In my last entry in this series on finding inspiration, we talked about "looking farther" - getting distance from the usual places you occupy, and the usual thoughts that occupy you, to jolt creativity with new experiences. This week we'll go the opposite direction and dive into looking closer - at both what is around you and what is within you.
Have you ever seen a photographer make a rectangle with their thumbs and index fingers as they’re looking for a shot? I love that. They are physically re-framing the information that they are receiving from the world, and that lets them find what they want to focus on, what they want to say. Inspiration can be like that - it’s not that there isn’t any there to find, it’s that there’s so much that it’s become noise all around you. You’re used to it being there and it’s difficult to filter.
Quite the opposite of the eureka brand of inspiration - to look closer demands that we work to zero in on one of the multitude of ideas that is already there and waiting for us to spot it. Can you re-contextualize what you’re seeing and hearing, or what you’re currently working on, so that you can find the beauty and the excitement in it? What are the patterns in your life, and why are they there? Is there something you see every day which you've never considered as a foundation for a creative project? Here are a few ways to try and get a closer or newer perspective from anywhere you might happen to be...
Journal. I'm a big fan of the Morning Pages practice advocated by The Artist's Way. Essentially, you do a completely unpolished dump of all your thoughts first thing in the morning, every morning, and then get on with your day. You're also not meant to do any editing, you're not even meant to think ahead about what you want to say. I've found this kind of looseness and letting go is good training for when you're doing your "real" writing - you can more easily subdue your self-consciousness and just let the ideas flow. Every few weeks or months I go back and read my entries and I always make great discoveries - I see past events in a new light, I notice the patterns in my thoughts and choices, I can measure some change in how far I've come.
Meditate. It requires practice - and I definitely wouldn't say that I'm great at it - but when you take the time try to quiet your mind and be fully present in a calm moment, you may find you can identify feelings you didn't even know were there. A more focused meditation - on a particular experience, concept, creative endeavor - is even harder to follow through with but can definitely yield interesting new approaches when you're stuck. (I find I use this most often when a client doesn't like my first ideas and I need to keep finding novel ways to tackle the breif.)
Pretend you’re someone else. How would someone else write about what you want to write about? Sometimes I imagine being in the shoes of people in my life, or people I've read about in the news - a destitute mother, an innovator trapped at a desk job, a kid who's in love for the first time (to be fair, in this example I also lifted two lines from Ace of Base). If you don’t know what to write about, what are other people writing about - in songs, in books, in today's news? What has been your experience with the things they're touching upon?
Pretend you're someTHING else. Getting outside a normal human perspective usually helps you see things in a new light quite quickly. On "Trees" I was very deliberately writing from the viewpoint of a sort of amalgam of all human consciosness throughout time, greiving its relationship with nature. On "Defy" I imagined there were benevolent celestial beings who would channel energy and encouragement to people in times of need. (It was for a magical 80's-themed album, ok?) What about personifying inanimate objects? I'm reminded of one of my favorite scenes from Frank where Michael Fassbender’s papier-mâché-masked title character makes up “Lone Standing Tuft” - a quirky, beautiful song - about carpet.
Lastly, zoom in on your music. It's been all writing tips so far in this post, but when it comes to being stuck in music composition or production, sometimes Look Closer is the solution you need. If you're stuck, it means something's not working, and maybe you have to comb through to find out what it is. Get into the part that's troubling you: What is it made up of? What purpose is each of the notes serving there? Meditate on it - sometimes until our eyes are closed and our minds are focused we don't realize that what's bothering us is the tone of a recording or the delivery of a vocal or the fact that we have lots of long soft sounds and hardly any short choppy ones. I have legitimately reached this latter conclusion more than once.
I hope some of this has been helpful in your quest to be more creatively fulfilled, and as usual I'd love to hear from you in the comments. Next week I will be posting about finding inspiration by combining things, getting random, and making weird connections.