If you’re waiting for inspiration, you’re probably wasting a lot of time.
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Songwriter’s inspiration happens in two possible ways. The first way I would call spontaneous inspiration, and appears as a wave of creative excitement that causes you to drop everything, pick up an instrument, and start writing furiously. There is a kind of euphoria that comes with it, mostly because it can happen quickly and seemingly without warning. And even though spontaneous inspiration is the kind that most people think of (if when they think of inspiration at all), it’s actually quite rare.
The other kind of inspiration is better thought of as worker’s inspiration. It’s more effective, even if it’s less glamourous. It doesn’t usually start with a shot of creative excitement or euphoria, but builds gradually over time. It happens as a direct result of working.
While spontaneous inspiration can hit at odd times and without much forewarning, worker’s inspiration is much more predictable. It happens as a consequence of work. It’s well known, and far-more valued amongst professional composers than spontaneous inspiration.
The quite that I find most meaningful when describing worker’s inspiration is by Ernest Newman: “The great composer does not set to work because he is inspired, but becomes inspired because he is working.”
If you find that writer’s block hits hard and often, here are some tips that can keep you going:
- Set aside time every day to write. Some might say “Write even if you don’t feel like it”, but I would say “Write especially if you don’t feel like it.”
- Set up a writing station. This is important. Have a space that you use to write music, and leave it set up and ready. If you use a guitar, have it tuned and sitting out, ready to be picked up. If you use a computer to write, put your computer to sleep at the end of each day, rather than turning it off. Have your software set and ready to use with the click of a button. Don’t make it hard to get started.
- Don’t try to measure your success on a daily basis. If you spend an hour writing and only get one line of your next song written, that is time well-spent. Even if you create nothing useable, the act of being creative is training your musical brain in ways that you may not notice right away. Stay positive!
- Consider working with a songwriting partner. Sometimes all it takes is another creative brain to change things up and help you find a new kind of writing excitement. The vast majority of hit songs today are the results of writing partnerships.
- Try writing outside your normal genre once in a while. This is a neat idea, and it often works because it takes the pressure off. If you normally write standard pop, and then you try your hand at country, you don’t feel the same stress to “sell a song”. It can actually be a lot of fun.
But whatever you do, point number 1 above is probably your most important one, and will result in creativity always being there for you: try to write every day. And it doesn’t hurt to remember what Mavis Cheek had to say: “Authors with a mortgage never get writer’s block.”
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