5 ideas for writing without waiting to be inspired.
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There’s a bit of confusion surrounding the term “inspiration.” Most believe that any musical idea that appears in the mind happens as a result of inspiration. You “get inspired”, as the expression goes, and then the ideas start to flow.
But research shows that that’s not exactly the way it works. In fact, psychologists who study human creativity now know that most of the time, it works the other way around: the ideas start to happen, and then inspiration occurs.
So how is that possible? Can you actually be walking down the street, and have musical ideas suddenly appear without trying to conjure up those ideas? Yes, and with many musicians it happens all the time. It’s part of what it means to be human. It’s an ability that’s not shared with other species on the planet, certainly not to the extent that we can do it.
To reiterate, research shows that most of the time, inspiration comes from an initial spark of creativity. You think of a great bit of lyric, or a catchy, hooky melodic fragment, or a combination of both, joined together by an appealing rhythm, and it excites you. That excitement is what we otherwise call inspiration. Inspiration then stimulates you to enhance those ideas, or create new ones, and on it goes.
The period of time between the spontaneous creation of an idea and feeling excited or inspired can be very short – so short, in fact, that it can often feel as though inspiration is what generated the idea. But in fact, most of the time it’s the other way around: you think up a musical idea, and get excited by it almost instantly.
If your regular gig is writing film scores, then you know that it’s not possible to sit around waiting for inspiration. You’ve got to be writing almost constantly. So how do you do that?
Here are some tips for writing songs when you don’t feel particularly inspired to do so:
- Create a songwriting schedule and stick to it. Don’t waver, and don’t miss. It should be daily (at least 5 out of 7 days per week), and should be anywhere from 0.5 to 1 hour per day.
- Work on several projects at the same time. Don’t feel that you must complete a song in one sitting. If ideas get a bit stalled on one song, switch to another.
- Make listening a daily activity. Listening to other songwriters’ music can help bolster your interest and excitement. And don’t just listen to your favourite genre. Listening to music you don’t normally listen to can help you create ideas that are unique and fresh.
- Do some songwriting exercises. These are activities and games that are meant to simply get your creative brain working without necessarily leading to the creation of a song. And if doing a few of these games is all you manage to do on a day, that’s not a bad thing. It may have been the break you’ve needed. (Need some ideas for songwriting games? Try these.)
- “Punish” yourself for missing a songwriting session. Research shows that writers with writer’s block more often than not solved their problems by agreeing to certain punishments for missed deadlines. In experiments conducted by Dr. Robert Boice in the ’80s, those punishments were monetary, but they could be anything that you find effective. So if you miss a day of writing… no chocolate for you!
Written by Gary Ewer. Follow on Twitter.
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