Of all the myths that pervade the songwriting landscape, there is perhaps no myth more damaging to our creative output than the one that says we must be inspired to write great songs.
The very word inspiration is a two-edged sword in that it can operate both as an explanation and as an excuse. If we’ve managed to write something wonderful we were “inspired.” If not, we’re left in the purgatory of waiting for the next bolt of lightning to strike us from above so we can get a few words and notes down on paper. Either way, we’ve surrendered all of our creative power over to something or someone else and cease to own it for ourselves.
True inspiration occurs long before anyone picks up a pen.
In ancient times people didn’t believe that creativity was something residing within themselves, but that creativity was a sort of divine attendant spirit that came to them from some unknowable source for reasons they could not explain or control. The Greeks called these attendant spirits “daemons” and even Socrates said that he had a “daemon” that inspired him and that spoke wisdom to him from afar.
The Romans called them a genius and had an entire hierarchy of “genii” that were present as household guardian spirits a bit like we would think of our guardian angels (only we seem to believe we just get one apiece instead of hundreds).
For the ancients, any inspiration or “genius” was perceived to have come from outside of oneself as opposed to from within.
According to author Elizabeth Gilbert, this disembodied entity (think Dauby in the Harry Potter series) was useful in that it kept the artisan from being too proud of his work because it didn’t come from him. If his work was outstanding he had his genius to thank for it. If he wasn’t very good, after all, it was his genius’ fault and he didn’t have to feel so bad about himself. Very convenient, right?
From External to Internal Genius
After the Renaissance, however, the move towards humanism moved the genius to an internal motivation (talent, ability) that few possessed enough of to be called a “genius.” Today we don’t distinguish between the excelling artist, writer, poet, playwright, or sculptor and their genius and brilliance. They are a genius versus having one.
This bit of history is fascinating to me, especially in light of the way we say “God gave me this song.” On the surface it is probably a matter of semantics. God giving the song is basically the same as saying God is inspiring me to write a song or this idea was inspired in me by God. But is that all there is to it? How does inspiration really happen for the Christian songwriter? [END OF SAMPLE – this is just a small portion of an in-depth article on the real place of inspiration in the Christian songwriter’s discipline written for NCS Members. See below for more info.]
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