This is going to be painful. You have been warned.
First, a recap:
- Start every venture with the words “Abortive Attempts”at the top of the page.
- Face up to the fact that quantity is better than quality—and more likely in the first place.
- Make your distractions as productive as your work.
- Defend your time.
- Learn to look/listen for what is missing.
One reason I proposed this Assignment is that I’m in a creative stasis at the moment and I wondered if watching other people create might help me push some button that would restart my energies. Also, I thought it might be helpful to reexamine my own rules for creativity.
But I’m clearly missing something key here, because although my rules are still quite valid, they do not provide me with an impetus to get back to work—in this case, on the percussion piece for this summer, or indeed on anything else.
“Abortive attempts”? This is a great rule and a critical one. Last year when I was working on the Cello Sonata, I had separate files for each movement just to fart around in. I’d make and save “Adagio–Ideas,” for example, and I could plop down a melody or a chord progression without regard as to whether it was going to work or not. If that’s all it was, a melody, and it didn’t go anywhere, I could skip a couple of measures, draw a double-bar, and start something else. I could copy and paste, join bits together, insert crap here and there, and if and when I ever got something that was “right,” I could open the actual “Adagio” file and copy and paste my work there.
Whenever I got stuck, I’d head back to the Ideas file and plop out more abortive attempts. It worked, even though it’s always more painful that those who don’t do this kind of thing can imagine.
Which leads to my second rule. By plopping out huge amounts of stuff that does not work and will never work, I would come up with something that does and will.
However, in the static state I have found myself in for the past month at least, neither of these rules is useful. I can’t even plop out crap. It’s just not there.
I know, I know: plop anyway. It would be worse than usual, but at least I’d be working. That’s the trick, though, isn’t it?
Third rule: productive distractions. I suppose I can claim this one, although none of the work I’ve done outside the realm of creativity could be reasonably claimed as “distraction,” since there’s nothing to distract from. Still, I have worked fairly regularly in the labyrinth (and will be working more in a couple of weeks as a birthday treat to myself), so that’s all to the good.
Mostly, though, I have written letters to Craig. I start a letter and work on it all week as I have things to say to him, and then when I get a letter from him I’ll respond to what he has to say and mail it off. And then I start new letter. I wouldn’t call it an obsession, but it is the only thing I am rigorous about these days.
But these distractions are not serving the purpose that the rule implies, and certainly not the way distractions served me previously. Working on the Preludes or the Cello Sonata, I might turn from one to the other, or a blogpost, or some task in the labyrinth, and those “distractions” actually served as a break from the work so that it could percolate while I was not paying active attention to it. Now, my letters to Craig are not a break from the work, they are the work.
Defend my time? Not necessary. I have pruned away all outside duties and interests other than my job, and it does not consume every moment outside the office. I have more than enough time to be writing not only the percussion piece but the Five Easier Pieces that I keep wanting to do this year, or a song for my young baritone friend John Tibbetts, or even, heaven forfend, getting a head start on arranging William Blake’s Inn for string quartet and synthesizers. What am I going to do when I actually have to produce that gem?
My gestalt theory or creativity? That’s only useful if you’re actually working on something, and I am not.
I think I need to develop another five rules for getting off one’s ass.
The one that comes immediatly to mind:
- Grind it.
If I think of more, I’ll add them. Feel free to suggest some in comments.