Get to Work!

This is an article I wrote a few years back on how inspiration is over rated.

 

 

The Bottom Line The hell with inspiration!

I have been "writing" songs (the earliest were not written down, thus the scare quotes) most of my life (about 23 of my 28 years). Like everybody else, I have gone through dry spells - in fact, I am currently in the middle of one. The most common diagnosis for any type of writer's block is "lack of inspiration", by which people really mean "lack of motivation", or "laziness". I don't view my current hiatus as a result of any of those quoted terms...I've simply got other things on my plate. Hell, "inspiration", by which I will mean "ideas for songs," pops up all the time. Here, I'll prove it:

Duhn, duhn, DAAAA da
Duhn, duhn, DAAAA
I'm a Fart Machine!
Duhn, duhn, DAAAA da
Duhn, duhn, DAAAA
Sniff my @ss!


And

Mandy Lou
You are my everything
Mandy Lou
Won't ya be mine tonight?


And

The moon is pushing all the clouds away
The cat is choking on splintered glass
The operator had a busy day
His spine is crackin like the mizzen mast


See? Now granted, none of those may be any good, but I only took a minute to write them(except the first one: that is one of my and Emily's creations). I'm sure you could do just as well if you wanted to. Okay then, you're not happy with that, you want something good. Well, geez, give yourself more than a minute and something might actually come of it!

So maybe your actual trouble is cowardice. The romantic vision of the composer as some sort of genius who is attuned to the music of the heavens still haunts us and daunts us from giving songwriting a go ourselves. It must be replaced by the more realistic scenario that songwriting is actually something you have to work at! Okay, there were composers like Mozart and Bach who wrote at lightning speed, but those old dudes lived and breathed music. Mozart was thrust into music making at a very young age, same with Bach. They both put a hell of a lot of work in to reach the stage they did. And for every Mozart there is a Beethoven, whose sketch books show just how much he labored to give birth to his creations. Does that make Beethoven the worse composer? Come now...

Okay now say your real trouble is laziness. You realize that writing music is "work", which means you will have to spend time at it in order to write something you are satisfied with, and you will have to use your brain. You really want to write a song, you say, but you don't want to work at it. It sounds like your real "problem" is that you don't actually want to do it very much. In my experience the real root of any perceived laziness is being engaged in something you don't really want (even if you "should" want it.)

So, say you realize it will take work but try to do it anyway and end up writing a piece of crap. Did you lack inspiration? Probably not...you just did not work at it hard enough or think about it clear enough. Try eating healthy and exercising, doing crossword puzzles, getting the juices flowing man! That's part of the work too. Listen to lots of other songwriters, see how they put songs together. Take a songwriting class. Keep a musical sketch book. Go to a conservatory. Perform your songs for other people to see if they have the desired effect. Brainstorm. Record yourself improvising (lyrics, melody, rhythm, all at the same time, whatever) and pick out parts you like then develop them. How to develop? however you want! Come on, get up and do something if you want to write a song so bad. Don't make me come over there.

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  • Not so fast....

    There's a formula: 2 parts industry, 1 part inspiration

    When you start out, you are working hard just to learn what there is to facilitate learning the ink strokes and symbols, the LANGUAGE. Once a fluency is reached, enough so that writer can translate pure thought into this language, then the inspiration takes over. And once this inspiration is defined, the composer goes back to work.

    I would still say that inspiration is vastly UNDERrated, and maybe hard work is underrated a bit. Although it is fleeting and we never can hold onto it long enough, it is vital in that it is the climax of the creative process - the moment of clarity when work seems to marry perfectly with purpose. When we are absolutely sure of the reason for a work. Inspiration doesn't have to be so far removed from the technique of a work - 'I got this idea from when that huge supernova exploded and lit up the sky for months' - it can be aligned with the art in a very respectable way... 'the rhythm of this or that, forming the basis for the rhythm in the work' or 'the timbre of the train's horn on the way home from a long day'...

    Why does the inspiration need to be hard to obtain? It needn't be, if you're just the slightest bit aware of your surroundings... EVERYTHING equates to music. Get to work, yes - but do everything for a reason. If you're at the point where you're experimenting a new technique, fine... that all comes before inspiration, naturally, but it can have a purpose too. Inspiration can SAVE a work, and it can definitely be perceived by an audience. Especially since inspiration easily translates into flow, integrity, focus, and interest.


    Kristofer Emerig said:
    Duhn, duhn, DAAAA da
    Duhn, duhn, DAAAA


    Sorry, I already wrote that one a year ago, I've got dibs, but my "DAAA"s only have 3 "A"s.

    But I agree that inspiration is probably overrated, and industriousness underrated, where composition is concerned. Considering many of the true masterpieces of history are built from the simplest of motivic ideas seems to lend support to that notion.
  • I think writer's block or stumbling blocks is an element in any artist's life that comes in cycles but what counts is how you deal with them. It is easy to stop do something unrelated, but the composer needs to embrace discipline and cranking a lot of motives in order to develop the good motives.

