Start Your Week Off Write: What Paul Simon Can Teach You About Inspiration


Paul Simon in Paris, 2008, image courtesy Cecilia D., Creative Commons

by Kristin Nador/@KristinNador

Singer/songwriter Paul Simon might know a little about writing and inspiration. 224 songs, 17 albums. 12 Grammys. Induction in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the first recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. He’s been writing and playing since he was 11 when he and Art Garfunkel became buddies. He’s now 70, still writing, making music and performing. I caught an interview he did with Wynton Marsalis for CBS This Morning. You can catch it here if you’re interested.

Paul Simon interviewed by Wynton Marsalis

Here are some quotes from the interview:

“You don’t have to create it. It’s already in existence. You just have to reveal it.”

“I really had no concept about inspiration. I don’t think about inspiration. I don’t believe that you need inspiration. I don’t say that I’m going to wait around until some inspiration comes. No, if I’m going to write I have to go to my writing space, and you know, start to write.”

“I’m concentrating on what I can make and how can I do this without lying.”

I was really provoked by his comments on inspiration. You don’t need inspiration? What did he mean by that? Does he mean inspiration is not an illusive magic that writers and other creatives have to be subject or slave to?

To me, it seems he’s saying that writing is what he’s decided to do, and if it’s time to write, he goes and writes. He’s not waiting for the universe to align and the Muse to alight on his shoulder. He writes songs so if it’s time to write a song, that’s what he does.

I’d love to ask him more about that. I imagine every song he writes is not ‘The Song of Silence’ or ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. There are probably a lot of mediocre songs in between. But he writes, and as he said, the good stuff reveals itself. That is inspirational. Don’t tell Paul I said so.

I personally use inspiration all the time. In fact, I have too much inspiration. Every time I turn around I’m getting ideas for writing. I didn’t say they were all GOOD ideas. But they keep bubbling up all the time. My problem is taking action on that inspiration. Getting to the sitting down and writing part. The creating part. The revealing part.

Is inspiration overrated? What do you think?

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7 thoughts on “Start Your Week Off Write: What Paul Simon Can Teach You About Inspiration

  1. Edison said that genius was one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Woody Allen said that eighty percent of success is showing up. I tend to agree with both of them, and with Paul Simon. Inspiration is way overrated.

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    • I tend to agree, but we assume people are already priming the creativity pump so there’s a natural flow of creativity/ideas that they just need to show up and act on. If they aren’t, it’s an easy fix by getting out in daily life, reading, or exposing oneself to other forms of creativity (art, music, film, nature, etc.). Then it comes back to the dreaded butt-in-chair, fingers-on-keyboard on a regular basis. Does that mean I have to take responsibility for my writing procrastination? ;)

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  2. If I wrote when inspired then I’d only write in the middle of a busy day at work or when someone in a red car with a bumper attached with duct tape and dental floss, toxic exhaust fumes, and a “Save the Planet” window sticker cuts me off in traffic while showing me his middle finger. I agree with Paul Simon. Write when you can, because you can. NOT just because you “feel” like it or are in the inspiration bubble.

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  3. Hey, I like my duct tape bumper! j/k It’s true, if we only wrote when those ‘inspiration bubbles’ pop up, our writing time would be severely cut back. Sometimes you have to sit down with pen and paper, declare that you are writing for x amount of time, and just do it. You’ve definitely ‘inspired’ me in that area. :)

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  4. Love this interview! I don’t think inspiration is overrated as much as it is really quiet. Inspiration doesn’t necessarily come in a moment, but could simply be a person’s purpose, breathing life into his imagination. And purpose is something you carry with you as part of you, part of your identity. I think that inspiration is what drives Paul Simon — just not the cheesy kind where you hear a song or go through an experience and it “inspires” you to write. Inspiration is purpose, as Paul expresses here: “If I’m going to write I have to go to my writing space, and you know, start to write.”

    Thank you for your post!

    Mark Blasini

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    • Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your thoughtful comments, Mark. I love what you are describing here. Someone walking out their destiny and being comfortable in their creative skin. That inspiration and the creative act is a natural by-product of that life attitude or purpose. Although I think I still have the occasional ‘cheesy’ inspirational moment as well. They usually have to do with strange encounters I have with cats. :)

      Great thoughts. Thanks for adding to the discussion!

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  5. Pingback: For The Love Of… Music: Be A Superstar In Your Own Car | kristin nador writes anywhere

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