When it rains, it pours:
dry spell revisited

Last month, I wrote about how I compose less music than I used to. That thought hung over my head for the whole month, as I tried to muster the motivation to start a new choral piece. In early February, I had received the text for a piece I had been commissioned to write, and the deadline for it was in April. I was dreading starting the piece, and worrying about whether I even had it in me to write any music anymore.

I thought about how in college, I would get inspired so easily, come up with a good idea, and the piece would almost start to write itself. I’d get carried along by the momentum, thinking about the music in my spare time, getting parts of it stuck in my head. I thought about how even when I do force myself to sit down and write, I usually lose interest within the hour, and never think about the material I managed to cough up.

Photo credit: Rob Bertholf

One of the key differences between inspired & uninspired writing is actually have something to say. I think if I try to just sit down and force some music out, I usually have nothing to say and neither does the music, which is why I can’t get into it. I tried to focus on the text, see what vision I could draw out of it, but it seemed frustratingly impenetrable.

This crisis was concurrent with me getting sick, recovering, and then generally being in a winter funk for a couple weeks. At the beginning of this week, I was feeling quite bad about everything, and I talked to my mom about my frustrations with the piece, as well as how meaningless life in general was starting to feel.

In her usual manner, she wisely didn’t try and tackle the whole broad, nebulous meaninglessness problem, but rather suggested something quite simple, obvious, and helpful. She suggested I start waking up early and setting aside an hour in the morning to go somewhere out of the house and work on the piece. I had considered doing that back in February, but I didn’t get around to it before becoming temporarily homebound by illness. Even though it didn’t make me feel better at the time, I knew she was right: I should just focus on a simple, action-based solution.

So the next day I got up early, went over to the church, where a friend of mine directs music, and asked if I could use the piano for an hour a few mornings a week. Getting up early was already a big boost to my day, since I had gone to bed earlier than usual in preparation and got better sleep. Getting out of the house did a lot for me as well, breaking up the monotony of my normal work-from-home week & giving me the long-missed feeling of being “out and about”.

Most of all, having an hour set aside where I knew all I was going to do was compose did wonders for my focus. I was able to settle into the groove for the first time in a long while, and finally was able to write something that really connected. Once I had a couple phrases down that felt like they had some real purpose and clarity to them, things really started to pick up.

Now I’m back in that writing mode from college, where I think about the piece in my spare time, hopping back to the piano throughout the day just to hear the music and make little adjustments, because I actually like what I’m writing. I’m having a lot of fun, and I’m really pleased that a simple shift in approach seems to be working so well for me already.

Do you write any music? Have you ever beaten a slump with a small change in behavior? Do you like to get “out and about”? Let me know your thoughts at my Ctrl-C email: gome ​@ ​ctrl-c.club.