I’ve been paging through the tome that is Lyrics by Paul McCartney. Started with the second book, L-Z and was immediately struck by something Paul said while working on “Let ‘Em In”:
“Much of the time, if you’re lucky, the words and music come together. You just sit down and start. You’re blocking stuff out with various sounds and eventually, you hear a little phrase that’s starting to work. Then you follow that trail. As artists, we seem to instinctively know that if we’re open to it and if we play around enough with this bunch of words or notes, something will come of it. Something will come in.”
It was the last bit, about playing around with words that struck me the most. What Paul is suggesting is that inspiration can be tamed and lured into our creative sphere if we give it enough time.
Yet I often find I’m not patient enough. The German in me wants to work on a schedule and get things done. Listing is one of my most favorite endeavors, especially ticking something off a list. So satisfying.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, author of the famous play about Faust, has some very specific advice on inspiration:
“One should not force anything; it is better to fritter away one’s unproductive days or hours, or sleep through them, than to try at such times to write something which will give one no satisfaction later on.”
My initial response, upon reading this, was “Yeah right.” We should all be so lucky that we can fritter away any of our days. Yet there is a kernel of truth there that can’t be ignored. If you plough ahead with work, will it be something worth keeping? In other words, you might write some pages or compose some music, but it might end up being tossed in the trash (or we might cling on to it because, goddammit, we worked hard).
We’re not building something on an assembly line. Creating or writing is not some mindless task we can clock in on each day. It takes craftsmanship.
Paul’s idea of playing around with words or ideas seems to offer a solution. As an artist (and I hate the highbrow connotations of that word) we need to block out time everyday to play around. Inspiration might be knocking on your door and you simply can’t hear it over the clutter of your everyday activities.
I often have multiple smaller projects (drawing, blog posts and the like) that I can turn to. This way while working everyday, if inspiration doesn’t come knocking at the door, I can still exercise my creative muscles.
Every bit of creation counts. Even the stuff we play around with and have to toss out. It’s all practice, a way to train the creative side of your brain.
Then, as Paul says in his song, when you finally do hear Inspiration ringing your door bell: “Open the door and let ‘em in.”
Let ‘em in now.