11/17/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What is Work? Listening to Inspiration, With Songwriter Darrell Scott

Darrell Scott is a hit-songwriter, an A-List musician and acclaimed independent singer-songwriter who's mixing a new album to be released later this year.

The last thing he needed was a new job.

Or did he?

In a phone chat from Nashville, Darrell Scott described his approach to work, his newest song, and the unexpected call to work he answered.

Successful musical artist sounds like a dream career. But the work of it involves a lot of not-so-dreamy things. Your Solopreneur/CEO-Self has to woo and field requests, earn cash, pay the bills. Your Professional Performer-Self travels for days to play for hours.

And then, there's the creative part of you.

To be a songwriter, Scott says, "is to be an observer."

Observation is the art of taking things in. But for years, he'd been working in a super out-going way. As an independent businessman, he was responsible for his own success - and he wanted to max his odds in that area.

"Some things sound good to us because they sound like there are business opportunities in it or a networking opportunity," he says, sounding a note that may sound familiar to those of us in business for ourselves.

This Yes-to-everything strategy had a personal function, too. It was Scott's way of disproving a personal myth: that he was lazy.

"I was surprised how much I could handle in the work kind of way ... I didn't think a lazy person could handle all that."

But as he neared 50, Scott explained, saying Yes to everything was draining him -- or more precisely, all of "hims". It took a bit of practice. But he started saying No to things that didn't appeal to him so he could focus on the things that did.

This shift inspired what Scott calls his, "robe days."

"A robe day is a day when I have nothing scheduled. No airplanes. No studio sessions. Those are the days I look for -- even the hours. I discover in real-time what I'm going to do or not do.

"I like to be quiet -- so the intuition can speak. Because it speaks in low, whispery tones."

If the idea of a robe day sounds like a call to creativity-on-demand, it's not. In fact, writing a song is actively not a part of Darrell Scott's robe day wish-list.

This would be like getting a great gift -- of peace, of quiet -- and saying, "Now, where's my brilliance?" he adds, with what sounds like a smile.

But robe days can set the stage for inspiration elsewhere.

Recently, Scott and his drummer, Gary Ogan, traveled to Oklahoma from Wyoming. It was a "big, exhaustive travel day." The two men, "had been talking about running from who we are."

In Oklahoma, he noticed a piece in a literary magazine by a Cherokee-Anglo novelist about "passing" for white. The word brought him back to his conversation with Ogan.

"I have to write about this now," he recalls. "I was stirred up. I couldn't help it. All the information was right there."

He wrote the lyrics in an hour and a tune the next day.

Last week, he recorded this brand-new song, "Passing," which you can hear first, here.

For those of seeking inspiration from daily life, Darrell Scott advises, a robe is optional. But Nature is invaluable.

"Get out of the office and go to that little park across the street ... even opening a window would help," he suggests. "Look up at the sky from the cloud point of view.

"It's a little robe moment."

For the last month, he's been watching the planet Jupiter in the night sky.

"I get to see Jupiter when the clouds are clear," he says.

And that idea -- clarity out of blue -- or dark -- leads us to the project that found Darrell Scott.

Two years ago, during a working trip to Lyons, Colorado, Scott visited an energy healer.

He was giving her a headache, the healer said. What he had been doing all day?

He'd been listening to students' songs, he said.

"You're supposed to be actively pursuing it," the healer said.

Which surprised him -- and worked like a dozen aspirin for her.

Since then, in addition writing songs and playing songs and recording songs, Darrell Scott has been traveling to song schools and workshops, "talking to people about songs."

It's a remarkable process to observe. A change from a major to a minor chord draws the listener's ear to a melody. A repetition of a lyric highlights the subtext in a text. And there's a vital "No" in the process as well.

In addition to offering suggestions on the music of songs, Scott wants to help songwriters quiet "their worst editor" -- to say "No" to the voice that can shut down an inspiration before it starts.

"Part of the job in songwriting is to say, 'Yeh, yeh, you're there," he says. "You've been there my whole life. Now go away -- I'm going to work on this song."

Scott says his new career of teaching is, "no grand design on my part."

Listening is what he does by nature, and really wants to do.

"You get your weary and you also get your wonder if you're paying attention," he says. "All that stuff is significant whether I'm a songwriter or not.

"That's how I want to live. I want to live in that tuned-in kind of way."