Less Inspiration, More Motivation: a Revelation on Creativity

I’ve recently come to a realization: inspiration isn’t required for creativity. However, motivation certainly is.

I ran into artist I know at a party, and he mentioned that he was interested in collaborating with me on a song for his upcoming project. I, being one always interested in collaboration, said yes and exchanged information. Now, I’ve had many an artist say they wanted to collab on a song and never follow up, so I was pleasantly surprised to receive an email with mp3s within a matter a week. I read what he wanted from me and listened to the track. I had nothing. I came back to it another day, trying to at least figure out the direction I wanted to go lyrically. Still nothing.

This went on for a few weeks. All my ideas seemed scattered and unfocused. I couldn’t find what I wanted to say. He texted and asked if I was as ready to go into the studio. I lied and said yes. He set the session for a few days from then. I let the track play for at least an hour and still had nothing. I kept mumbling rhythms that didn’t quite fit, creating melodies that didn’t quite settle into the key of the track.

The day we were set to record, I sat myself on the couch, reread his email to see how he explained his intention of the song, and then I just tried restating in my own words. In 20 minutes, I had completed my portion of the song, just hours before we were supposed record. I played around with vocal arrangement ideas in my mind, but I finally decided that I’d just let whatever happens at the mic to happen.

We got in the studio, and because I had done enough recording of myself and know what works best for how I write, I explained to the engineer my plan of attack. We recorded a couple rough takes, then finally got the meat of what I wanted down. The artist and the engineer loved my ideas. We recorded a few takes of ad lib vocals, but ended up paring it down to something really minimal to match what he had already recorded. Everybody was happy and it wasn’t rocket science.

The reality is I had worked on writing so much over the last 25 years that making a rhyme or creating something catchy wasn’t the problem. Those skills were already developed. My issue was finding focus and motivation. Flat-out, I didn’t want to embarrass myself in the studio or let him down. That was my motivation. The looming deadline was motivation. Being accountable to someone else was motivation. Often, I think, as artist, we claim to not be creating because we aren’t inspired, but in reality, I think we lack motivation. There’s nothing requiring us to create or think in a new way. The question for creatives then becomes “how can we motivate ourselves, if we have no external motivation?”

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