Most of the time, inspiration gets far too much credit. At least, inspiration as the term is usually used. We commonly think of inspiration as that thing or event that targets our emotional soul and makes us want to express our emotions by writing music.
So we feel most like expressing ourselves when we encounter life-changing events: births, deaths, heroic life stories or anything else that makes us feel something intensely.
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The problem with that kind of inspiration is that it is fleeting. It might be responsible for generating creative excitement quickly, but it usually only lasts for a short time and then we’re back to where we were: trying to find the inspiration to write our next piece.
There is a much better source of inspiration, one that will help you write song after song, one that doesn’t require a powerful life event to keep feeling your creative juices, and it’s this: your own songs.
Waiting For Inspiration
Most composers of classical music are well acquainted with the inspirational power of their own music. I’ve quoted Leonard Bernstein on my blog before, saying, “Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time… The wait is simply too long.”
So what do I mean when I talk about inspiration that comes from your own songs? In a way, it’s a kind of “internally-sourced” inspiration, because the excitement you’re generating comes from your process itself.
And in fact, musicologist Ernest Newman provides us with one of the best quotes on the topic:
The great composer does not set to work because he is inspired, but becomes inspired because he is working. Beethoven, Wagner, Bach and Mozart settled down day after day to the job in hand with as much regularity as an accountant settles down each day to his figures. They didn’t waste time waiting for inspiration.
How Internal Inspiration Works
Every time you assemble bits of music to create a song, you either like what you just wrote, and keep it, or you dislike it, toss it, and start again. If you like it, you get a momentary shot of excitement that wants you to write a bit more. That is the inspiration I’m talking about. The generation of your own ideas is causing you to want to write more.
But we’ve all experienced those days when everything we write fails to please us: we toss pretty much everything. What do we do then? How do we keep the inspiration going if we’re going through a bad patch of writing?
The solution: keep several songs on the go at any one time. If you put all your creative energy into one song, you’ve got the start of writer’s block if that one song isn’t working out.
So keep three or four songs going all at the same time, and switch back and forth from one to another as you run out of ideas. You’ll find that the creative process you use in each song will be different enough that you can keep the feeling of inspiration going indefinitely.
Externally-sourced inspiration is, as Bernstein says, wonderful when it happens. But unless your life is full of drama such that you get to feel that kind of excitement on a daily basis, you’re going to need something else.
The something else comes from daily writing, and the fact that you’ve got many songs on the go at any one time.
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