If you’re like me, you have times when you feel a lot more inspired and creative than others. Do you ever sit down to write a song and despite how hard you try nothing even remotely interesting comes to you? Do you have other times where you sit down and have amazing songs seem to just flow out of you effortlessly? If you’re like most songwriters, you’ve probably experienced both extremes. Although tapping into that part of yourself where inspiration and creativity reside is far from an exact science, there are things you can do to make finding inspiration more likely, if you look closely at when inspiration is most likely to strike.
Many great artists and thinkers throughout history have had daily routines they took part in to get themselves to a mental space where creative thinking was more likely to occur. For example, Steve Jobs was known to like to take long walks frequently in order to think about ideas in a less distracting environment. He even was known to conduct business meetings this way. Beethoven was also known to take long, vigorous walks each afternoon and would bring along a pencil and paper to write down any musical ideas that came to him. Beethoven was also known to rise early each morning and had a routine of making a cup of coffee using precisely 60 coffee beans.
The painter Francis Bacon was an Irish-born British painter whose abstract paintings of grotesque, distorted figures made him one of the most distinctive and controversial artists of the postwar era. To outsiders, he seemed to lead a chaotic life with little order. He was a heavy drinker and user of stimulants who would eat multiple, rich meals each day and would typically party late into the night. He battled insomnia and relied on sleeping pills to get to sleep. Yet, despite this, as biographer Michael Peppiatt has detailed, Bacon was “essentially a creature of habit” who maintained more or less the same daily work routine throughout his career that allowed him to become such a revered artist.
The poet W.H. Auden, who is considered one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, had this to say about routine, “Routine, in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.” The author Tim Ferris said this about Auden’s daily routine: “Auden rose shortly after 6:00 a.m., made himself coffee, and settled down to work quickly, perhaps after taking a first pass at the crossword. His mind was sharpest from 7:00 until 11:30 a.m., and he rarely failed to take advantage of these hours. (He was dismissive of night owls: “Only the ‘Hitlers of the world’ work at night; no honest artist does.”) Auden usually resumed his work after lunch and continued into the late afternoon. Cocktail hour began at 6:30 sharp, with the poet mixing himself and any guests several strong vodka martinis. Then dinner was served, with copious amounts of wine, followed by more wine and conversation. Auden went to bed early, never later than 11:00 and, as he grew older, closer to 9:30.”
In my study of great musicians, poets and artists throughout history, the one thing they all seemed to have in common, despite their differences in lifestyles, is that they had consistent, daily routines that seemed to work for them. Their routines varied, but the commonality seems to be the consistency. As this relates to inspiration, it’s my hunch that having a daily routine had a sort of grounding effect that gave these artists a sense of stability and provided a relaxed space where inspiration could present itself.
Novelist Haruki Marukami had this to say about his routine, “When I’m in writing mode for a novel, I get up at 4:00 am and work for five to six hours. In the afternoon, I run for 10km or swim for 1500m (or do both), then I read a bit and listen to some music. I go to bed at 9:00 pm. I keep to this routine every day without variation. The repetition itself becomes the important thing; it’s a form of mesmerism. I mesmerize myself to reach a deeper state of mind.”
To be honest, when I started this post, I had a slightly different angle in mind. I wanted to talk about ways to reach our creative potential that were less than mundane than simply getting up early and taking afternoon walks. But the more I researched what great artists actually do to harness creativity, the more I kept seeing the idea of simply developing a daily routine for getting into a mindset where creativity is optimum. This resonates with my own periods of increased creativity. When I’m in “writing mode” and working on a new CD or EP I tend to reach states where ideas come to me more and more readily. It’s sort of like I’m “priming” my creative pump. Something happens when you make a practice of creating art on a regular basis. It’s like your teaching your mind what it is you want to do and what parts of yourself you want to access. When I’m deep into a routine of writing music every day for several weeks or more, I frequently dream songs and song ideas. It’s as if I’m so immersed in the creative part of myself that even when I’m sleeping my brain is still creating.
What about you? What routines do you practice that allow you to get inspired? Do you write sporadically, or do you find having a routine allows room for more creativity and inspiration to flourish?
The blog of musician and thinker of deep thoughts, Aaron Davison.