Finding Inspiration (Plus a Playlist)

Have you ever experienced that feeling when doing something creative where it's on the tip of your tongue but you can't express it? It's just sitting there in your head and it won't come out? I've felt like that for, like, two years now. It's the weirdest form of writer's block I've experienced.

Writing music as a teenager felt unbelievably easy for me. I was a hopeless romantic, teenybopper who knew a few chord progressions. At 25, I want something more complicated, more polished. I've put bigger expectations on what I present to the world than when I was a teenager.

I've been studying classical guitar since I was 12, and I'd love to bring in that influence into my music like Jose Gonzalez or Two Gallants. If I'm completely honest, I don't think I've given it my all in my past recordings. There has been some finger picking, sure, but I/III/V progressions with typical, bland acoustic guitar chords permeate my music. I want to expand my sound and make it unique.

The reason I gravitate towards dance than music now as a creative outlet is because, with dance, I already have a blueprint to sculpt my expression. I can follow along with the tone, lyrics and rhythm of a song, and have some choreography in less than an hour. When writing music, I have a blank canvas; that's a bit overwhelming. Where do I even begin? How did I ever do this?

As a classical guitarist, I find it hard to experiment. I've taken lessons for 13 years. For 13 years I've focused on playing other composer's music and interpreting the music in a way that the composer and my instructor intend for the piece to sound like. For 13 years I've had the mindset that I need to play music the "correct" way and to strive for "perfection". Playing anything outside of my assigned pieces feels uncomfortable and daunting. I want to be "correct"; I want to be "perfect". But I have to make mistakes and refine those mistakes to make something interesting. I'm still trying to accept that fact.

In Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist, Kleon suggests that there is no such thing as an original thought. He suggests that all creativity must be inspired by another idea. With that in mind, I think about all of the classical pieces I've played over the years. What can I glean from them to shape the next song I write? Is there an interesting rhythm I can use, or an interesting melody? An interesting bass line? 

I think my plan of attack to get back into making music is to start stealing from the classical pieces I've played. My typical songwriting process is to write the lyrics, create the melody, and find some simple, easy guitar chords to fit the song. Because, by the time I write the lyrics and the melody, I'm too eager to record the song than continue to play with guitar chords. I wonder what would happen if I gave higher precedence to my guitar playing than melody and lyrics. Will I lose interest? Will it make the songwriting process harder? Or will it open new doors to what I create?

If you're interested, here are some songs that are fueling my urge to write again:

Carrie Ryan