4 Rules for Inspiration

I wrote about one of my favorite pieces of music today, the 14:20 of unbridled genius that is contained within the performance of “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” by the Duke Ellington Orchestra at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival. Discussing the nature of the scintillating improvisation by Paul Gonsalves during his solo pushed me to define my strategy for maximizing the creative impulse.

1. Don’t force it
Though this would seem to be a no-brainer, I find myself struggling with the desire to mechanize my writing process sometimes. It is easy to become impatient and demand ingenuity right now, which inevitably leads to pressure and frustration. You might as well lock the doors, put out the “Go Away” mat and turn on the super-sensitive-motion-detector security system. The stress response literally scrambles the signals to the frontal cortex, the part of your brain which guides abstract thought.

Find a way to relax.

Albert Einstein sat at his kitchen table playing violin when struggling with a theory.  Letting his mind wander through dozens upon dozens of notes somehow led him to untangle the complexity of theoretical physics and define concepts that were totally unknown. Think a couple of sonatas might do you some good?

2. Be prepared
Wherever you go, have some means of recording what comes to mind. By giving yourself a channel for expression whenever the idea strikes, you’ll be more apt to get all of the minutiae of your thoughts recorded instead of reaching into fuzzy memories–if you have any–and lamenting the lost details.  My iPhone goes with me everywhere (except the shower) and, in the case of Gonsalves at Newport, it was a saxophone.

Whether it’s something high-tech like a digital voice recorder or low-fi like a pen and paper, keep your tools close by.

3. Take everything you’re given

When you feel the lightning bolt thump you in the brain, make a note of all that comes to mind. Regardless of the time and whether it takes a minute or an hour, it’s best to get your thoughts out into the free air. Without oxygen and care, your ideas wilt (see#4). Take down each word without judgment, you will arrange and revise later.

My post on truth from earlier this week, and several others that will be developed over the coming weeks and months, came along during a 45-minute burst of activity at about 2:30am Tuesday. (I think it’s worth the lost sleep.) At Newport, Ellington directed Gonsalves to “just play” during the bridge between “Diminuendo” and “Crescendo.”  This led to 27 (and, on one occasion an astonishing 60) choruses of brilliance residing where once a simple piano riff  had been.

Trust yourself and let fly. You may build a mansion where a shack was before.

4. Act on it
This is the most important step–taking the idea and continuing to pump life into it. I’ve found that energy settles quickly and forcefully when it’s held up, like a raging river crashing against a dam. If I had a dollar for every time a concept came to me and ended up resting somewhere in a neglected corner, then I’d be a wealthy man.

Make a move to sustain the force of that first surge as best you can. You’ll be very glad you did.

What do you do to make sure your great ideas come to fruition?

RELATED POSTS

Duke Ellington and Paul Gonsalves

1 Way To Know You’ve Found Truth

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8 Responses to “4 Rules for Inspiration”


  1. 1 eberez March 5, 2010 at 11:55 pm

    solid read

  2. 3 Jaynee March 6, 2010 at 3:48 am

    I agree. solid. timely and exactly what I needed to hear.
    you keep doing that. gonna have to smack you.


  1. 1 Duke Ellington and Paul Gonsalves « MeBuilding Trackback on March 5, 2010 at 11:04 pm
  2. 2 3 Questions for Procrastinators « MeBuilding Trackback on March 11, 2010 at 3:21 pm
  3. 3 Imagination v. Knowledge « MeBuilding Trackback on March 16, 2010 at 5:27 pm
  4. 4 Sleep Dreams « MeBuilding Trackback on March 19, 2010 at 12:35 pm
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