Author Topic: December 2017: How do you overcome writer's block?  (Read 112 times)

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Ron

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December 2017: How do you overcome writer's block?
« on: December 01, 2017, 08:02:57 AM »
This is a topic quietly being discussed with some friends behind the scenes. I know I have been nearly paralyzed for much of the past year and am fighting to overcome it. It is especially relevant now because we are moving into the time of year when depression peaks.


Anyone have any advice for those so afflicted?
Ron
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Jamie Kowalski

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Re: December 2017: How do you overcome writer's block?
« Reply #1 on: December 01, 2017, 08:48:35 AM »
This is one of those things where it's easy to find an answer to the question when you're not yourself experiencing it.

Normally I'd say force yourself to write a few notes every day no matter how unmotivated you feel. This used to work for me pretty well, but has been of less use to me lately.

As Ron already knows, I gave myself permission to just not write for awhile. It at least freed me from feeling guilty or burdened. This plan didn't keep me from feeling sad about not producing stuff.

In any case, I see a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. I have to believe I'll be over it eventually.

gogreen

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Re: December 2017: How do you overcome writer's block?
« Reply #2 on: December 01, 2017, 09:02:18 AM »
Suggestion #1: Make believe for a moment you're <insert name of a composer you greatly admire>. Then work on a piece with which you're having difficulty or start a new one as if you were that composer. See if that breaks you free of those chains!

Suggestion #2: Listen to a lot of music, live or recorded, and in doing so, let your creative process work. Perhaps you'll start humming a new-found melody or motif.

Suggestion #3: Change the environment. How about a day trip somewhere pleasant? Go for inspirational scenery. How about an art museum, or some other kind of museum?

Jerry Engelbach

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Re: December 2017: How do you overcome writer's block?
« Reply #3 on: December 01, 2017, 10:42:42 AM »
I read somewhere that Brahms wrote every day, and that if he didn't feel creative, he worked on his craft by writing contrapuntal exercises.

I don't know if it's true. But he did say this:

"You must learn how to work. You must write a lot, day after day, and not think that what you are writing always has to be something significant."

I may have a form of writer's block. Rather than trying to do something new, I've been trying to orchestrate things I wrote a while ago.

However, in the past I've found that if I force myself to start writing, I get into it just by momentum.

Cheers,
Jer
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tbmartin

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Re: December 2017: How do you overcome writer's block?
« Reply #4 on: December 01, 2017, 11:20:39 AM »
I've found these two things help me, and in a way, they're simply the philosophical and practical sides of the same coin:

1) "It's ok if this sucks because I'm still learning."  Given my level of skill and experience, this is huge for me.
2) <File><Save>, <File><SaveAs> Version 2. That's the practical side because if Version 2 sucks, I still have Version 1 to go back to. I've just given myself permission to fail. See item 1.

 
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Michel.R.E

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Re: December 2017: How do you overcome writer's block?
« Reply #5 on: December 01, 2017, 01:23:25 PM »
This topic came up just in the nick of time.
I've been blocked as far as starting my string quartet was concerned... fear I think. It has to be GOOD. (all your works have to be good, but there's this added pressure on certain commission where you feel you have to go beyond your normal limits)

Well, I had like 3 chords down, and a good idea of what the overall structure was, but just sitting down and writing wasn't working.

It turns out that sitting down AGAIN and just writing worked!
I can't use Brahms' advice, I write far too slowly for that. I can't churn out a symphony a year, a bunch of sonatas and a concerto, then take a bit of time to "doodle" 48 variations on a theme of Paganini.

Anyway, I know that fear of "not living up to" previous works of mine often stops me dead in my tracks. It's one of the things blocking the last movement of the violin concerto from really flowing freely. And now there's also fear because this commission has a VERY firm deadline, a concert date set, and tickets are already being sold, advertising has gone out (and the premiere is one of the selling points), etc...

"Writing music to be revolutionary is like cooking to be famous: Music’s main function is not revolution. – Alan Belkin "

"Saying something new about something old is still saying something new. – Jamie Kowalski"

whitebark

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Re: December 2017: How do you overcome writer's block?
« Reply #6 on: December 01, 2017, 02:01:37 PM »
Exercise and light are the enemies of winter depression. It helps to get outside and do some kind of activity that gets the blood pumping- walking, skiing, snowshoeing. All the better, if you can do an activity with friends.

As for writer's block, I guess I would follow the "just write something, anything" advice. Get on a piano and improvise some melodies or harmonic sequences, long or short. Then pick one and create a little composition of some kind. Or open a textbook like Persichetti's and do one of the exercises, kind of like Brahms did with his counterpoint exercises when he was stuck.

Facing writer's block with a hard deadline ahead must be a nerve-wracking dilemma, Michel!

