overcoming writer's block
If you've ever felt a burning insecurity in yourself as you listen to another composer's amazing new work, a work that belongs to a body of work so good and consistent that you could literally cry with envy, whilst you on the other hand haven't written anything for months, then this blog is for you.
I'm going to start with a little story, so if you're sitting comfortably...
For those of you who know me you may also know that I've been working with my life long friend Matt Baber for well, almost my entire life, at least since play school that is. These days however our work is a little more ambitious than moving silver sand through a colourful array of awesome little spinning machines, shoots and slides from one end of the dry sandpit to the other.
A few years ago now Matt announced he was going to run a writing experiment. The idea was to prove that writing music is not something that can only happen in a heightened state of inspiration or when there's a month or two without interruption to dedicate to the endeavour. Matt decided he would write a piece of music everyday for one month no matter what was going on. The piece of music could be any length and of any complexity but what was not up for debate was that music had to be written every day. After one month of writing Matt had thirty or so compositions of varying length and complexity and a wealth of ideas for future development. The experiment was actually a resounding success!
When you stop to think about that for a moment perhaps the music seems less important than the sheer audacity to engage in this experiment in the first place.
Writing in this way seems to fly in the face of the priorities of a modern world where the arts have become 'leisure activities' only to be engaged in when time permits. It sticks two fingers up at a world obsessed by economics and a society that loves to sell our young people the "only science, maths and literacy are important" national curriculum. In contrast this experiment connects directly to the essential, life affirming qualities of music and the importance of the arts more generally by placing the practice of composing at the heart of day to day life.
Were the arts not as essential to life as food and shelter Olivier Messiaen would never have written Quartet for the End of Time, finished in a German prisoner of war camp during WW2 and Shostachovitch would have been unable to continue to write against the persistent backdrop of fear, intimidation and disappearances (murders) that we're going on around him in Stalin's post war Russia. In fact it seems in even the most primitive of cultures the moment the basic necessities of food and shelter are taken care of the very next thing humans want to engage in is making art of one kind or another.
I'm writing this blog because I believe that there's always time to engage in creative activities. I want to encourage you to write, no matter how busy life is. No matter how crazy things get there is always time for making music. In fact it's precisely when life is at its hardest that creativity is most important.
Frank Zappa famously said "there are two things you have to do to make it as a musician: keep going and don't stop" and following his own advice Zappa seems to have proven the point, especially when considering the sheer volume, breadth and quality of his work.
So here's some advice and encouragement for the ailing composer.
- All you have to do is start! Craft and intuition will take care of the rest.
- Begin with a list of creative restrictions: rules that will guide the composition. It really helps to focus the mind by excluding some of the limitless potential of a blank page and helps get you over the daunting prospect of beginning.
- Any amount of time can be productive, even five minutes is enough time to get some useful ideas down.
- Small regular sessions are as productive as longer sessions less frequently.
- Try to compose something every day. We are as the saying goes creatures of habit and writing habits can be formed quite quickly.
Ultimately writing or not writing is a choice you can start right now!