Like a lightning bolt.
For years I’ve been thinking that songs come out of the blue to me. They don’t come every day, but when they do, it usually only takes half an hour or so, for them to make their way into the world. Like a lightning bolt from the sky.
It may not be a fully finished song just then. It usually needs a bit of tweaking here and there, a third verse, an intro or a new hook line. But most often the raw outline of the song is there.
Some would call it “being struck by inspiration” and it sometimes feels like it. It’s certainly a magical moment.
Recently I realized that there’s more to it and more to my process of writing songs. Songs don’t fall from the sky without a bit of groundwork, at least not in my house.
When you can’t measure what you do.
During times when my songwriting is a little low, I sometimes wonder, what I’m actually doing with my time.
I know, I’m working on my music every day, but it’s hard to say exactly on what.
I have beats made in Ableton, hook lines recorded on my phone, lyrical ideas in my notebooks, a playlist with music that inspires me. Mental notes of a cool drum sound or a funky bass line. An idea for a different structure to a song, a melodic phrase that moves up in an interesting way and a story about an old couple that touched me. Loads of different ideas…
But no songs to show as a result, which can be frustrating.
I love to work and I tend to be a bit hard on myself if I’m not productive enough. I don’t want to waste my precious time and it’s important to me, that my days are filled with purpose.
I don’t count my ideas (that would be weird), I don’t even write all of them down or record them and therefore a day’s work can be hard to measure.
Lately I’ve been feeling less productive, which made me have a look back on how my earlier songs came to life.
Maybe it didn’t just take me 20 minutes to write that song!
Actually… thinking back, I remember playing around with the core ideas for most of my songs for quite a while, before they actually turned into a structured song. Testing different keys and feelings, playing the chords in a different order and so on.
I just now realized that the seed of almost all my songs was actually planted long before I wrote them.
That’s not work, is it?
Until now I didn’t consider the time spent noodling with an idea as actual real songwriting work.
That was just me playing around on the piano or singing a new phrase for the fun of it. Usually waiting for the rice to cook or in between doing something I would consider “real work” (read: something measurable).
Am I not struck by inspiration then?
Yes, we all are.
It’s the moment when everything comes together in a new way to form a new picture! But you need a few things for it to happen.
- you have to be ready. You have to sit by the piano or hold the brush in your hand.
As Picasso said:
“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working”
- You need well nurtured ideas ready to use, for the magical moment to arise.
The moment where one idea merge with another and form something you couldn’t even have imagined. Something that surprises you and makes your heart flutter.
Refill your bank of ideas.
That means, I haven’t been wasting my time these past weeks
(phew… told you so, mom).
I’ve been refilling my vault of ideas, so that I’m ready to get struck by inspiration.
The four stages in the creative process.
In the field of creativity research, the creative process is often divided into 4 stages. The preparation, incubation, illumination and verification stage.
Shortly explained the preparation stage is where you feed yourself new inspiration. You play with the material, you research and learn new skills. You go where your interests take you.
In the incubation stage, you let the newly formed ideas rest for a while and let your subconscious mind work them over.
The illumination stage is where you get struck by inspiration and have your magical moment. (my favourite part)
And lastly you enter the verification stage, where you look at your product and determine if it’s any good. If you like it enough to continue, then you need to make a plan for how to get it further out into the world.
Songwriting and releasing music is a cycle.
To me, as a creative person, it’s usually a big cycle that I repeat over and over, while jumping in and out of the different stages. I’m often working on a new song, while finishing another and releasing a third simultaneously. A steady flow of new ideas coming in and ready ideas going out.
But if the cycle is broken, it takes me some time to find my workflow again.
Out of flow.
Ever felt out of flow? Had a break, short or long, and had to pick up your creative work again? I have, quite a few times now.
Last year I had a baby, and when not taking care of him, I was spending all my time releasing music, promoting it and playing concerts. To me that can be translated as being mostly in the verification stage.
Starting up again, I had either forgotten all my old ideas or lost interest in them. So it makes perfect sense to me (now that I reflect upon it) that I needed to do a refill.
Let your subconsciousness work for you.
I’m sure it’s time well spent, even though it’s not always so easy to measure, what you do with your day. A good place to kickstart the creative cycle, is simply to allow yourself to play and try out new things. Be a kid – have some fun. Make a lot of ideas and let your subconsciousness work for you.
I love to learn something new, that is always really fruitful for my creative process. It’s never too late to pick up the old guitar you have laying around. Just saying!
Trust the process.
Say “yes!”… and ask “what’s next?” to every little creative impulse that comes to you.
Not all your ideas will turn into new songs, paintings, poems or genius solutions, but you will have put in the groundwork. I’m sure some ideas will become pieces of art and some will have served their purpose as stepping stones to yet another and even better idea.
This way of thinking with less focus on productivity, and simply allowing a space for the unmeasurable subconscious work is really good for me and it’s a perfect excuse to noodle by the piano even more.
Creativity is all about the process.