Some songwriters can’t compose unless they feel inspired to do so. That word inspired refers to a kind of excitement that drives our creative process and motivates us to write. You might think of the word in its less metaphorical form: to inspire, meaning to breathe in. It’s like saying that the excitement to write comes from somewhere else, and we pull it in and use it.
To be sure, there is a kind of inspiration that comes from without; when we see a stunning waterfall, or witness an exciting event like a birth, or someone’s high school graduation, it fills us with a kind of excitement that we can use to help us generate creative musical ideas.
The problem with that kind of inspiration is that though it can be very powerful, it’s also usually short-lived. You might be excited by your daughter’s high school graduation, but that excitement is not likely to be driving your creative process a year later.
The best kind of inspiration comes from within. But how is it generated? There was research conducted in the 1980s by Dr. Robert Boice which suggested that people were able to create if there was a penalty for missing writing deadlines. In other words, what really got people creating was the threat of paying a fine if they missed a deadline.
Boice’s research led to this conclusion: regular writers produced more work. (See this article.)
So rather than this model — INSPIRATION -> MUSICAL IDEAS ->SONGWRITING, which everyone assumes is the way it usually works, research has found that the best, most consistent model is actually this one, in which inspiration acts as part of what might be better described as a type of musical “machine”:
In other words, the inspiration isn’t starting the process; it gets created by your own excitement, excitement that gets created as you assess your musical ideas. In that sense, it’s almost like a musical “perpetual motion machine.”
It’s lovely when you feel external inspiration for writing, because it can get you through a few days of a difficult creative block. But the best kind of inspiration comes from sitting down and trying to write even in the absence of inspiration.
If you’ve never tried to write without inspiration, today may be the best day to start, particularly if you’re finding yourself feeling particularly unmotivated. I’m willing to bet that within a minute or two of trying to write, you’ll feel a musical excitement begin to grow within you as one idea gives you a new feeling of drive that allows you to create the next idea.
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