How Important Is “Externally-Sourced” Inspiration to You As a Songwriter?

We tend to think of songwriting and inspiration as going hand-in-hand. Talk to anyone about how they write songs, and “inspiration” is probably going to come up pretty early on in the conversation.

Here’s the question: Do you need a good dose of inspiration before songwriting works for you? In other words, are you able to simply pick up a pencil and your guitar, and start churning out musical ideas without being inspired?

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What I call “externally-sourced” inspiration refers to things that you see around you, or events that you experience, that excite your creative mind and get you writing. It’s hard to put it into words, but we all know what inspiration is when we experience it.

waterfallIn common usage, externally-sourced inspiration is what we usually mean when we talk about things that excite us to write. Beautiful things in nature, happy events like births, weddings, friendship and love can provide this kind of inspiration, as can sad events such as the loss of a loved one.

But there’s another kind of inspiration that’s important to songwriters, and I personally think it’s more important than those common sources, and it’s the kind of inspiration that comes from within — what could be called “internally-sourced inspiration.”

How do we access that kind, and why is it better?

Every time we write music, we feel a kind of creative excitement that builds each time we put newly imagined ideas together. Every time something works, we feel it. That creative excitement is simply inspiration that’s created within our own minds.

It’s better than externally-sourced inspiration because as long as we’re writing, we’re generating this internally-sourced form of inspiration. Externally-sourced inspiration has a way of diminishing over time (and usually a short time), and then we’re left with trying to find new sources of inspiration.

Songwriter's checklistThink of it this way: every time you wait until you feel inspired to write, you’re wasting time. Instead of waiting to be inspired, try this: get your pencil and your guitar or keyboard out, and start trying to spontaneously generate musical ideas. You may be surprised to know that it actually works!

And even if that first idea seems small and insignificant — a line of lyric, a couple of chords, or maybe a snippet of melody — it usually leads to the creation of another good idea, and then you get that shot of excitement.

So if today you’re finding it hard to get excited about writing, try it anyway. You have nothing to lose, and you’ll likely find that as you write, inspiration — the kind that comes from within — establishes itself and grows.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter. Hooks & Riffs“Hooks and Riffs: How They Grab Attention, Make Songs Memorable, and Build Your Fan Base” shows you how a good hook can make the difference between songwriting success and failure. With great examples from pop music history.Written by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

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