The 1%, the inspiration, is the easy bit. This is a gross oversimplification, of course, but it is essentially true. The remaining 99%, the perspiration, is where the hard work comes in, and it is where most of us, professional writers included, tend to fall by the wayside.
Inspiration is not simply a case of sitting around and waiting for an idea to appear out of the blue, though, anything but. The ingredients need to be put together and left, and then, if the conditions are right, the yeast in the dough will trigger some kind of reaction that then allows us to convert those raw materials into something more useful.
The perspiration bit is rarely easy, constantly blocking the way with questions such as “What should happen next?” but it all gets slightly easier with time and experience as our instincts become more honed and our decision making more precise and appropriate. The easy option is to leave the piece unfinished, to give up, but then what does one learn?
Copland said that one of the key characteristics of being a composer was never to give up, and I have never truly understood those who buckle under pressure for fear of failure. Failure should be embraced, encouraged, for we learn nothing from success apart from the notion that we may be doing something right, but then what thing?
A good idea helps to make the hard work easier, though, and I write this today because I think I have just had one, something particular to a certain piece, place and time that feels just right. I have probably learned little on my compositional journey, but I know that something that feels absolutely right in its very first moments tends to be worthwhile in the end.