Lack of inspiration is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to creatives with excuses for why they can’t seem to get anything done. Maybe you have plans to write the best album of your career, something ambitious and exciting that you hope audiences will connect with. You set aside time to write songs but never get around to it. You figure you’re just not feeling inspired right now, so you put your plans on hold in the hopes that inspiration will fall into your lap and bless you with the motivation you need to get started. Months and then years pass and you still can’t get around to working on the album.
There’s a lot wrong with this picture, and yet so many songwriters find themselves in situations similar to this one. There’s this idea not only in music but with any creative pursuit that artists need to feel emotionally inspired before they can create anything meaningful. The truth is that if this were accurate, there’d be far less incredible art out there in the world. Inspiration is available to you right now in this very moment, and in every moment of your life, in fact, but it’s not always going to feel like that. Rather than waiting for inspiration to reveal itself to create music, you’ll find far more success and fulfillment in music if you commit to showing up to the process and exploring regardless of how you feel.
Inspiration often reveals itself during the creation process, not before
Society loves stories about musicians who endure hardships or embark on adventures and later write songs about their experiences. These situations absolutely do happen, and there’s lots of great music out there to prove it. But I’d argue that far more great music has been made by artists simply putting their heads down and doing the work, even when their lives are boring. Profound life-altering events don’t happen very often, thankfully, and the truth is that they’re often the hardest times to write. For example, it might sound inspirational to create music about the birth of your first child or your difficult breakup, but dramatic times are sometimes tough or even impossible to write about for some artists, especially when they’re in the midst of big life changes. Something even as seemingly romantic as traveling the world becomes less musically inspirational and more stressful when you zoom in on the details like cost, planning, and trying to write music in unfamiliar places.
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All this is to say that inspiration really can’t be counted on; not the inspiration the world often associates with great music, anyway. At the end of the day, all we can really count on as songwriters is our ability to show up to the music creation process and engage. And, as it turns out, the dedication it takes to do this ends up being the sturdiest and most rewarding source of inspiration you can find as a songwriter. You might feel completely bored with music until you sit down and come up with something interesting. That spark of interest in something like a melody, chord progression, beat, or lyric, is a gateway to the sort of inspiration I’m getting at. By committing to working on music no matter what, you meet inspiration half way and have a much better chance at experiencing it than if you just wait around to feel it before working. Every meaningful thing you experience in life can get filtered during this process and morph into inspiration, but the beauty is that you don’t need to rely on feeling a specific way to make great music. The simple act of putting the time and effort into creating will make you a better songwriter whether you’re going through moments of deep inspiration or boredom.
Songwriters should stop waiting and get to work if they want to make the best music they can. This approach keeps you productive and engaged day in day out no matter how you feel or what’s going on in your life. It’s also not easy. But if you’re disciplined, your songs will improve and you’ll end up being a lot more fulfilled as a music-maker.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.