One of the trickiest things to balance in music creation is the desire to get things done versus the need to work authentically in an inspired way. Write only when you feel like it, and you’ll end up not making much music. But let routine, predictability, and creative safety define your process, and the work you make will probably sound forced and uninspired. Forcing the creative process is tempting, especially if you find yourself hopelessly mired in a rut where things don’t seem to click. But making yourself create when you don’t have the passion, attention span, or other resources to do so is a bad bet. Here’s why:
It makes you create desperately, not passionately
If you find yourself writing music with the main priority of meeting an expectation, it’s easy to lose your passion and creative drive. Whether it’s trying to wrap up an album or send a record label a demo, all serious musicians face the burden of expectation in their work at some point or another. To keep inspiration as the focus of your process, you’ll need to check in with yourself frequently when you write to make sure that what you love about making music is what’s truly driving you. This especially applies when you hit dead ends in your songwriting, which is where desperate writing occurs. When you find that desperation is influencing your creative decisions, take a break from your process and come back to it when you’re ready.
You’ll probably get inauthentic results
From the sophomore slump to a lack of confidence that comes from being new to songwriting, we’re all familiar with music that sounds ingenuine. The reasons why many of us knuckle down and keep writing despite everything inside telling us not to are different. Yet, the results we get are mostly the same. If music is a major part of your identity, simply the act of taking a break from writing might seem foreign to you, but it’s better than the alternative. If something is telling you your process isn’t working, listen to that message and take it seriously. You have absolute control over whether you write or not. However, you have far less control when it comes to the outcome of your work. Working in smart, passionate, and thoughtful ways will always trump pressing on and creating when your heart isn’t in it.
You’ll miss out on discovering your best ideas
In a forced creative mindset, it’s difficult to recognize good ideas when they decide to grace you. When you create in a way that’s not natural and impassioned, your intention shifts towards accomplishing tasks, not following ideas wherever they take you. If you’ve ever felt far from inspiration, it could be because you were too fixated on creating something successfully or checking off items from your songwriting to-do list. Meaningful ideas and inspiration are out there waiting for us. However, it’s our job to be attentive, curious, and available when they come. Forcing your process might result in finished music, but probably not the kind of music you want to make.
Your performances will sound forced
Ideas take precedence over performance in the context of songwriting, but that doesn’t mean being able to sing and play our instruments passionately and proficiently isn’t important. Forcing your process can put you in a hesitant, bored, and listless mindset that is just plain bad for performing in. Every songwriter is familiar with that bit of magic that appears out of nowhere when a good idea emerges and things start falling into place. When you force yourself to create, the performance element of that magic gets stifled in a big way. This magic is crucial because it tells us we’re headed in the right direction, and the enthusiasm of our performances should match what we’re feeling. That can’t happen when we’re creating when we don’t want to be.
Stepping away from your songwriting process when it doesn’t feel right isn’t the same as quitting. Breaks are essential, whether you create and perform music for a living or are wildly passionate about it as a hobby. Time away from making music gives us clarity, renews our intentions, and endows us with the ability to recognize good ideas when we stumble across them.
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.