Inspiration can be hard to find if you’ve been a musician for a while. Similar to the cliche telling lonely people that love will find them when they least expect it, it can feel like the harder we work to feel and express inspiration, the farther away it moves from us. One of the most frustrating things about making music is that we can set aside all the dedicated songwriting time we want, but there are no guarantees that we’ll feel inspired as we work. Here are three reasons why inspiration can’t be forced in music:
We can’t will ourselves into inspiration
Have you ever had a rehearsal, writing session, or show where you can’t put your finger on it, but something feels off? There’s no getting around the fact that we’re going to feel bored, listless, and distracted in music, especially if it’s something we’ve been doing for years. Inspiration can’t be forced because it isn’t a choice. The truth is that an inspired state of mind is something we can work towards through things like challenging ourselves creatively and working in the right setting, but we could do everything right to precipitate inspiration and still not feel it. This isn’t to discourage you, but to instead let you know it’s perfectly normal to feel “bleh” about making music every once in a while. How you work towards feeling excited and challenged again is the important thing.
Inspiration doesn’t happen on our terms
Great art isn’t made by a person making a simple, sweeping decision to convert inspiration into a song, painting, or film. Something like an album is constructed through countless creative decisions. We’d like for all of the creative decisions we make in music to come from a place of boundless inspiration, but that’s not how it works. Chances to feel inspired are around us constantly throughout our daily lives, and it’s our job to make the most of these chances by paying attention and showing up for the immensely tough work of songwriting over and over again. In other words, we work around inspiration’s terms, not the other way around.
Predictability can stifle risk and excitement
If boredom has crept into your process, it’s probably because what you’re doing is too safe and predictable. Stuff like sticking to a songwriting schedule and dedicating a place to make music is crucial, but if the work aspect of music-making remains stagnant, inspiration will be hard to find. Take risks, ask questions, let yourself fail over and over again. Let curiosity lead your decision-making, and inspiration will grace your process. This isn’t easy. As musicians, we want things tidy and polished, but that desire can crowd out and silence inspiration. Accepting that we can’t and shouldn’t be perfect is something we’ll need to remember over and over again as music-makers.
Inspiration is a gift, but it’s also something we earn through knowing ourselves better as creatives, and creating conditions to best experience it. Finding inspiration over and over and over again is a constant search you’ll have to engage in throughout your career as a musician.
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.