It’s harder than it sounds to endure the quiet discomfort of creativity. To paraphrase Picasso, every act of creation is first of all an act of destruction. Or maybe it wasn’t Picasso who expressed that, but Google loves attributing inspirational quotes to dead men, and this one resonates. I suspect a woman actually said this, and Picasso just repeated it. Anyway. Everything you create belongs to your new identity, and there are consequences of novelty. There’s the daunting blank page: where do you start? How do you end? Can you handle the unsettling, the incomplete, the half-finished feeling? Or will you stop before you even leave the runway?
For me, the creative process is like the mundane moving scenery outside the car window on the drive between two distinct cities. It goes by quickly. You need to be present. Are you paying attention? You will not remember most of it. It’s mostly empty fields between street lamps. Are you hungry, tired, and bored yet? Good. You might get a headache. You might even be unimpressed by your destination. Get back in the car.
People always want to know: “how do you write a song? What is the process? Do you start with lyrics or melody? Do you start at a guitar or a computer? Where do you find inspiration?”
Despite having written hundreds (maybe even over a thousand) songs, I’d never answer the same way twice. It’s different each and every time. I have some tricks. I used to prefer sitting alone in my room with a guitar. These days, I prefer the mechanical hum of a laptop, a MIDI keyboard to generate human touch, every virtual instrument I could possibly imagine at my fingertips, and a microphone to capture my unfiltered gibberish before I am even able to evaluate it’s worth.
Often times, that is the key: capturing vulnerability before it has to pass through the floodgates of judgment. It doesn’t really matter where I start. It starts with a step. A snip of the scissors. A word on the page. A hint of fear, and it’s hindered. Moments of genuine inspiration are rare and romantic. It’s mostly sitting through that mid-cut feeling, accepting the temporary words in place of the worthy ones, and allowing the melismas that haven’t yet settled to occupy a sonic landscape.
There’s only one way I can pull this stunt off. I have to shock myself from the outside. The inspiration only ever arrives when I surprise myself. Try to tickle yourself. A specific sensation whose impact is always more striking when it comes from somewhere else. For me to react to my own songwriting, I need to hit a nerve. I need to dive so deep that it shocks me from the outside. I need to sing and speak before I can think. I need to fuck me up. Anything short of extreme vulnerability and I’m completely bored. It needs to feel exotic and familiar, simultaneously. Good luck with that one.
It’s emotional skydiving. You’re a daredevil of sadness, or you’re unimpressed. Optimism is an even more frightening territory to jump into at times. Let’s hope the parachutes work.
How rare it is to say what we mean, to the people we love, to the people we’ve lost? Creativity and self-expression are the antidote to that feeling for me, assuming I make it through the gruelling process. It’s the place where I get to say what I mean, and if I say it well enough and with enough conviction, you’ll sing it back to me.