How to find inspiration ? 5 ingredients to overcome a writer's block
From 2010 until the end of 2016, I didn't write any new songs. Quite a long writer's block. Some people say that if you're a professional songwriter / writer or even want to be, you should always force yourself and not wait for inspiration to magically kick in, as it's only a romantic way to see the work of an artist. For them, the difference between a pro and an amateur lies in the ability to create from anything at anytime. It's true for some people. For me, it took time to see the bigger picture and find what I deeply needed to write about after starting a new phase of my life.
Ironically, my block happened after I finally switched from 10 years of « normal jobs » into making a living of music. I even released a first solo EP in the middle of it, in February 2014 – « Hibernation Sociale », but all the songs had been written between 2004 and 2010, while I had a rock band. Most people who were in a band know how great it can be for your creativity as you can naturally complement each others skills, but it can also lead to a lot of compromises in the creative process. For me, it turned out to be frustrating after the project split, as I was feeling that some of the songs had never reached their true potential. I had written all the lyrics and melodies and felt the urge to explore what they would sound like if I was completely free to make all the decisions. As I was hitchhiking and busking my way from Dublin to Istanbul between 2011 and 2012, I rearranged some of these tracks for a new solo vibe with just an acoustic guitar and my voice, matching my current mood and own capacities to play them in the streets between two covers. I found what I wanted little by little but every time I was trying to write a new song, all I got was a blank page. That block continued all throughout 2013, while I was working in studio with a talented producer who had all the skills I lacked to work on the arrangements, the recording, the mix and mastering. But then again, as we were finding a sound I was happy with very naturally for the old songs, nothing came up for any kind of new material.
Playing solo in the streets of Milan.
I turned 30 in 2010. Even though it took me 4 years to mature it, that first solo record felt like a way to close the chapter of my twenties. My life had already completely changed by then, as I had understood while travelling that I could make a living of music just busking almost anywhere, which also allowed me to meet contacts and play in bars all around Europe whenever I felt like going back on the road. What I had seen in Dublin, Berlin or San Francisco also motivated me to start organizing weekly open mics and jam sessions in Paris, so I was now fully immersed in a life surrounded by music, building a dynamic underground artistic community in my homebase. And still, I couldn't write a new song I was satisfied with. Little by little, I was even feeling like I didn’t want to anymore. In 2015, I started a collective of independent singer-songwriters with the most talented people I had met through these events, and produced collective tours all around Europe thanks to the contacts I had made on the road. Some of the younger artists had never written a song, but I was sure that they could, so I pushed them to do it with the help of the most experienced songwriters from the team. I hadn't written anything myself for over 5 years, but ironically, I was becoming some kind of coach for other musicians to find their inspiration. They were so naturally brillant that it made me lose the last bit of confidence I had in my own creativity, and started to think that my life's purpose was now to manage or produce those younger and more talented kids.
On tour with the "kids" from the JamBus Collective with our friends from the Vienna Songwriting Circle
I was still trying to write from time to time, whenever I felt like I had a bit of inspiration, but everything coming out from me between 2010 and 2016 felt meaningless, useless, uninteresting. And honestly, I think it was. To the younger singer-songwriters, I actually say that everything they write is useful because even if they create a song they're not happy with, they need to practice to get better, to find their own style, to understand their own creative process, to reach their own truth, to mature a song or a record. And of course, I could have thought the same for me, because we're never done learning and getting better. But unconsciously, I knew that I had already reached some kind of maturity as a songwriter because I was able to release a first EP I was happy with, so I had passed this experimenting phase and was facing another problem I didn't fully comprehend yet.
Even though that first EP had its own flaws, I realized I was satisfied with it because it had 5 ingredients which seemed essential to me :
1- A universal interest : I didn't feel like I could belong in the money driven capitalist world, so I tried to find my place in society like any struggling person who feels like they don't fit in.
2- A unique perception : being a dotcom entrepreneur from age 19, in 1999 when Internet businesses started to rise, I had been a special witness to a historical time. And then, rejected it as much as it rejected me gave me some kind of lucid and cynical vision of it.
3- Meaning : these songs reflecting a whole decade of my life, with 4 more years of perspective which allowed me to get some distance. So they had a deep meaning for me and I had a real urge to express it.
4- Purpose : on an artistic point of view, my testimony felt useful as it was representive of a specific way of life from a distinctive era.
5- Relative quality : I liked the result, so even though it wasn't for everybody's ears, it seemed natural that other people could like it too.
Cover and track list of my first solo EP
It's only the perspective I have now, after I finally finished my second EP which made me notice that I can find these 5 ingredients in both records. I understand now that my block lasted for 6 years because everything I tried to write back then was lacking at least one of these elements, which was why I kept throwing everything away and was always unsatisfied. Though, I'm definitely not saying that everybody should follow these 5 ingredients. They are my own truth, they answer my own needs, my own demands to myself to be happy and feel connected with what I write.
As a conclusion to this first part of the article on how to find inspiration, I would say that you actually need to understand what makes it essential for you to create. What is the common ground in all the times you felt satisfied with what came out from you. What do you expect from yourself. What makes you feel useful, or special, or unique. But also what makes you admire some other artists, songs, albums, etc... Everybody has their own process, their own truth, their own needs. So for all of you out there who are experiencing such a block right now, or if that ever happens in the future, just reconnect with what you truly expect from yourself and don't underestimate any of the essential ingredients you need. And please, share your thoughts about this on the comment section and tell me what your own ingredients are.
In the second part of the article, I will detail how I reached that through the making of my new EP.