This post has been completely re-written! It was originally posted in September of 2016, and OH BOY do I have new things to say about songwriting inspiration. Read on to get the new good stuff!
For songwriters and creatives, inspiration can feel like this ephemeral, amorphous being that will not come when called.
Kind of like a cat. She’s on her own schedule. And you’re completely at her whim.
For non-creatives, it can seem like a convenient excuse for lazy artists.
The perfect scapegoat for being unproductive. “Oh, you wanted that song written two weeks ago? Sorry, I just haven’t been inspired. Can’t force it!”
What an ugly stereotype for songwriting inspiration—something precious that we love and rely on!
Inspiration is necessary, beautiful, and beloved.
But we do know her to be inconsistent sometimes.
Sometimes inspiration feels like a great wind that blows in and blesses us with a song in minutes.
And sometimes we feel completely abandoned by her for months. Years.
Here’s the one thing I hope you take away from this article:
Inspiration does not come to those who wait for her. Inspiration comes to those who write.
ONE MORE TIME FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK
Inspiration comes to those who write.
Wait, you have to write songs to get inspired to write songs? What?
Yes. One hundred percent YES.
Isn’t this great news??
This is the best advice I’d ever gotten. Let’s get deeper into it.
Once I stopped waiting for inspiration to strike and just started writing, I saw a huge change in my songwriting:
- I wrote all the time, when I wanted to
- I started to become a better writer
- I shared ideas in co-writes that my co-writers loved
- All because I stopped waiting around for inspiration to strike.
When you think about your relationship with inspiration, what does it feel like? Let’s take a look at what a lot of songwriters go through when they start a new song:
1. Songwriters say “Inspiration can feel like lightening in a bottle.”
We can visualize inspiration as an elusive, mystical resource that dances around our heads, glittering above us in the atmosphere, until it decides to dip down and endow us with a halo of great ideas.
It’s in these rare and magical moments that we’re struck with an amazing concept for a song, and holy shit, you have to get it down. RIGHT. NOW.
BOOM! Thunder cracks, the room lights up, and there it is.
Those moments are exciting. You furiously grab on to the edges of the idea and capture everything you can while it’s hot.
So you pick up your guitar or pull up your bench at the piano and start writing.
For a moment, it feels like you’ve just captured lightening in a bottle.
2. Then it disappears just as quickly as it came.
You write and you write and then – cue tire screeching noise – you hit your first snag. (usually around the second verse)
You come to a point in the song where it stops being “easy.”
The words aren’t pouring out of you, you find that aren’t sure where to go from here.
You play through your song so far and you start to think, “Well, that’s that. The inspiration is gone.”
So you close your notebook, get up, walk away, and maybe start some negative self talk:
“This is so terrible, I don’t know why I even stared.”
“I’ll come back it to it when I get inspired again.”
And guess what?
You never do.
You never come back to that song.
You go about your life and pass your notebook sitting at your desk, your guitar tucked away in it’s case, and you think, “Hm, maybe? No, not today. I’m not feeling it.”
You may go so far as to pick up your notebook and flip through it, hoping to jumpstart something, but the inspiration never strikes. The storm has passed and you’re left with a half baked idea.
And you feel terrible about it.
The guilt. It’s thick like humidity.
The air around your notebook or guitar or piano or computer feels heavy with it. You kind of don’t even want to walk past them anymore because the guilt of not writing is eating you up inside.
You’ve accumulated probably dozens/hundreds of half started ideas that have taken up permanent residence in notebooks around your house, and it breaks your heart a little bit every time you look at them.
3. Putting up a lightening rod.
Up until now, this is usually what the life of a frustrated or beginning songwriter looks like. Is this your story, too? It was mine. For too long.
(No shame, hun. We’ve all been there!)
Those lightening in a bottle moments have been what you lived for.
Between songs, you’re just going through the motions of your life, waiting for the next strike to hit.
It’s time to actually give your songs a fighting chance.
But how? By investing time yourself.
Remember how I said that you need to write songs to get inspired to write songs?
It’s the opposite:
You need to allow yourself to write song songs, even when you’re feeling completely uninspired.
And in doing that, you’ll put up a lightening rod—an inspiration trap—to catch those moments of inspiration when they strike.
While you’re focusing on your songwriting, your lightening rod will be out there, ready to capture any inspiration the moment it comes up. No waiting around required. You can get to work while all the songwriting inspiration comes to you.
What is a lightening rod? It’s something that you naturally start to build by
- Writing often
- Writing consistently
- Writing fearlessly
I’m not going to pretend this is easy.
It really isn’t.
But it can be very, very fun. And always rewarding.
You have to allow yourself the grace to make mistakes. To be imperfect. The patience to see it through.
You need to go to work, babe.
It’s like going to the gym and not seeing gains for a long time. Then one day, you do.
You don’t have to be at the whim of inspiration anytime you want to write or finish a song. You can do it yourself, but putting in some time, hard work, and fearless writing.
Isn’t that exciting?
How to put this into practice
The more you write, even small things every day, the more ideas you’ll see around you.
Inspiration will visit you more frequently, in the form of many small sparks between big strikes.
These are the best ways to capture it:
- Keep a notes app in your phone for ideas that come to you on the go.
- Start a journaling practice. We have a great 7 Day Journaling Course to get you started inside of Song Club.
- Hear someone say something out in a coffee shop or on a walk? Write it down.
- Keep a hook book for catchy concepts you can dig into.
- Make a habit of incorporating prompts into your writing life when things are feeling stale.
- Join a songwriting community to hold you accountable (and make songwriter friends!)