Is Motivation Different From Inspiration?

I wonder if someone has ever asked you where you find your motivation for songwriting. And if so, I wonder if you would give a different answer if they asked you to describe where you find your inspiration?

Inspiration is a favourite word for people in the creative arts. By inspiration, most artists mean the initial “spark” that causes images to form in their minds. For composers of music, those images are usually sound-based. A choreographer’s spark would be the imagining of someone’s physical movement. A visual artist’s spark would literally be images that will eventually appear on a canvas.


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A couple of posts ago I wrote about inspiration as the result of our own work: as we create an artistic work (a song, for example), we get inspired by the sounds we create, and that inspiration propels us forward in the creative process of writing that song.

But motivation? That’s different, because it speaks to something longer term: not just what has inspired us to write that song, but what motivates us to be a songwriter, day after day, year after year.

Songwriters are fond of talking about initial sparks, but they don’t tend to talk a lot about motivation. And motivation — or more precisely, losing it — can be scary. Lacking the motivation to write at all is worse than lacking initial-spark inspiration, because at least without inspiration you can still write. Or even if you feel you need to be inspired, there’s any number of quick ways to generate an initial spark.

But finding yourself lacking motivation is harder to deal with because that speaks to what you might see as your purpose in life — why you’re here, so to speak.

Are you lacking motivation these days to write music? If you are, you might find any one of these to be symptoms:

  1. You question whether you really are a songwriter.
  2. You question whether you ever were a songwriter.
  3. You take criticisms of your songs hard.
  4. You find other people’s success makes you feel worse.
  5. You’re afraid of letting others (close friends and family) down.

All of those can be symptoms of losing your motivation to continue trying to write songs. There are more reasons than just those, of course. Constantly feeling that your songs are lacking in quality can also cause your motivation (along with inspiration) to take a serious hit.

How Writer’s block, Inspiration, and Motivation All Connect

I think of writer’s block as being either mild, moderate or severe. The mild kind is the kind everyone gets from time to time. For a few days, that song you’re working on just sits there unfinished.

A moderate creative block is one that lasts longer – a week or two, possibly more. Turning your attention to a different creative pursuit, like writing short stories, or perhaps painting, are great ways to deal with it.

But a severe block is different, and that’s the one that speaks to motivation. A severe case of writer’s block makes you question whether you ever were a songwriter. Maybe you were just a pretender.

If this describes you, here’s a list of ways that might help you define exactly why you became a songwriter in the first place:

  1. Sit down and remember. Think back to your first attempts at writing songs. Can you recall what made you feel excited? Just remembering what brought you to songwriting can help you find the missing motivation.
  2. Re-form your motivation. Perhaps the reasons you became a songwriter just aren’t doing it for you anymore. So come up with new reasons. There are endless numbers of reasons to choose from: you want your kids to see your creative side… you want to express your life’s philosophy through music… you want your songs to be your legacy. Whatever the reason, think it through, and then remind yourself of it every day.
  3. Connect with others. One of the best ways to stay motivated is to stay connected to other songwriters, either through songwriting circles, partnerships, performances… whatever gets you next to others. Remember, all songwriters need motivation, and staying connected to others is a great way to reciprocate and help others feel motivated.

The main difference between inspiration and motivation is that inspiration might change from song to song, but your motivation is a long-term reason for why you do what you do. To keep motivation working for you, start every songwriting session by reminding yourself why you need to write. That simple act of remembering will help you through the tough times.


Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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One Comment

  1. For me “motivation” is the urge that comes over me to write a song, while inspiration is provided by the elusive, yet crucial element known as the “Muse” that provides the creative spark we all need. The “Muse” is different things for different writers, but it’s importance is pretty universal in my opinion.

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