A long time ago I read a quote by writer, Dale Carnegie, which said "If you can't sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there worrying. It's the worry that gets you, not the lack of sleep." It doesn't work for everybody, but it has certainly become an influential idea in how I work.
This morning I woke up around 3am, and I gave it a good hour's try before getting out of my bed. However, instead of doing what I'd usually do - watch Netflix, make some breakfast, cruise Facebook or news sites, etc. - I made myself sit down at my desk and write. I'm not sure why this morning was any different, but I'm so happy that it was.
The nice thing about beginning to write when you're utterly exhausted is that all of those little thoughts that keep you from writing are too faint or fuzzy to stop you. After continuing to struggle to write something satisfying for months (see previous post), all it took to hammer out 2 minutes of music was to be too tired to care if it was good or not. I don't recommend relying on exhaustion to compose on a regular basis, obviously, but after a long stint of frustration, being stuck in my own head, and a lot of staff paper, being able to jump the hurdle (or rather blindly stumble past it) was a great relief this morning.
While for me this mini-breakthrough came from a zombie mind, the lesson I take moreso from my time this morning is that starting to write music is the most difficult part of writing music. It might be easy (though still frustrating) to sit down and draft ideas out, or play around with motives, but to actually start working on a piece in a serious, intentional way is by far the most difficult part of the process for me. Before writing I like to know a lot of the parameters of the work ahead of time, so it's easy for me to psyche myself out before I even start by shooting down elements I haven't addressed on paper.
It seems pretty common for writers in any field to come across this issue - though I like what author Anne Lamott says about this, which is that it's mostly inaccurate to think of this problem as writer's block; she says that the problem isn't that your mind is stopped up, it's that you're empty. It's so easy to get stuck in your own head when you've stopped listening to and studying music that fulfills you. While the exhaustion helped me actually start writing, I attribute this morning's success also to the fact I've been listening to a lot more contemporary concert music in the last two weeks. I have more ideas, more connection to my craft, a heightened sense of relevancy, and more good-old-fashioned-excitement about music when I start diversifying and intensifying my listening.
I'm not sure why listening is something which so many composers have a hard time doing consistently - most of us agree how much better we feel and more motivated we are when we listen more frequently, but so many of us end up losing this vital tool from our daily routine. It's something I hope to be better about as I finish my Master's this semester.
I hope that the experience will be the start of a new momentum as the fall season kicks off! It's about 3 hours later and I still quite like what's there, so hopefully lucid-Kim will agree after getting some rest later on.