I Don’t Wait for Inspiration
The long aftermath of a creative explosion
Dec 17th 2016
I don’t wait for inspiration to strike. I don’t need to. Inspiration struck years ago; I’m still picking up the pieces.
A normal workday, for me, involves anything but starting from scratch. Instead I return to whatever years-old project I’ve recently decided most needs my attention. Two weeks ago it was the third draft of COQworks #2: Breaking Glass, the ostensible sequel, twenty-plus years in the making, to 2014’s Vanishing Points. Following that I formatted COQworks #3: ilLiterature for printing. (It isn’t finished – far from it – but the miracle of print-on-demand technology allows me to see my rough drafts in paperback, much as they’ll look when they’re eventually on the shelves.) Then last week I took a left-turn (if not a u-turn) through Vanishing Points, tweaking it in light of subsequent re-readings and of developments unveiled in Breaking Glass. Obsessive? Sure, it’s the downside of DIY; I’m the only one who decides when a project’s finished. And the truth is, a project’s never finished.
This week I’m at a crossroads – a big project (or a phase of a big project) completed and all the other projects vying for attention. For eg, in music:
- Light Traveller (15-20 songs, dating from 2001-now. Aside from various unfinished prose-pieces, this is the newest work I’ve got at the moment);
- Shadow History (another 15-20 songs, dating from the early nineties to 2001);
- COQ and Cottage Industry (40-50 songs by Ben W, W. COQ, Menu and the COQ Bros, all 2003-6, plus Discretion Assured: The Rise of COQ & Cottage Industry Recordings, which has teetered on the verge of being finished for 2-3 years).
Inspiration? I’ll admit it, sometimes a hole in an old project (Breaking Glass, say) requires filling, and inspiration – in a small dose – can help me to plug it. Here and there an old song or story will need a previously unthought-of layer or flourish to really set it off. But for the most part I’m refining old ideas, quarrying down through the products of bygone inspirations to their essence. And in the case of a project like Shadow History, whose songs, sound and (for the most part) arrangement have been fixed in my imagination since at least 2001, I’m really just waiting – for favourable circumstances in which to do it justice, for a time and space in which to perform and record, and for the equipment and production skills with which to do so. It’s been a long wait.
My days, make no mistake, are busy. And if they’re not, I worry: “I’m not doing enough!” My fondest wish? I’ll finish this stuff, it’ll find an audience, I’ll move on. Some writers dread the blank page; I’ve come to crave it. A few months back, in a rare spirit of lightness, I wrote something new – unexpected, unplanned, unpremeditated – and I felt hopeful. “I can still do it,” I thought, “I can still write from scratch!”
I don’t wait for inspiration to strike. Inspiration’s the last thing I need. I spent twenty-plus years courting inspiration. These days, discipline is where it’s at.