I just thought I'd throw this out to the forum, since it might be good for someone else with the same problem. I'm trying to get started on a BIG orchestra piece for a contest with a deadline in June. I haven't written anything for full orchestra in almost 10 years, nor have I ever written a 20 minute piece. (Lately I've been concentrated on commercial music and short film cues) I know i'm capable of such a task, And I've set it as a first priority in my musical goals, but I just cant seem to switch back from being a technician to an artist, if you know what I mean.
So, I pose these questions to anyone who wishes to donate their personal thoughts: How do YOU start. Where do you look for inspiration?
Write something. Anything. Just write something, NOW. If it's wrong, fix it. If it's right, build on it, and write a little more.
Don't be afraid to write something that sucks. It's easier to fix something that sucks than to fix something that isn't there. I think we composers have a tendency to think of composing as whisking a fully-formed masterpiece from the aether, but it's really not like that. It's more like sculpting and molding clay--a sculptor doesn't spend months searching for a chunk of clay that already looks like a work of art, he dredges some muck up from the river and works it with his hands and eyes until it becomes a work of art.
I've listened to some of your music and I've been very impressed--you are a very good composer and you have a good ear. So if you write something that sucks, you'll recognize it right away and then fix it. At that point you don't need inspiration, because you already have the raw material--you just need some problem solving skills and a strong command of your craft.
I've spent months "looking for inspiration," which is really just an excuse to not make any firm decisions or commit to anything. I can't write a note when I have 6 months, but when I have 24 hours I can write a symphony, and it will be my best work ever. This has happened to me enough times that I've come to the conclusion that the strongest form of inspiration is to just trust yourself and go, go, go.
Do not wait! Go and write something (anything!) now. Do it! That's the way to do it. Funny thing is that I like to do it the way chris described it. Just write. If it sucks, work on it. If on the end of the day it still sucks, discard it and go on. But never stop.
This also reminds me of a story about Stravinsky (or was it prokofiev, or some other Russian?): He had this constant practice of getting up early, sitting down at the piano at (let's say) 8am and working on music til 8pm. He didn't care if the end result was trashbin material. He simply wanted to never stop working on his music. I think that is the right attitude!
Write something, analyse it critically, then fix it. The fixing part may take a long time (John Wiliams needed weeks to fix his famous Indiana Jones or the Close Encounters theme, Jerry Goldsmith worked for weeks on the theme to Medicine Man!). The only important thing is: Work on it.
Good luck! And have fun! Cause that is important, too.