While in Paris during the mid-eighties, the hugely influential singer and songwriter Leonard Cohen went to see his friend Bob Dylan perform. The following morning, the two titans of music sat outside a secluded café and shared coffee and conversation.
Both fans of each other’s work, Dylan began asking Cohen about ‘Hallelujah’ – a song made famous through covers by other musicians before the original finally got its dues. When Dylan asked how long it took to write, Cohen said, “Two years.” One of Cohen’s favourite Dylan songs was ‘I and I’. When he asked him how long it took to write, Dylan replied, “15 minutes”.
One of the things I find fascinating about creativity is its unpredictability. Regardless of who you are, it’s impossible to know when inspiration will strike, or if it does, how long it will take to finish. Sometimes you can stare at a screen or out of a window all day without the faintest sign of an idea. Other times you strike gold before the Planner’s even finished reading out the brief.
One of the tricks is getting out of your normal routine. Inspiration doesn’t always hit you between the convenient hours of 9 and 5. If you get a thunderbolt, I’ve always found it beneficial to grab a pen and get it all out of my head there and then – be it 3pm or 3am. The initial thoughts you have in the moment won’t stick around for long.
As a rule, if an idea is taking too long to fix, it’s normally because it isn’t fixable. But that didn’t stop Cohen creating a classic. As I was saying, unpredictable.
Hallelujah, Cohen ’08