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Creative Inspiration: How to beat writer's block when creating a new music or visual work

Musical inspiration doesn't always come easily. There are days when you get a concussion from hitting a creative brick wall repeatedly or days when you look at the last month's worth of writing, hit DELETE, and start all over again.

Here are a few ways that I try to push the inspiration along.

Take a break.
Sometimes hitting the grind over and over only produces a lot of shlock. Instead, take a break from your music for an hour, a day, or even a week or so, and explore other avenues of creativity.

Get references.
Visual artists often have a scrapbook full of references (pictures and photos of people, buildings, plants, etc.) which they refer to as they are creating their latest masterpiece. For the piece I am composing right now for an upcoming Halloween concert, I bought a book of ghost stories, a CD of scary music and sounds, surfed You Tube for freaky videos, and went shopping at Goodwill for inspirational artifacts (like a super creepy painting of a Victorian era girl).

Don't procrastinate.
Give yourself a lot of time to complete a project. Even though some of my best work has been scrapped together in a few days, I much rather prefer spreading the creative process over a period of at least six months. Often it takes two months to "write" the piece in my head. Then comes the technical putting it in a form that the musicians can read (a score).

Listen to LOTS and LOTS of music.
Whenever I have an upcoming project, I try to inundate myself with all types of music that could possibly provide inspiration and ideas for the piece. Usually I listen to random independent internet radio stations (usually not Top 40). For a US vs. Them, a piece for dueling drumsets, percussion ensemble, electronic tape, and video, I went crazy listening to video game music and death metal stations. This was the sci-fi piece that resulted:

Stay away from the TV.
Nothing squelches inspiration like rotting your mind in front of the tube for hours. Unless you have absolutely amazing and inspiring channels to watch, for the most part, they only feed you market-driven garbage. If you need a quick break, take a walk outside or write in a journal.

Go to a concert.
Watching a group of musicians makes your own creative juices explode.

Chillax with other musicians.
Chit chat about your latest project to other musicians. They might be able to give you a few ideas or suggest some music for you to check out to help with your piece.

Find your magic hour.
I used to find massive inspiration at around 3am. Its hard to keep that up with a full time job, so now I try to find other times to compose. However, I always compose best after midnight.

Designate time each week for composing.
Even if you are not inspired, you can get some of the more boring work done then (like pressing CDs, double-checking scores, filling out grant applications).

Make sure your loved ones understand your passion and let you be.
Of course, kids are one thing, but make sure that at least the grown-ups understand that when you are writing, they need to respect that time.

And finally, once you hit the "zone" in composing (you know, that moment when you are so caught up in your writing that you forget to bathe, eat, or sleep), try to stay there as long as you are physically able. You don't want to put yourself out of commission, neglect your responsibilities, or get fired, but if you know you can sleep in till 12 the next day, by all means, pull an all-nighter! (Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, so if your brain explodes because you followed my advice, then you had a weak brain in the first place!)

Ok, now enough of my own procrastinating...gotta get to work!


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