. There’s only so much in real life that’s worth writing about at the moment.

For most musicians, writing and performing are the only ways to stay sane at the best of times. Since performing was no longer an option, most musicians had turned to writing and recording their stuff. But a year into this pandemic, and several months into lockdown, even writing seems to be slowly sliding off the table.

I’m better off than most because I get to see friends outside, I still meet up with a select few, and Berlin isn’t as bad as some parts of the world at the moment. But even I have to read through my diaries, go on poetry rampages and listen to more new music than I thought I was capable of consuming to come up with relatively new ideas. Here are some of the things that still inspire me despite this shit show, but it’s Bart-Simpson-style staring out of the window most days for me, too. Also, check out this Instagram reel by Simeon Hammond Dallas about how to write songs during lockdown because if anything, it might at least crack you up.


1. I go through my old diaries and journals.


When I feel stuck, I go through old diaries in the hope that a story will turn up that I hadn’t told yet. I don’t always strike out, but it’s nice when I do. Sometimes, I also come across a line that sounds good enough to turn into a lyric.


2. I listen back to my old voice memos in the hope that I’ll find something secretly brilliant.


Most of the time, I don’t finish songs when I think they’re absolute crap. But I always record everything, so once in a while, I revisit old voice memos to see if maybe I’d missed something. When I’m in a shitty mood or too tired to write for more than ten minutes, I often abandon music ideas that could have turned into something good. Now that it’s harder to stay inspired and motivated, it can help not to have to start with a completely blank page.


3. I learn new chords, fingerpicking patterns, etc., and use them in my music.


It’s hard to write new songs when you’re working with old building blocks. I started learning a new cover every week, and now, I often end up lifting chords, strumming patterns, or fingerpicking styles from other songs and incorporating them into my own stuff.


4. I go on dating apps to remind myself that lockdown is probably a blessing in disguise.


When all else fails, I download Bumble or Tinder and spend an hour talking to strangers that remind me that this introspective lockdown thing is not the worst, and then jot down one or two lines I’d been texted to use in a lyric about why I hate dating.


5. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if I have nothing to say for a while.


I don’t have to be writing all the time, though. If I skip a couple days, or a week, and don’t come up with a new song – it doesn’t matter all that much.

why-limiting-beliefs-are-holding-you-back-from-committing-to-music

How Your Limiting Beliefs Are Keeping You From Committing to Music

artist, creativity, self-love

I was curled up in the chair by the window of my childhood bedroom, my head resting on my knees. It had been a week of decision-making, and there was nothing I hated more in my life than making decisions. My notebook was lying on the table on the other side of the room, with pro and con lists taking up the last five pages. I wondered if my parents had reached the point where they just wanted me to leave so I would stop talking about my inability to make a choice. I felt like everyone was tired of my indecision by now, including me.

The choice was this: going back to London or Berlin. With Brexit, if I didn’t go back, I wouldn’t be eligible for settlement status later down the line, effectively losing my chance to build a life in the UK. But if I didn’t go back to Berlin, I was losing another thing: the chance to focus on music and stop obsessing about making a living and surviving, the way that London forces people to. Berlin meant more freedom, more music and creativity in my life, and probably sanity. But it wasn’t as easy as choosing the fun thing. What if I wanted to stay in London? Or go back in the long run?

I messaged my best friend in London with the words: “I feel so fucking confused. I have no idea what I’m supposed to do.” Two minutes later, she called back. Her voice sounded like an anchor pulling me back down to earth, from the hectic mental space I had been floating in that week. “Talk me through it,” she said. “Why are you afraid of going to Berlin?”

“It’s like that Sylvia Plath quote,” I said. “The one about the fig tree – she’s staring at the tree, trying to pick the ripest, best fig and while she’s staring at the figs, unable to make a choice, they all rot in front of her. That’s me. I’m Sylvia Plath, bar the head in the oven.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I don’t know what I want.”

“You do know.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do.”

“I really don’t.”

“Stop convincing yourself that you don’t,” she said. “You’re starting to believe it, but it’s really just you that has convinced yourself of this. It’s a belief that you can’t make decisions, that you can’t trust yourself. But you can. You have that inner voice that already knows. What scares you the most? What will make you grow the most? That’s what you need to do.” I wondered when my friend had become a life guru.

“Maybe you’re right. I feel like I should go to Berlin, and do this creative thing…” I said, feeling stupid as I was saying it, so I added for good measure: “Though I don’t think it’s gonna work out. I should probably do a master’s instead.”

“What do you mean? Why would you do a master’s?”

“You know… To get a job.”

“Why do you think you won’t be able to get a job without a master’s?”

“As what? A musician?”

“Why not? That’s what you want to do, right?”

