A “muse” as a noun in the dictionary, is defined as “A guiding spirit. A source of inspiration.” You’ve likely heard many songwriters say, when discussing their writing, that they often don’t know where their inspiration comes from. Well, sometimes we know EXACTLY where it comes from 🙂
The fact is that most of your inspiration comes from the people and events in your life. A new lover can be a “muse” (as can an old lover remembered :-). This is probably the most common…why do you think there are so many love songs out there?? But your muse can also come from emotional events, whether these are personal events that leave you deliriously happy or totally grief-stricken, or world events which can have the same impact. The events of Sept.11, 2001, for example, inspired thousands and thousands of people in creative ways. When good or bad things happen, we all get the muse at some point or another.
Stories about other people can inspire songs. I once wrote a song called “Calling” after watching a news magazine show on television telling the true story of a traveling salesman who died in his car on a mountain pass in the middle of winter simply because he got stuck in the snow. That may not seem very inspiring…but what HAUNTED me about the story was that this guy kept waiting for someone to drive by and help him out, and didn’t realize that JUST after he drove through the gates leading to the mountain pass, they were closed for the winter. So no one knew he was there. He sat in his truck and waited for someone to come along, and while he waited he started writing in this journal, a kind of long love-letter to his girlfriend. There’s much more to the story, but he was essentially stuck there for months trapped by heavy snow, and finally succumbed.
For a long time, I had that story at the back of my head. I began to write one song about it, but it just wasn’t working, so I left it again for awhile. One day, I was watching a special on television about another Canadian songwriter, and something about the way he played inspired me to sit down with my guitar and try some folkier chord progressions. I didn’t think of it right away, but once the music and melody were finished, I realized it would work perfectly for the story I’d been carrying around so long. The lyrics took me about six months to get right, but it finally came together.
One thing I’ve learned is to be patient. If you try to force your muse, it just doesn’t work. Your muse also pops up at the most unusual times, so be prepared! My muse often comes in the form of people; people who’ve inspired me or said things that resonated for me, and people I’ve fallen in love with, of course 🙂 But I can also find inspiration in IDEAS. I fall in love with ideas! The things I’m most interested in (besides music) often put me in a very heightened state of awareness. Books I’m reading will begin a flow of thought, and sometimes a line will come out of that, or an entire idea for a song. Science interests me, as well as philosophy, psychology and spiritual thinking. In one song I wrote years ago, “Fusion & Fire”, I used astronomical properties, like fire, the planets, and the universe, as metaphors for long lasting love. Sometimes I still stick astronomical references in my lyrics.
I am fascinated by eagles, and once wrote a song based on the fact that eagles always die with their faces turned toward the last light they see. I heard a preacher once talk about that fact in spiritual terms, so I used the the light as a metaphor for life after death. The result was a song called “Eagles Eyes”.
But really personal experiences often creep into my writing too. Like many hormone-crazed teens, I had a mad crush on a math teacher in high school. Many years later when I saw him again that same ol’ feeling hit me, and the result was a song called “Good For Me”. I used a few math references in it, enjoying the idea of playing with these terms in a different way. Not that long ago, a good friend moved away, and I wrote a song called “Miles Away”…but the song ended up being about the distance we feel in relationships sometimes. So your personal experiences don’t have to come out exactly as you experienced them, they can be used in many other ways.
The latest song I’m working on came from one line…this often happens to me. One line will come and I have to fill in the rest of the story. Where did that line come from? It just sort of popped out when I was fooling around with some chord progressions and a melody. Sometimes I wonder… 🙂
Lovers, stories, world events, personal events, your own interests, the past, old friends…they can all be sources for your muse. I’ll bet you can even think of a few on your own 🙂