If you want to make music, and you want to create…
Don’t wait for inspiration to strike.
Instead, show up to do the work and be consistent about it, even when you are at your worst. Even when it feels like the last thing you want to do.
And then, perhaps equally important; when inspiration hits, ride its wave fully until it fades.
Inspiration in the way I’m speaking of it right now is comprised of a few things:
- It often––but not always––takes the shape of an idea
- The idea often becomes an obsession
- You gain a hearty helping of motivation to bring the idea to life
The motivation that comes with inspiration, in this sense, feels endless. It feels unstoppable. But to treat it as such is probably unwise. It’s temporary. And so you want to recognize its fleeting nature, move into it, and make the very most of it while you can.
I was struck by inspiration last weekend.
I didn’t have an idea in the form of a lyric or melody or riff. Rather, I had the idea to sit down and compose some music using a Seaboard. This came into my consciousness as an obviously worthwhile thing to do, though it’s not something that I have made the time for in a while.
Side note: A Seaboard is an instrument that I had no business in buying. It popped up in my YouTube feed one day, and I was so mesmerized by it, I made the uncharacteristically impetuous decision to buy one––on an Affirm payment plan––that very evening.
I justified this because at the time, my wrists were out of sorts, and I couldn’t play guitar, which is my main means of composing. And because I’ve always wanted to learn how to properly play piano but never could because of the pain (something about the pressure of even lightweight keys just makes my tendinitis scream for mercy)… I figured the Seaboard would allow me to do both.
So I sat down. I booted up the computer. I opened up the DAW (Cubase). I found a sound preset that I liked. And I played two notes that sounded good next to each other.
And those two notes became the basis for a full composition that I obsessed over for a week. My week disappeared in a daze of deep composing. It was a strange week to have barely noticed, too, since my family members were having some acute health challenges and I had a birthday in the middle of it.
These things became background noise in light of the inspiration I was riding. It doesn’t mean that they were unattended to. In the case of my family affairs, it was important and couldn’t be ignored.
But my mind was glued to the composition. Obsessing over it. Every spare moment I had I would devote to it. I would stay up late, neglecting my schedule (which is something I typically never do. I’m religiously devoted to going to bed on time).
And in a blink, the week was gone. I barely remember it, and the composition is nearly finished.
That’s what inspiration can feel like and be like. And it can bear beautiful fruit. It can be a joy. But not without its pain. In a way, the whole thing is kind of painful. Your mind seems utterly hijacked by an idea. And you obsess over the most minute details with a compulsiveness that can be nauseating.
But you get through it. And it ends up being worth it.
And oddly enough, by the time the inspiration wears off, it’s almost like you were intoxicated.
You look at what you’ve done––barely remembering doing it––and you’re not sure you like it. You start to doubt it. You suddenly notice all of the flaws. You might even be totally sick of it.
And now you have to give it a rest. Move onto something else. Hopefully you don’t forget about it or abandon it along the way. But it seems that taking a step back is a necessary part of the process.
Now, if you’ve never felt this sort of inspiration, that’s okay.
Or if you have felt it, but haven’t felt it in a while… that’s okay, too.
You can set yourself up to be inspired. You can do things to prime the pump. To make it all the more likely that you’ll get lucky, and be poised to make the most out of that luck.
But if you’re never struck by inspiration, you are at a distinct advantage:
Being inspired is like being high (and again, it doesn’t come without its edges). And once you get high, you’re all the more likely to want to get high again. And so you’ll wait for it. You’ll hope for it. You’ll get attached or even addicted to it.
And what happens then?
If you are waiting, you might wait forever. And in the meantime, you aren’t doing any of the creative work that you are meant to do.
If you are hoping and praying for it, you are focused less on the task at hand and the hard work that needs to get done, and more on the wish for something to be different than the way it is.
And paradoxically, it’s what you are and what you have right now that is the best resource for doing your most meaningful creative work.
If you are attached or addicted to inspiration, you’ll be too damn distracted by an itch to scratch––an itch that you can’t control, both in that you have it at all and that you can’t scratch it on your own––to do the creative work that you were made to do, let alone do it well.
The advantage of never being inspired is that you get to be a pro instead (to use the terminology of Stephen Pressfield).
You establish the routines, the habits, and the protocols that, when acted upon and honored over time, compound into consistent creative output that tends to increase in quality because of your quantity and frequency of sessions.
The side benefit of this commitment to showing up and rolling up your sleeves to dig as deep as you can and work no matter what is that you’ll often get struck by inspiration. You’ll be “smiled upon and favored by the muse,” so to speak.
But even if you’re not––and there’s surely no guarantee that you will––you will have done the work. And you’ll have something to show for it. Which is much more than most would-be or wannabe creatives will ever have.
They’re long on ideas, short on execution.
They start countless projects, and finish none.
Or they finish some projects, but so few that they end up sucking the bone marrow out of a tiny trickle of former accomplishments, doomed to be a “has-been” for all their remaining days.
That’s not you.
You’re a consistent creator.
You’re grateful for inspiration when it’s there, and are smart enough to make the very most of it during its temporary stay.
So tell me… what have you created lately?