The artist's life

When the light grows dim: on losing your connection with the muse

Photo by Leonard Poole.

There are times when the creative light grows dim even for the most determined and dedicated songwriter. One may have the best intentions and be of good heart and yet the songs won’t come.

It would seem as though the muse has abandoned you.

Part of this problem may come from the modern age and how much is taken from the time you have allowed yourself to write. We live in accelerated and busy times indeed, and the amount of time sucked up by the very computer I am writing on is remarkable. Internet, Facebook, Twitter, Donald Trump! All can steal hours from our day now and leave little time to write. What we may read of the modern world may contribute to our paralysis and lethargy about writing. My first suggestion then, and this is to myself as well, is turn off the internet. Think about it, and then determine how much time you wish to accord this distraction. It is remarkable. The sun does still rise in the east and set in the west without hearing of the last tweet from the Donald.

Song-writing is a habit. To keep the pencil sharp, as it were, one must attend to the habit regularly. I am not suggesting every day, although I recommend it, but the song and song-writing should be ever present in your life and activities. If you get out of the habit, your acuity will go off very quickly. Sure – you may still be able to write a song, but the sharpness is lessened, you are not playing in the field of words, ideas and emotions every day. Again, give yourself time to stay in the habit of writing. As I have said before, write in the face of nothing. It is remarkable what staying in the habit of writing will do for you. In many ways you can lose yourself.  If you are writing or thinking about writing every day, the walls that build up will disappear, and the world of characters, stories, emotions and experiences will be an exciting, not terrifying or daunting, place to return to each day. Playing with words without self or self-doubt can be a beautiful thing.  

The consequences of falling out of the habit of writing can be as great as any athlete not practising their game. Out of the habit we can quickly lose the edge, and what is more consequential – we lose the conceit and confidence that we can write. This tumble can be precipitous and is really hard to recover from because it affects self-worth, it encourages a lethargy, and it builds a wall from your creativity that can at times seem insurmountable.

Having recently experienced this fall from the habit, I know that it can be a dangerous thing. I am not saying that you can’t write from a well-balanced centre in your life, but it has been my experience that most songwriters are on the spectrum somewhere. We are not completely normal people. I am not sure anyone is anymore. But I remember I came to song-writing to express or redress that imbalance, and with falling out of the habit of song-writing, the old bedevilments reappear. These issues of self-doubt, depression and feelings of unworthiness can further exacerbate the confrontation of self that one must overcome to write a song. As foolish as it may sound at times, song-writing is both a leap of faith and a courageous act. If you don’t have either faith or courage, it makes writing a song damn hard.

And so, when the light grows dim, it is important to remember the song.

“Oh yeah, I write songs.”

I think it begins again with time. Give or grant yourself the time and permission to write.  Whether it is for self-help or your daughter’s birthday party, remember the song. Once you have given yourself the time, it is time to re-attenuate. It is time to get those antennae working again. Start thinking in songs. Look at things, listen to the world around you, those curious corners. I recall a number of years ago recording a stream for a musical piece I was working on. My first recordings were failures – all white noise. It didn’t sound like the stream I was listening to at all. Then I realized that the microphone was getting all the sound, whereas I was listening for the smaller sounds that spoke “stream” to me. I changed my mic technique and recorded the smaller gurgles and lappings of the stream. I looked for the stream I heard. I think it is the same way with songs. It is not necessarily the whole street but it could be in the conversation snippet you heard as you passed the bus stop. Attenuate your eyes, your ears, all your senses to the edges of the condition, human or otherwise. 

Write it down. During a recent period of loss of confidence, I did keep writing things down, sometimes just a phrase, a piece of conversation, an observation about two fallen out lovers, a memory flash of a place I had been, a powerful dream. I didn’t write the song. I couldn’t. But I kept the seeds, and hopefully when the creative block is broken, I will find these pieces in the wreckage that is my desk.

Get a challenge or a commission – anything to kick-start your writing. I have written extensively about the muse and the craft, and this may be a case when the craft song can kick-start you back in to writing, which then will attract the muse. Write a song for a roast, a birthday, an anniversary, a wedding. It may not be the best song you have ever written, but it will get you writing, and it may be the best cure because you are not writing about yourself or from your own self – which may be suffering at the time. You might be surprised with the results, and as a result you may say to yourself, “Hey! I can do this!”  

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1 comment

  1. avatar
    Blessing Akajiaku 24 January, 2020 at 10:44

    And when the light grows dim and all that distraction from Facebook, Twitter, Trump and all others hit you, plug out and take a walk. Maybe with your pen and paper, or your iPad.

    Muse, and jot your muse, as they come in spasms.

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