Inspired Writing - Are You Shutting Down Your Own Writing Greatness?
Call in being "in the zone" or call it inspiration. What's important is knowing if you are controlling that energy or if it is controlling you.
Some of us were gifted with the ability to “zone out” with an instrument. Most of the time we take that gift for granted, but when we suddenly find ourselves ‘out of the zone”, we start calling it inspiration and make a big deal out of it. But is inspiration an energy we can control?
I remember sitting at the piano when I was six years old, playing songs I heard on the radio, with two unsure fingers. Once I learnt to use my ten fingers on the keyboard, I began to make up songs of my own. What had started as an emulation process grew into a more creative one. I had little interest in doing my homework after school. “Creating music” was all I wanted to do and I carried on composing through my entire childhood and adolescence. It wasn’t just a fun thing to do, it was my haven of peace; a get away from the world of thoughts. Up to that point I never thought of it as inspiration. Composing was nothing more than an escape into a better world in my head.
At the age of eighteen, I had the good-fortune to be offered a publishing deal. I was in my last year of high school and did not even know what music publishing meant. All I knew was they wanted me to write songs for a living. Unbeknownst to me, my professional writing career had begun. I was assigned to an A&R guy, whom I had to report to on a weekly basis. I was expected to turn in an album by the end of that year. Suddenly, writing became a “thinking” process and for that reason I sat at my piano for months, without getting one valuable musical idea. No chord progression felt right. No melody was good enough. I felt pressured to write a successful song; a “hit”. My imagination fled. I wondered how I had ever written a song. Needless to say, I got dropped by EMI.
Ironically, a few months later I locked myself away in my friend’s studio and wrote my first album. Inspiration had returned! I had lost my publishing deal but felt prolific, so I decided to leave that unpleasant incident behind and to assume that inspiration had returned for good. Why is it that we always seem to take the most significant events in our lives for granted? (don’t it always seem to go …).
A few years later, after I graduated from college, I moved to the “place-to-be”, Los Angeles. What worked in LA was formulated writing. Originality did not rate very high on the popularity scale so once again I began to intellectualize my songwriting. Catering to the industry was key to a successful career and slowly but surely, that state of mind became mine. I managed to place some of my songs in films and television, yet I felt that something was missing and that my writing was confined by thoughts. It was not “magic” anymore. I was no longer taking any risk or getting excited. I distinctively felt that I had lost my ability to “dream up” a song, or to escape into a writing zone. Around the same time I began practicing yoga and sitting mediation. I painstakingly learnt to concentrate on my breath and to ground myself in the present moment. This is no small task when you live in Hollywood…
After several months of practice, I became aware of how I was censoring my writing. I realized that right from the beginning of the creative process, I had a specific idea of how it should go and what the result should sound like. The journey had lost its charms because I was aiming for a Grammy before I had even plunked down the first chord! This very much stemmed from my fear of failure. I asked myself: “What if this song isn’t good? What if it ends up sounding like this or that?” Truthfully, we’re never entirely original. We store ideas (sometimes other people’s ideas too) in our subconscious, which re-arranges, restructures, and spews them out in a different order, making them sound new. So we must accept that we’re more like a portal, and allow this process of regurgitation to happen.
Once the song, cue, symphony is written, we can listen and analyze, fix and tighten, even erase and start over. But first we must try to let go of our hang-up about composition. It isn’t rocket science. It is learning to surrender to a moment of inspiration.
Becoming a prolific AND creative composer/songwriter depends on how far we can travel in our head. We can either safely stick to the ground or permit ourselves to take a ride on an idea. They say if life hands you lemons, make lemonade, but what if we made lemon sorbet instead? Wouldn’t that be great too? By labeling our ideas we restrict our flow of creativity. It is a recipe for failure. Whilst working with phenomenally successful songwriter/producers I was always impressed with their approach to writing. They just sat in the studio and …did it! They didn’t ponder for hours about their target market or the “sound” they wanted. They simply turned on the sequencer and went for it. When one song was done, they moved on to the next one. In Michael Jackson’s Invincible sessions, Rodney and Freddy Jerkins wrote over sixty songs over the course of a few months so they could have their pick at the mixing stage. Imagine how long this process would have taken, had they scrutinized their writing process!
I personally try to gently guide my ideas instead of bullying them towards this or that direction. If we let music enter us instead of prompting it to come out, we stand a better chance of feeling thrilled with the result. Creativity is an unstoppable force if we let it happen.
I wish I could tell you this is the key to becoming a hugely successful songwriter, but commercial success isn’t what this article is about (although I do hope it might help you along the way). It is about feeling inspired by the music we write. Whether it becomes a mega hit is up to timing and proper promotion, but enjoying every minute of our composing career is up to us.
This is where I believe inspiration comes from: It comes from the present moment. The openness of a non-judging mind combined with the courage to let go. In essence, it is the energy of the tree that grows without concerns about the fruit it may or may not bear.