I subscribe to a free newsletter devoted to choir masters, and their interests and needs, from Colin Mawby, called Vivace.
Very worthwhile, always interesting reading, often simply the answers of The Guy Who Knows © * to readers questions.
I actually have several month worth saved but unread, (it's been a fraught couple-three months, and even this one sat unopened in my email for several days,) but this one is loaded with food for thought and helpful information.
I only compose out of necessity, (once upon a time school assignments, more recently because nothing pray-able, and learn-able and sing-able, and listen-able, and affordable ;oP-- yes, before the embarrassment of riches offered by Richard Rice, Jeff Ostrowski, various Fords, the Bow-tied One, Raphael Ornes, et al, I used to need to add a "fourth judgement" to liturgically, pastorally and aesthetically appropriate -- do I have the brass to pay for stuff if I don't write itmyself?)
But Mawby offers some very succinct basics on composing in answer to a readers question, (and some of the advice applies to other attempts at "Art") [emphasis supplied throughout]:
Find the right text. It must be one that speaks to me and fires my imagination. I look for spiritual depth and profound feeling. If the words aren’t right the music won’t be either. A dramatic text can be a help although these days I tend to prefer ones that convey peace and prayer.Useful stuff, especially that part about just sitting down and writing, just DOING it.
Texts suggest their own way of setting them – they lead you on. You can paraphrase Newman’s famous hymn: “Lead kindly text amid the encircling gloom, lead thou me on”.
You then need to look at the practicalities of the composition. What choir is it being written for? (This consideration looms large for me -- I am constantly looking for ways to alleviate the lows for my not-really-basses, and hedge on the highs for my not-what-they-think-they-are tenors and not-what-they-used-to-be sopranos - Scelata.) How good are they? How high do the sopranos and tenors go? How many people in the choir and how are they divided? Should I write with accompaniment? How good is the accompanist? There are many practical details to consider, all essential to producing an acceptable composition.
Composition is a solitary process that demands great self-discipline. I never write less than thirty bars a day, often many more. If I’m unhappy with what I’ve done, I can tear it up and start again on the next day. Daily composition is essential – a completely professional approach encourages and releases musical ideas. I usually start writing at 05.30 – I love the early morning and don’t need a great deal of sleep.
Do I ever suffer from writer’s block? Not really. When I get stuck I wander off and do something else. I return in about fifteen minutes and I find that in some mysterious way my subconscious has solved the problem.
What about inspiration? I never think about it – I just sit down and write – sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s bad. I always pray before writing but waiting for inspiration is not my style. It’s a great way of procrastinating and provides the wonderful excuse: "I wasn’t inspired today".
Working as a composer is a great thing, writing for the greater glory of God is an immense privilege. I have the deepest gratitude for the gifts I have been given and try my hardest to use them in the service of the Creator.
Colin Mawby KSG
The greatest art is produced by craftsmen doggedly going about their tasks rather than creative "geniuses" who wait for inspiration.
(*The Guy Who Knows is something I picked up from Himself)