“Of course, in an ideal world!” I exclaimed. “But I also want a family and kids and a normal life. Maybe a house and a dog, that kind of stuff. Not now, but I want to at least have the option.”

“Who says you won’t have that as a musician?”

“Because that’s just not how it works. I’ll never make that kind of money as a musician if I make any kind of money as a musician.”

“But that’s a belief. That’s just what you’re telling yourself. Who says you can’t have it all? If you’re gonna believe that and not even try, then, yeah, you won’t. But ultimately, you can craft your own narrative. You can decide that you can have it all and work towards it. There is no set outcome attached to anything, but by believing certain myths about life, we start manifesting them.”

“Maybe I do want to be a musician.”

“Honestly, it’s clear to anyone but you, Erika. You’re being ridiculous.”

“And I do want to go to Berlin.”

“Yup,” she said in the least surprised tone I’ve ever heard in my life.

I’m in Berlin now, and I’m fine. The world didn’t come crumbling down when I didn’t go to London. I’m not in a financial pit of despair (yet). I have started writing music reviews for a music blog, and I’m gearing up for a song release in a month or so, and I’m looking into other ways of making money as a musician that hopefully won’t involve babysitting, but honestly, who cares if I get to make music. The point I was trying to make here is… If I hadn’t noticed how I was talking myself into believing I couldn’t, I wouldn’t have had the courage to come back here. And I would have started down a path that wasn’t meant for me at all. This is why it’s so important to identify the limiting beliefs you might hold, so that you know what you’re choosing to do and what you’re talking yourself into doing out of fear.

Apart from talking to wise, loving friends, there are other small tricks for identifying and battling limiting beliefs in decision-making that I’ve been using for the last few months. Here are some of them, and I hope they’ll help you, too:


1. List your reasons for doing something, and notice when fear is a driving factor


Lists aren’t the be-all and end-all in decision-making because I found that rationalising things often only complicates the process, getting in the way of that part of you that already knows the answer to what you really want. But seeing your reasons written down can help you understand whether you’re making a decision from a place of love, acceptance, and support, or if you’re making a decision from a place of fear. Fear and doubt are the worst motivators. If you recognise that they are the main driving factors behind a decision, maybe it’s time to reevaluate the beliefs that led you there.


2. You can’t “keep your options open”


I have trouble committing to decisions, to a certain life path, to a partner, to a place. Not because I don’t think that something or someone wouldn’t be good for me, but because I fear that there might be something somewhere that might be better. Or that down the line, I’ll realise that it hadn’t been the right decision all along, and I’ll want to try something else. Or that I’ll change and my priorities will shift. But that’s life. People do change, priorities do shift, but if you never commit to anything, and always go for the thing that gives you the most freedom to back out, you will never pursue anything wholeheartedly. And half-assing life is not something that anyone wants, really.


3. Decisions that you can go back on are not decisions


I’ve been living in limbo for a while now. I’ve never signed a lease on a flat without checking what the breaking clause in the contract is, and so far, I’ve always used it. I’ve walked away from jobs I didn’t like, I’ve broken a lot of promises to a lot of different people. I’ve made a lot of decisions that I then went back on, which means they weren’t decisions at all. I came to Berlin with the thought that if I hated it, I could still return to London. It left me just as stressed as if I hadn’t made a decision at all – I was constantly evaluating whether to go or to stay. I’ve decided I’m staying because there’s no satisfaction in making a decision that gives you an out. Sometimes, it actually is easier to commit.


4. Discussions and affirmations


When I started unpacking the reasons and beliefs that were keeping me from committing to what I really wanted to do, I started wondering how to battle them. According to Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology, you have to dispute and energise. When you encounter a limiting belief, ask yourself what the effect of that belief will be on the rest of your life. Are the consequences of that thought destructive? Then explain to yourself why you’re catastrophising, and why your belief has no basis. Finally, energise by changing the limiting belief for one that motivates you. Here’s a short example of how I go about it:

Limiting belief: I can’t make decisions at all. I’m always going back and forth on stuff. I’m a flaky person.

Consequence: If I keep believing this, I will always distrust my gut, which will make decision-making even harder. Believing I’m flaky also makes it into a self-fulfilling prophecy, perpetuating the cycle of indecision.

Why it’s not true: I have actually made a lot of commitments in my life. I’m finishing my bachelor’s degree, I have spent three years living in London, I’ve stuck with a long-term relationship before, and I have worked through problems in friendships to keep the people I love in my life.

Affirmation: I can make hard decisions and commit to things that are important to me.


These are the little tricks that work for me, but I’m sure that different stuff works for different people. Let me know if you’re struggling with this, too, and what works for you. I’m still very much in the process of figuring this out, so I’d love to hear more tips!