How to Find Your Muse
Are you suffering from Writer’s Block? Are you completely out of ideas or just bored with what you’re writing? Are you waiting for that spark of inspiration for your next masterpiece? Does everything you sketch or write down seem banal or not worthy of keeping? How exactly do other creative people seem to never run out of ideas or keep creating compelling content? The answer is actually pretty simple…
They work at it.
You have to develop the mentality that: this is your job. The sooner you develop that mindset, the easier the creative process will become. Waiting for something to jump start your creative process in some sort of Eureka moment may come quickly or not even at all, and if you don’t have the time to wait for that spark, then you need to force it. As my undergrad composition professor always said, “There’s no greater motivator than a deadline,” and this is where curating that occupational mindset will come into play. It trains your mind to engage creatively by ensuring that time is spent actively working to create something, no matter whether it's good or complete crap.
Coming up with an idea is the first, and sometimes most difficult, step. If you put too much into needing a polished and completely fleshed out idea right away, though, you'll only trip yourself up and place an unneccesary road block in your creative process. Good ideas may take time to refine. I've talked to comedians who had a great idea for a joke that sometimes would fall flat the first several times they told it, but after multiple attempts at tweaking the wording, timing, or delivery, they were finally able to craft it into a joke that landed successfully.
It’s difficult sitting through several hours of non-productivity, but that’s far more useful than waiting for your inspiration.
Although it took me a little while, I realized that the time I spent trying to compose or write, even if it didn’t yield anything substantial, was never wasted but helped “fight through the bad ideas so I could finally land on a good one.” If this is your job, time must be invested in your work.
Unfortunately, there is no supernatural being that will give you your next idea, and if Monty Python has taught me anything, it's that:
...nor is it a good method for finding inspiration. It primarily comes down to time and dedication. There are some things that you can do, however, to help with this process.
Tips for Success
I remember reading a brief article about a professional writer explaining her creative process, and how she conditioned herself to essentially have “work hours.” As a freelancer, any hour could suddenly become a “work hour” or 12, especially if that inspiration really takes off, but what she was describing was her method of developing her own work day. Each morning should would wake up, make a pot of coffee, set up her laptop and notepad at her dining room table and begin her day. There would be breaks for food, snacks, and other little things here and there as any job, but what she was aiming for was to engage her mind at the same time each day to develop that creative process as she would begin her work and essentially condition herself that now was the time for her throw around ideas and see what works and what doesn’t and also how any of them might develop.
I think this is an incredibly useful process to have, and although it doesn’t work as well for me, I managed to adapt it in a way that does. I tend to jump around too much as I get bored or tired working on one project, or my dog might interrupt my workflow, but I still try to keep the notion that I must spend a certain amount each day working on something to guarantee that my creativity doesn’t stagnate or that I fall into periods of unproductivity, which is fairly easy to do as a freelancer. Without having a set schedule and work days that may fluctuate from week to week as well as the hours depending upon the gig, I find it difficult to find any real consistency. Although most of my mornings tend to be fairly productive, I find that working late in the evening can be relaxing with fewer distractions. Even now as I'm writing this section at 4:30 AM, it's easier for me to concentrate not get pulled from my focus.
Although composing is not my primary job, I still try to treat it as such to develop my own skills. So while my method may work for some, it may not work for others who might need the more structured schedule of the writer I mentioned above. What matters the most, though, is finding a process that works for you.
When writing or practicing or even just working on edits, I try to do multiple small tasks throughout my "work day" and segment the work. I might spend an hour writing, then 30 minutes watching Youtube, followed by an hour practicing piano, then make some food, and come back to writing, play with my dog for an hour, and although it's chaotic and changes basically day to day, one of the biggest reasons that I do this is because it’s just mentally exhausting being creative.
Some people seem to never run out of ideas or can write and be creative for hours on end, and while I’ve had marathon sessions, especially when the ideas are readily flowing, I prefer time to breathe between sessions and consider the material that I’ve written. I have a general self-imposed rule that any material I write and still enjoy after 2-3 days means it can stay. So, throughout my sketching process, I continue to write down as many ideas within the “realm” of that piece as I can, and not everything is going to make it in let alone remain unchanged when finally plugging it into Sibelius. There are times where I write “filler” material to connect ideas that will make it into the final draft, but there are also plenty of times that I’ve thrown away large amounts of material because after 3 days I decided I no longer like it.
As the piece is finishing up or at a stand still while I work on the next section, I will often export it and listen to it while driving or doing chores. I’ve found that it’s extremely beneficial to listen to what I’m working on without the additional distraction of the notes on the page and just engaging aurally.
Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s any real secret to finding inspiration, and I know that's exactly helpful, but probably the best piece of advice I could give would be:
Don’t wait for it.
Another composer I went to school with used to take walks to find his ideas. For me, they can come from a group of words that I think would make a great title, or a small melodic idea that I hear and want to take in another direction, or trying to mash up two ideas into something somewhat unique like my piece Funkzilla: Rumble in Neo Tokyo. In all honesty, though, some of my best musical ideas come from just singing or humming while I’m doing something else like cleaning. Find what works for you, and I know realize that may not seem to helpful, but if you're interested in other ideas, check out masterclass.com's 7 Tips for Finding Your Creative Muse. Mostly, I hope that this has inspired you to get back into creating something rather than waiting for the ideas to come.
As I said above, treat this as your job, even if it’s just kind of a hobby. Continue to work at it, even when you feel like you’re not accomplishing anything - you are! Keep writing, drawing, composing, painting - just creating whatever, and eventually something will come.