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.
“I’m actually a composer, but I like to relax by writing letters.”
Embrace your inner expositor. Be what you are.
While traveling through the Carolinas, I took a moment to call my beloved after reading a billboard sign alerting me to the existence of a furniture retailer named Grindstaff’s.
I include that detail only because I saw the word “grind” in your post.
That was meant to be instructive, by the way.
In the space of five minutes, I’ve produced six rather charming posts. I am pleased with the work.
Returning to your concerns. I have been cheeky and “published” a few poems on Facebook. Something of a militant agnostic act, really. I am daring some manifestation of the divine to call me out for my presumption and my posturing, for this stance I tentatively take which can become ironic if I so choose. Sure, I’m pretending to be a “poet,” wink wink, just to express my opinion on the glut of treacly memes that get published each day. But they’re not really the work of a “poet,” you understand. I’m just playing with reality, I seem to be saying, for my own perverse amusement. And so I wait for God to call my bluff and smite me, for knowing my true motive, my true desire to touch glory by assuming the bardic pose, to smite me soundly by noting how my lack of qualification screams from every sad word I put down. And I wait. I’m still here. So far no divine retribution.
But my point about the poems. I’ve started trying to walk everyday. The poems represent little clusters of notions that take shape during my walks. Later, at home, I give myself a small window of time during which I put the work down and shape it just enough to make me want to take a second look, but no more. Something about walking…and creating my own venue without worrying about legitimacy. And so what if the game of ironic peek-a-boo goes along with it.
Pish-tush man, you are a poet, and a quite good one too. It is time to drop the defenses.
He likes to contextualize. The title of his forthcoming collection of poems shall be “Apologia.” It will consist almost entirely of prefatory material and end notes.
I’m trying to lay bare the bizarre game I play in order to instruct profitably my ash-bound brethren. Thank you, though. I am trying to own the fact that I have made a phrase or two hop around a bit. But this bizarre game. It’s currently part of my motivation for creativity. And may also be a hindrance. Meaning, ultimately, it may be the wrong ritual for me. So, I offer that if you are foundering or stuck in neutral over-reving your engine, maybe you are donning the wrong ceremonial garb and muttering the wrong incantation. Pick a metaphor, pick any metaphor, good, but don’t let me see it…