Imagine taking your car to a mechanic to have it repaired and calling them a few days later to check progress, only to be told by the mechanic that it didn’t feel inspired to do it. You would think that ludicrous and yet far too many of us creatives can fall into the trap of waiting for the inspiring moment to get started and hoping it will be enough to get things finished.
Granted fixing a car does not require inspiration, simply the knowledge and the experience, but there are far too many with creative gifts who put a heavy emphasis on the power of inspiration to get things done.
Some use inspiration (or the lack of it) as a reason for inactivity, in the worst cases it’s simply an excuse for laziness.
Let’s take song writing, if you want to become a mature songwriter (let alone a prolific one) then you’ll find there’s far more perspiration than inspiration.
Lessons From The Greats
Take Irving Berlin, who was said to not believe in inspiration. He was interviewed in 1916 and he said:
I do most of my work under pressure. When I have a song to write I go home at night, and after dinner about 8 I begin to work. Sometimes I keep at it till 4 or 5 in the morning. I do most of my writing at night, and although I have lived in the same apartment for years there has never been a complaint from any of my neighbors…. Each day I would attend rehearsals and at night write another song and bring it down the next day.
Or take the Grammy Award winning songwriter Carol King, in an interview with Paul Zollo for his book “Song Writers on Song Writing” she said:
Once the inspiration comes, that directs where the perspiration goes, where the work goes. I don’t mean to sound like it’s some hippie philosophy of [in a high, fairy-like voice] you just sit down and it’s all flowing through you. Because there’s a lot of hard work involved in song writing. The inspiration part is where it comes through you, but once it comes through you, the shaping of it, the craft of it, is something that I pride myself in knowing how to do it.
Composing To Order
Some can consider the idea of having to work hard at writing music or composing to order as unispired or even selling out, but over centuries many of the great works were a result of just that. Many classical composers would often write on this basis, sometimes with very short deadlines to meet, for example Handle’s Water Music was written at the request of the King George I. Today most film and TV music is created this way. The idea that a composer could use a lack of inspiration as a reason not to deliver would soon put them out of work. Yet many film scores are inspired and beautiful classics such as Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, American Beauty or Toy Story.
Woken By Angels
An over reliance on inspiration enslaves us, but if we master inspiration and see it as a small part of the creative process then we are likely to be far more productive creatively.
This issue does not only apply to songwriters, musicians and producers also have to take any inpiration and couple it with experience and hard work so they can deliver again and again.
Yes you might get woken in the night by a company of angels imparting the best idea ever, but if you go back to sleep rather then spending the rest of the night working on it then the chance of it ever seeing the light of day is far less likely.