Thursday, December 18, 2014

Compositional Mistakes

Damn, I have been so sick.  Walking dead sick.  Hit me Monday evening and has hardly let up.  I'm a bit bleary now as I write this Thursday morning - wondering where the hell two days went.

Ray Doraisamy called me out on my Backstage post with this quibbling point:  "Those who ask 'where do you get your ideas from' may be seeking the answer to 'what's your process - what mistakes have you made that we can learn from before we make those same mistakes ourselves?' "

The question is my fault.  I wrote in the post that outsiders tend to think that composition (writing, music, art, whatever kind of creation being done) is easy for the composer . . . and I failed to state clearly afterwards that original composition is NOT easy, it's difficult and aggravating for everyone. Going a step further, original composition defies process, since whatever methodology you've used in the past for other compositions, it invariably fails when you try to apply it to something new.  Part of the creative process is the creation of a new 'process' for every creation.

In my book, How to Run, I propose an argument that in order to create your world, you have to think about it.  At length.  You should brainstorm, writing down as many ideas as you can accumulate over a period of weeks before beginning to create.  The idea is to create hundreds of ideas, without measuring them or confining yourself to one limited perception.  This takes practice - particularly in keeping yourself from becoming fixated upon a single idea in exclusion to all others.  Moreover, all this practice can only occur inside your head.

Because you are a very different person than me, you will eternally view this process differently from me.  There's no getting around that.  Even if we stumble across the same idea, we will approach it from our personal viewpoints, creating problems which are equally personal.

Creativity is not 'science.'  Two investigators in science will inevitably find themselves facing the same issues in resolving a matter because those issues occur outside their experience.  The problems are created by the world, not the scientists.  But where it comes to composing, we create our own problems - because of what we choose to see as a problem than needs to be solved.

I'll try an oversimplified example.  Suppose we each decide to write a story about a homeless man living on the streets of the same city, where the man's wife and daughter have died, leaving him without the will to gather his life together and move on.  Certainly, we can both imagine coming to the same specific circumstances behind our individually proposed novels; even a few changes in those circumstances won't matter much.

The question is, how will you and I solve the homeless man's dilemma?  Some might feel his problem is disassociation, that what he needs is a family of some kind to support him - thus they write a novel on how this man finds a family.  Others may feel he's disenchanted with the world and that in order to regain his pride, he needs to help the world make a change.  Others may feel the man's problem is insolvable, preferring to write the novel in terms of the homeless man circling the drain until he dies, to highlight the horror in society.  Still others will view the homeless man's recognition that he's never accomplished anything, so he changes himself to be a better person.  And so on.

None are right.  None are wrong.  They are all individual, as individual as the creator.  The value isn't in the idea of the book or in its manifestation, but in the alacrity of the story telling and the design.  A great idea will do nothing for you as a composer.  Nor will a really great theme.  You've got to make the story valuable yourself, through having the skill to compose the thing.

You'll find, very quickly, that giving the thing true merit will mean changing yourself as a person in order to rise to the occasion.  Producing the How to Run book changed me!  It forced ME to see the game differently, to self-examine and accept that what I knew before was secondary to the new knowledge I was gaining.  This is what good composition does.  It changes the composer.

I can't tell YOU how to avoid the mistakes I'm making because you're not writing the same composition.  The mistakes are unique.  It may sound well and good to think that there are a finite number of mistakes to be made in the world, and that once you stop making them you'll be a great composer, but that's nonsense.  There are far, far more mistakes to be made than I could ever point out - hell, I don't even know the mistakes you're going to make in your career!  I'm on an entirely different path.

This was my point before - that there are no short-cuts.  There are no right ways.  Mistakes are necessary - beneficial, even, in that they produce a composer with unique skills.  The endless question, "How do you do it?" is begging for a cheat code.  And there is no cheat code.

I'll say this about my writing and making money from it.  I didn't quit.  Everyone else around me that also wrote or played an instrument or dreamed of making it big someday, they mostly quit.  One by one.  All the ones I know now who are still at it, they have some level of success.  Like me, not a great level of success, but some.

So don't quit.  The biggest mistake is quitting.  Best advice I can give.

1 comment:

Zrog (ESR) said...


Thanks for this post. It is a lot less bitter-sounding than the last one, and I found it much more uplifting.

My own 2 cents would be: "foster enthusiasm"; the best thing to keep yourself from quitting is to find/remember reasons to be excited about your *path*, not the end product (because it never turns out quite as you expected, anyway).