This post has been entirely re-written from top to bottom. It’s an important topic, so I wanted to update it with new information, new thoughts, and new tricks to get you thinking differently about your songwriting. It originally posted in September of 2016, so read on to get the latest and greatest!
Songwriting inspiration is fleeting.
It can often feel like lightening striking, and it’s up to us as songwriters to capture that lightening in a bottle.
When inspiration strikes, we try our best to be firm enough to pursue it, but delicate enough to not frighten it away. Almost like trying to coax a cat out from underneath your car – she’ll come out when she wants to. But only if you say all the right things. (or come bearing treats)
And hopefully, if you’ve played well with your inspiration, it’s gifted you a finished song.
Isn’t that how it works all the time?
Isn’t that how all songs are written?
Maybe. If you’re lucky.
Here’s the thing.
Inspiration is powerful, it’s intense, it jolts you into inspired action and you can feel like you’re on top of the world.
It’s also fleeting and temporary. It doesn’t always last long enough to get you through a whole song.
Inspiration gives you a great start, but it won’t finish the song for you. Very rarely will it stick around that long.
The very nature of inspiration is un-tamable. And it answers to no one.
If you wait around for inspiration to magically endow you with all your songs, and only write when you feel inspired to, you’ll be doing a lot more waiting than writing.
Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Life’s too short to wait around for external things to “move you” to do the things you love.
You love writing songs? Then write songs! Don’t wait for inspiration to give you permission. Because she never will.
In case it wasn’t clear enough by this point: You don’t have to wait for inspiration. And you shouldn’t.
If you feel like you’ve been frustrated by inspiration more than once, read on. Relatable shit incoming: Here’s exactly WHY you shouldn’t wait around for inspiration to move you to write.
1. You need to harness your power to write when you want to write. Like now.
You are SO much more powerful than you realize.
You’re a creative goddess. Music runs through your blood, your heart is a drum machine, you were made to make music.
So why would you squelch your power and wait around for a cue? That’s just not realistic.
Writing brings you so much joy, why should you have to wait around for the muses to sprinkle your nose with magic dust before you can do what you love? Hell naw! You’re on your own time.
This is your life. You design it the way you want to live it.
You want to write a song today? Then damnit, write a song.
Got something sitting in your notebook that you feel could be something really important? Take a pass at finishing it.
What you write doesn’t have to be 100% awesome and perfect every time.
What’s important is that you’re taking your power back and writing songs when you want to, not when inspiration dictates.
This is your life! Spend more time writing songs!
2. If you’re considering a songwriting career, you need to be able to write on the spot with anyone.
If you have aspirations beyond a songwriting hobby, then it’s especially important to be able to write at any time.
Pro songwriters are able to write on demand.
They get set up with artists and other songwriters all the time, shoved into a room together for a few hours, and must emerge with most (if not ALL) of a song. In fact, it behoves them to finish the tune in that time period.
That’s the pace of the music industry in places like Nashville and Los Angeles.
If you’re sitting around waiting for inspiration to strike, you’re going to miss an opportunity for a really fun co-write. I’ve been in many co-writes where the silence was so deafening that all I wanted to do was run away. Trust me, it’s not fun. It’s actually the worst.
Being able to write on demand is a skill that the professionals have worked hard on.
If you’re dreaming of a career as a professional songwriter, then it’s an important arrow to have in your quiver.
Songwriting tip: find cowriters that you love and stick with ’em! It makes co-writing easier and so much fun.
3. You’ll never grow your catalog if you wait on inspiration.
I had a friend back in the day who wrote maybe about 12 songs a year.
Songwriting was a struggle for him, but also a great source of joy.
He wrestled with his inspiration just like we all do, and his up-times seemed to happen once every couple months.
During those periods, he’d pour out his soul and pen a small handful of songs. Then, his creative ebb and flow would pull him back into an uninspired cycle for many months at a time. He only averaged about 12 songs a year.
I certainly don’t mean to pass judgement on anyone who is in this boat – songwriting is not always an easy thing.
It requires a huge amount of emotional energy. I’ve definitely been here for many years, myself.
But over time, I learned that waiting around for inspiration to naturally occur will only stunt the growth of your catalog.
I recently asked another friend how many songs he wrote in a year. He shrugged and looked up, doing some mental math, and answered: “Around 250?”
Now that’s growing your catalog.
Two hundred and fifty songs a year might not be your pace, but imagine how much more time you could spend doing the thing you love – writing music – if you simply allowed yourself to do it, rather than waiting for inspiration to tell you when to write!
4. You’ll be frustrated in the downtime between magical writing spells.
The time in between songs can be the worst.
Not writing is one of the most soul wrenching, frustrating, unfulfilling feelings (at least for me it is).
You’re a songwriter! This is what you do! So when you’re not writing, it can feel a lot like you’re just being dragged through life at the mercy of the muses. That is not a rewarding, gratifying life!
If you’re anything like me, if you’re not writing as often as your soul needs to, then you’re a miserable person.
When I’m not writing and I’m fully miserable, I’m awful to everyone else in my life, too. I’m irritable, have a short fuse, and generally moody and unhappy. I snap at people. Unfortunately, my husband bears the brunt of it. (Love you, baby)
It’s no fun to ignore the call coming from your soul.
If you’re able to sit down and write when you want to write, you’ll experience less depressing downtime.
Side note, want some tips on how to beat writer’s block? Check out this post.
5. You’ll feel more inspired if you write more.
Just like a muscle, the more you use your skills, the stronger they become.
This might come as a shock, but staying creative and inspired works the same way!
The more you force yourself to sit down and write, the easier it becomes. You’re flexing a muscle, just like when you’re working out at the gym.
Some things that can help you work your creativity muscle include setting up an inspiring space to write in, making a nice hot cup of coffee or tea, closing the door, or mentally preparing yourself to be open to the amazing creative juju that is all around you! Get a ritual going and do it before you write. It will help you relax, and train your brain to get into creative mode just by going through the actions.
If writing when you’re uninspired is hard at first, that’s ok. It’s suposed to be.
Sitting down with your instrument is not an immediate cure-all for writer’s block, depression, frustration, or anything else that’s keeping you from being “inspired.”
But it’s the beginning of a fantastic creative habit that will only make you better with time.
It get’s easier, I promise.
Show up for yourself and you’ll see gains.
Finding inspiration means actively searching for it.
You’ve got it in you. Are you going to finish those songs you’ve started?
Are you going to write more often, even when you feel completely uninspired?
Putting in the time and the hours to live a more inspired life is a commitment. You’ll need to exercise your creative muscles daily. You’ll need to walk through the world with an open heart (and ears). You’ll even need to practice being kind to yourself.
All of this is a lot, I realize – it takes a ton of energy and discipline to change habits. Especially if you don’t know how to start.
That’s why I’ve created an online course to help you through exactly that. It’s called Living an Inspired Life: How to Find Song Ideas, and it will take you from uninspired, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants songwriter to a prolific, creative-minded idea machine.
Living an Inspired Life will:
- Help you change your mindset around inspiration
- Guide you with small video lessons and exercises
- Show you how to see song ideas everywhere