Sometimes, when I’m looking for inspiration as I write, I turn to musical theater. It makes sense that such a creative medium would be chock full of songs that capture the creative process so well. Here are some of my favorites—while a few are specific to writing, I think anyone who has ever been stuck in a creative rut can find some inspiration within them.
“Watch What Happens” from Newsies
Give life’s little guys some ink, and when it dries just watch what happens.
Those kids will live and breathe right on the page
and once they’re center stage, you watch what happens.
And who’s there with her camera and her pen
as boys turn into men
they’ll storm the gates and then just watch what happens when they do
Anyone who has ever watched their characters take on a life of their own will understand this song, sung by Katherine the reporter.
“Everything Else” from Next to Normal
You scan through the score
And put fingers on keys
And you play…
And everything else goes away.
Everything else goes away.
And you play ’til it’s perfect,
You play ’til you ache,
You play ’til the strings
Or you fingernails break
This song, sung by Natalie, could be used to describe any hobby or passion that allows you to escape from the troubles of everyday life.
“Finishing the Hat” from Sunday in the Park with George
Finishing a hat…
Starting on a hat…
Finishing a hat…
Look I made a hat…
Where there never was a hat.
Okay, this song has a lot of different interpretations, because what Sondheim song doesn’t? On a base level, however, it is certainly about the creation of art, and it’s one of Sondheim’s most famous songs for a reason.
“One Song Glory” from RENT
One song glory, one song before I go
Glory, one song to leave behind
Find one song, one last refrain
Glory, from the pretty boy front man
Some may find this one to be overdone, but the message about the desire to leave a legacy behind is always relevant.
“An Original Musical” from [title of show]
I’m blank paper, your blank paper, make me say something else.
I’ll say whatever you want me to, just put your pen to the paper and write.
Okay! I will! I will! I’ll write!
Now we’re talking!
Write that original musical
Original in every way
It was nearly impossible to pick just one song from [title of show] for this list because, as I’ve written about before, the entire musical is probably one of the most raw and honest depictions of the creative process there is. But this cheeky conversation between Jeff and his blank paper is a moment every writer can connect to.
“What I Did For Love” from A Chorus Line
Kiss today goodbye
And point me toward tomorrow
We did what we had to do
Won’t forget, can’t regret
What I did for love
This is another show that has several great options—“I Hope I Get It” captures the struggle; “The Music and the Mirror” captures the fear of failure and being consumed by a goal. This song, however, applies to anyone who has ever followed a dream, regardless of how well it worked out. Any I missed? What are some of your favorite songs about the creative process?