    If the composer experiences boredom then that is very nasty element that is the union of frustration and anger. If the excuse boredom then the individual must dig at the root of the problem, take a moment to step away and ask for help!
  • I don't believe that 'lack of inspiration' over long periods of time truly exists, to be honest. I think that if people are observant enough, they can find inspiration over half a dozen times a day. True, I have sat down to a blank piece of manuscript paper and it has remained blank for more than quarter of an hour, and that particular quarter of an hour seems like many hours. But if you start something, no matter what it is: a simple chord progression, a pandiatonic tone row, a syncopated melody etc, it will blossom if you stick with it. Because, if you have something to work on, 'inspiration' or 'ideas' (for want of a better word) from then on will always be related to that piece of work (or others in progress), and therefore easier to picture.

    And if you continue to work at it, it will become a work of art, even if (which is probable in most cases) the original chord progression, pandiatonic tone row, syncopated melody etc has gradually faded to nothing.
  • That's precisely what I was getting at Simon, I'm glad we agree.

    I was thinking though, there are periods when I know that inspiration is everywhere and find it there and everything is hunky dory, then there are other times that I...forget maybe? I guess you could call the times when I do recognize the possibilities "inspiration". There are periods when I am in the right mood to recognize that my thoughts have merit, then there are others when I pooh-pooh everything I come up with. It is not that I come up with better ideas when in that good place, it's just that I run with them then rather than say "nah, that's stupid" and sulk.

    The funny thing about this article I wrote is that it was meant to inspire people. Ooops.




    Simon Godden said:
    I don't believe that 'lack of inspiration' over long periods of time truly exists, to be honest. I think that if people are observant enough, they can find inspiration over half a dozen times a day. True, I have sat down to a blank piece of manuscript paper and it has remained blank for more than quarter of an hour, and that particular quarter of an hour seems like many hours. But if you start something, no matter what it is: a simple chord progression, a pandiatonic tone row, a syncopated melody etc, it will blossom if you stick with it. Because, if you have something to work on, 'inspiration' or 'ideas' (for want of a better word) from then on will always be related to that piece of work (or others in progress), and therefore easier to picture.

    And if you continue to work at it, it will become a work of art, even if (which is probable in most cases) the original chord progression, pandiatonic tone row, syncopated melody etc has gradually faded to nothing.
    Get to Work!
    This is an article I wrote a few years back on how inspiration is over rated.     The Bottom Line The hell with inspiration! I have been writing so…
  • Excellent thoughts Ann, thanks for contributing!


    Ann Rodela said:
    I think writer's block or stumbling blocks is an element in any artist's life that comes in cycles but what counts is how you deal with them. It is easy to stop do something unrelated, but the composer needs to embrace discipline and cranking a lot of motives in order to develop the good motives.

    If the composer experiences boredom then that is very nasty element that is the union of frustration and anger. If the excuse boredom then the individual must dig at the root of the problem, take a moment to step away and ask for help!
    Get to Work!
    This is an article I wrote a few years back on how inspiration is over rated.     The Bottom Line The hell with inspiration! I have been writing so…
  • Oh and Jeff, I do like that you continue to question everything, it led to my realization that "inspiration" could mean being in the right frame of mind to work, so hats off.

    I would like to make another ammendment as well. When I said:

    There are periods when I am in the right mood to recognize that my thoughts have merit, then there are others when I pooh-pooh everything I come up with. It is not that I come up with better ideas when in that good place, it's just that I run with them then rather than say "nah, that's stupid" and sulk.

    I failed to recognize that the thought "nah, that's stupid" also has merit. Well, why is it stupid? How could you do it differently? Maybe the reason your idea wasn't that hot is because you need to research the instrument you are writing for more, or maybe you need to take a break, get some fresh air like Ann said. Whatever you do, the trick is to avoid the sulking part of the equation I think, which is what I believe I meant when I said "Get to Work!" At least I say that now.
  • edison said "genius" was 1 percent INspiration, and 99 percent PERspiration.

    working with music is no different than many other fields, in some fundamental ways. Often was the time I felt inspired, but nothing came of that session. Other times, I felt nothing good was coming, forced myself, and lo and behold something came of it and surprised me. It runs the gamut, and you can never guess beforehand.

    I know you have to put "numbers up on the board" though, so that a small percentages of them flower into somethign you consider success. In such a fashion, I've learned to ignore "writer's block". A few cuccesses when you felt nohting was going to happen, will convince you not to give into the feelings...
  • Maybe partially because I started my musical life with formal lessons--it began with taking drum lessons when I was 6 years old, I've always treated music more like "work" in the sense of scheduling time to do it and following the schedule.

    I kept that up when I started composing, too, and I still do it. "Inspiration" is just when the work flows a bit easier than normal. Regardless of that, I'm composing when it's time to do so.

    I do the same thing for other creative things that I do. If I were to do things only when the urge strikes me, I'd probably just be playing videogames and watching movies all day long, lol.
  • Good answer. Not a stone's throw away from my method.

    Streaker Ofinsky said:
    Maybe partially because I started my musical life with formal lessons--it began with taking drum lessons when I was 6 years old, I've always treated music more like "work" in the sense of scheduling time to do it and following the schedule.

    I kept that up when I started composing, too, and I still do it. "Inspiration" is just when the work flows a bit easier than normal. Regardless of that, I'm composing when it's time to do so.

    I do the same thing for other creative things that I do. If I were to do things only when the urge strikes me, I'd probably just be playing videogames and watching movies all day long, lol.
    Get to Work!
    This is an article I wrote a few years back on how inspiration is over rated.     The Bottom Line The hell with inspiration! I have been writing so…
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