Sources of Inspiration – part 1

One of the questions I am asked more than any other is – where do I get my inspiration? There are many, many sources of inspiration so I thought I’d tackle a few in a series of blog posts.

It might seem like an easy topic to write about but it’s actually quite difficult because, for me, inspiration is a feeling more than observation. I can feel it descend over me like a second skin, my breathing changes, colours change, there is a sweet feeling in my chest, a lightness. It can come during a walk on the moor, the downs, or just while ‘noodling’ on an instrument (noodling is literally just playing and singing nonsense until some hook, or phrase, catches your attention). Only rarely have I sat down specifically to write a particular song. I did this with Isis Unveiled, Only Human, Immrama, and a couple of others, when some outside stimuli has inspired me, but on the whole they seem to just appear.

The feeling is pure magic, like tapping into a flow of power from some Otherworld, but I also know that I’ve only got it for a limited time. If I don’t sit and write the entire song in one sitting, it’s so difficult to come back to at another time and try to get back into that flow. A song that I lost the feeling halfway through was The Cauldron Born. That song originally had a completely different set of lyrics, but it didn’t get finished. When I came back to it, they had gone, and I couldn’t finish it. I sat with the tune for many hours just playing the melody, opening up to see what would come through, and nothing did. I had the tune for 2 years before the lyrics finally arrived. I had finished recording 8 of the 10 songs on The Cauldron Born album, and only then did the lyrics arrive, and with them the title of the CD!

So what is my process? I make sure I have a clear space of time. I pick up an instrument (it’s not important which one, just the one I’m called to that day). I have one book in which all of my songs have been written for the past 7 years, so I get that book, and a pen. I open to a clean page, and write the alphabet across the top line. Then I close my eyes, find my centre, and open up, and just begin to play – never something I’ve already written, if I do that I’ll lose the feeling, it has to be new. It’s like an old vinyl record I guess – I put the needle on, and at first it just stays there, but if I’m lucky, it’ll slip into the groove, and a song will begin to play.

At this time I have no idea what I’m going to write about, but I’ll sometimes just get an opening line, so I write it down. I might get two, and then the alphabet across the top does it’s job. I look at the word I need to rhyme with at the end of the phrase and, using the alphabet, I say the sound until I find a good rhyme. This will often create the next line. There is a lot of fiddling about with words and lines as the song develops, and during this time something will hopefully click and I’ll see what the song wants to say, what it’s about. Once this happens the ‘aha!’ moment then points me towards the finishing direction of the song.

An important thing to remember is not to over analyse while you’re writing the song. Just get it down on paper in some form. The creative process engages the right side of the brain, the analysis engages the left. If I swap from one to the other I know I will lose the connection, and the song will literally die on the page. So I tend to write the whole song, including some dodgy lines, then once it’s all there, only then go back to re-write some of the lines I’m not entirely happy with.

So I hope you found that interesting! More thoughts on inspiration to come.

8 responses to “Sources of Inspiration – part 1”

  1. Thanks for this, Damh. I am always interested in how other people find inspiration. As a big fan of Nanowrimo, I know how valuable just writing all the way to the end without judging can be, so is interesting to hear that the same works for songwriting. Love the pic too! XXX

  2. Damh, you’ve described my own writing process so closely it’s uncanny! Except mine applies to poetry, of course. As far as poetry is concerned, inspiration flows in, creativity flows out, but I never seem to get into the zone/groove/
    flow of songwriting.

    Playing other people’s songs take me to a beautiful place (especially Loreena McKennitt, Gwydion Pendderwen, your stuff and a great Celtic Christian folk rock group called Iona), and I’ve set some of my poems to familiar folk tunes like Danny Boy, Greensleeves etc. But writing totally original songs will fox me every time.

    Is it expected of every Bard to write their own songs at some point, or should I just trust the process and go where the road leads?

  3. Hi Damh,
    thanks for this post. I have some problems in these times to connect my feelings with the paper. After I read this I have some new inspirations (the alphabet mainly).
    Anyway, we all looking forward for you here in CZ!:)


  4. thanks Damh for this – everyone has their own art in them and it’s a case of ‘noodling’ (so love that word) until it breaks into reality.
    i love the pic – very druidic!


  5. Hi Dahm;
    Oh Wow! There are so many avenue’s that exist and to explore in this realm. I figure you could cover this subject for the rest of your blogging days, and then some! It may even be a nice tag to include every blogging session? You know, just a short piece on the consistency of “Inspiration, and works of it or for it.” Why I can see many hooks coming out of this sort of communication with all of us?! Thank you for being an inspiration and for communicating that that is the same!
    Pyper of Tullibardine

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