Things in music rarely work out the way we think they will. A song that you’re completely convinced will perform well with listeners falls flat while another you didn’t give much thought to succeeds. Something big happens in your life that you think will lead to lots of great songwriting inspiration, but nothing ends up happening. There’s so much we can’t control in music, which is undeniably frustrating, but it’s also one of the biggest reasons why we have to focus on what we have a say over. Waiting for the stars to align to create music is one of the worst habits you can get into in your music career because it forces you to invest your time and creative energy into things you have no control over.
Inspiration is unreliable
What gives you musical inspiration? Is it the joy of seeing the leaves change on a crisp fall morning or the sorrow of getting broken up with? This answer is inevitably going to be a lot different for each of us, but the common thread is that no musician feels inspired 100% of the time. This makes inspiration fickle and something you can’t rely on to make music. In fact, if you wait to write when you feel inspired to, you might not end up writing music ever again.
There’s a vast difference between making the most out of the times inspiration graces you and refusing to create until you experience it. We absolutely should leverage and seek out creative inspiration to fuel our music, but if you want to be productive and make progress towards your goals, this has to be paired with uninspired, consistent work.
The importance of sticking to a songwriting schedule
Something like sticking to a regular songwriting schedule might seem boring or even dreadful for some music-makers, but it’s something that can transform your productivity. Writing consistently at specific times ensures that you’ll be making progress with your music during the seasons of palpable inspiration and creative boredom alike.
And, believe it or not, a funny thing starts to happen when we force ourselves to write when we don’t feel like it. In the same way people dread exercising but end up feeling great after, inspiration often meets us halfway when we show up to the writing process. We often think we need inspiration first to write something great, but it’s often the other way around. Inspiration is out there for the taking, but we have to make ourselves available for it. Writing consistently is one of the best ways to give ourselves the chance to recognize and use inspiration for songwriting.
Embracing curiosity and accepting failure
It can be hard to write when you’re not feeling inspired because we’re afraid we’ll fail if we try to forge ahead and create anyway. Writing for a week straight with nothing concrete to show for it is frustrating, but it’s actually a sign that you’re exploring curiosity and writing authentically. Songwriting isn’t like a normal job where you go to the office and get things done. There are plenty of times where you can show up to the songwriting process and get nothing out of it. Believe it or not, this even happens during the times we write with the benefit of feeling inspired. But if we make an attempt to pursue genuine curiosity in music and accept that failure is a part of the process, writing will become much more rewarding whether you feel flooded with creative inspiration or bone dry. Pairing consistent writing with a brave and open creative mindset can boost your productivity in big and enduring ways.
If certainty is something you need to have in your career, music might not be the best fit for you. The longer you seriously pursue music, the more you’ll realize how unpredictable things are, whether how many people will come to your next show or what listeners will think of your upcoming album release. Music is something you can give everything you have and still not succeed, even if you’re lucky, hardworking, and talented. But by choosing to chase music day in day out whether we’re inspired or not, we’ll have the best chance at making something meaningful happen with our work.
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.