-Jay


Ron

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Re: December 2017: How do you overcome writer's block?
« Reply #7 on: December 01, 2017, 02:18:42 PM »
Exercise and light are the enemies of winter depression. It helps to get outside and do some kind of activity that gets the blood pumping- walking, skiing, snowshoeing. All the better, if you can do an activity with friends.

-Jay


I'd love to do that Jay. Until my surgery in June I could not walk more than about 50 feet without severe cramping in my legs. Since the surgery I've been fighting to get back. I can now just make it around the block. I keep working because I was hired by our landlady to clear snow from two properties this winter--so every day I am out trying to walk further than the day before in order to prep. However, you are right--I do find it invigorating and satisfying to clear snow from lanes and walkways. It is something you have to prepare for and take one step at a time, and you can see the result when done. When I was very young--way back in the last century--I used to enjoy cross-country skiing. Heading out into the woods on skis was always an adventure.

As for Michel, I am going to his premiere in the spring--and I know it will be wonderful.
Ron
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Jerry Engelbach

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Re: December 2017: How do you overcome writer's block?
« Reply #8 on: December 01, 2017, 02:48:41 PM »
Get on a piano and improvise some melodies or harmonic sequences, long or short.
-Jay
That works for me. I turn on a backing track in iReal Pro and play some jazz. Sometimes the improvs result in ideas for composition.
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whitebark

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Re: December 2017: How do you overcome writer's block?
« Reply #9 on: December 01, 2017, 06:40:28 PM »
Ron,
It does sound like your leg strength is not up to par, which limits a lot of outdoor aerobic exercise you could do.  One aerobic activity to consider would be lap swimming. Or join a gym and try out a rowing machine or some other  workout machine that does not require a lot of leg stamina . To relieve the boredom, you could always listen to  a Mahler symphony while exercising.  Of course indoor exercising doesn't provide the strong light that outdoor activities provide. For that, do what a lot of Canadians do - vacation in places like Palm Springs (which has a surprising number of great hikes to do after you get tired of lounging around the pool.

What has all this got to do with writer's block?  Well, Sound Body, Sound Mind - or something like that...

Jay

Ron

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Re: December 2017: How do you overcome writer's block?
« Reply #10 on: December 01, 2017, 08:03:15 PM »
Thanks Jay, But my problem is not strength: it is blocked arteries. I simply cannot push muscles past the point where they become oxygen starved and loaded with waste material, so they cramp. I think getting outside and exercising has a lot to do with writers' block--which I view as a manifestation of depression. I'm not a doctor, so I could be wrong about that.
Ron
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flint

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Re: December 2017: How do you overcome writer's block?
« Reply #11 on: December 01, 2017, 08:47:47 PM »
Walking - or really, just getting out the house works for me. It makes me think of how I want to be home, writing.

Also for me, time away from music helps. Like, NO music. Nothing on the radio, TV, computer, just... nothing.
"Music is like wine; the less you know about it, the sweeter you like it." - Robertson Davies

sandalwood

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Re: December 2017: How do you overcome writer's block?
« Reply #12 on: December 01, 2017, 09:46:02 PM »
Coming from a monophonic culture and being unschooled, a melody (read tune) is my obligatory first step to even start conceiving to write a piece, to the extent that I can actually "write" at all. That's probably why I have a hoarder's stash of melodies/ideas sitting and aging in folders, many actually good for nothing. The route from a melody to a finished piece, namely deciding on the idiom, form, instrumentation, etc goes for me through lots of listening and reading which I strongly tend to abuse and overdo  because it is less ardous and painful than actual writing. Some ideas resist for months to being put to any use or yielding anything worthwhile so I drop them back into the bucket and pick the next one.

By the way Flint reminded me that I have developed a habit of feeling instant annoyance with anyone who make me listen to their music: cafés, malls, whistling strangers, friends (no wonder I have very few) in their cars, lectures etc vids (not music related) with background music...
« Last Edit: December 01, 2017, 09:55:28 PM by sandalwood »

Patrick O'Keefe

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Re: December 2017: How do you overcome writer's block?
« Reply #13 on: December 02, 2017, 12:26:50 PM »
Things like writer's block are so personal that any given suggestion is likely to be frustratingly, and irritatingly ineffective ... even though it might work miracles for the person giving the suggestion.  And adding frustration and irritation to writer's block is probably not appreciated.

I'm sure you don't need this advice, Ron, but I'll give it anyway: ignore any inappropriate and/or ineffective advice given in this thread.  You may not know what will work to break your block but you may very well recognize what won't work for you.

For me, and I assume for some others, writer's block never means a loss of creativity; it means something else is interfering with my creative energy.   My creative juices never flow very fast and when they stop altogether it is usually an indication that I'm not interested in what I'm working on or that something with higher priority - like my wife's health (or my own) - is distracting me.  In the latter case I give myself permission to turn my back on music; my time and energy is needed elsewhere.   In the former case I put aside what I'm working on - either temporarily or permanently - and try something else.