Since we are discussing “Going Pro” this month I wanted to touch on something that I believe is critical to being a professional: you need to be able to write no matter how you feel. A professional does not wait for inspiration — if inspiration is not at the starting line when the gun fires, a professional starts running and lets inspiration catch up.
I remember a specific moment during my college years when I was paralyzed with fear. Fear that I would wake up the next morning without inspiration. Fear that the melodies bouncing around in my head would be silent. Fear that my creativity would run dry. That was a defining point for me because, in that moment, I decided to learn how to write no matter if I felt inspired or not. It can be scary to sit down in front of the empty computer screen, or sheet of paper, and feel nothing. Yet this is something a professional must be able to do. When working with deadlines you can’t afford to wait until inspiration strikes — you have to just buckle down and get it done (and if you feel inspired while writing that is a bonus). ;)
I am happy to say that I no longer live in fear of “running out of music”. I know that I can sit down and write at any time, anywhere. How did I get there? I started writing every day. I set a goal that I was going to write one piece a day and it had to be at least 8 measures long. That was where I started. Now I write for several hours every day. It is like weight training. You need to work on your muscles so that you can lift more and more. Music energizes me. I have learned that even on days when I start writing feeling no inspiration whatsoever, I usually go to bed in the early wee hours with so much music dancing in my head I wish I never had to waste time sleeping again but could just keep on writing.
If you are used to waiting for inspiration every time you compose there is no way to say how long it will take to finish a project. When someone approaches you about scoring something you need to know how long it will take you to do what they are asking for. I can guess pretty accurately how many hours it will take me to write a score based on “minutes of music needed” + “genre”. With those factors in mind, I’ll know if have time to complete the work within the time that is available. If you can’t deliver a good product in the time frame given, you need to consider whether you should say “yes” and hire help, or if you should say “no”. (But that’s a topic for another time.)
Thomas Edison said, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” I believe that to be true. I am quite sure that if John Williams only wrote when feeling inspired, he would not be the composer he is today. So, don’t worry if you don’t feel inspired. Start running and let inspiration catch up with you.
Now, let’s get practical. There are several ways that I get started writing on days when I feel no inspiration. Often I get started by improvising. Most of the time I record it to capture any ideas worth refining later. I also have a collection of favorite pieces that I like to listen to; good music inspires me to write. Sometimes I start writing based on music theory knowing that certain chord progressions and instrument doublings will create a certain sound.
I would love to hear from you about this. What are some of your favorite ways to get started writing on days when inspiration is on holiday?
LYDIA ASHTON is a Tennessee-based composer for film and television. She originally studied music in her homeland of Sweden with a focus on violin, viola, and piano. Ashton later moved to the USA, where she graduated with a Bachelors degree in Music Composition Technology.
Lydia scored her first film in 2006 and fell in love with writing for picture. Since then, her focus has turned from writing concert music to film scoring, even though she still does both. She has worked as an orchestrator, transcriber and engraver, and she currently writes music for several music libraries. You can find out more about Lydia at LydiaLAshton.tv.