Everyone who has seriously tried to do original creative work of any kind has certainly heard a version of Picasso’s quote, “Inspiration shows up, but it must find you working.” In other words, books and pieces of art don’t come about by just sitting there waiting for the world to glow strangely and the angels to sing, handing you a feather pen to take dictation. Creative work is WORK. Sometimes that work is not very productive, and sometimes it flows so well it seems the muses are real beings that guide your hand. Either way, one has to be at work, purposefully trying to make something, regardless of whether that day’s work seems to succeed or fail.
The problem for me has been “finding” that time to work. I put that in quotations because it is really about MAKING time to work. But what is the right time to work? My composition doesn’t bring me any money. If I tie work to income, I do plenty of that already, teaching and accompanying. It can take a long time to complete a composition project. If I tie the idea of work to getting things done, I have plenty of that to do, too. Any number of chores are always calling to me, trying to convince me that whatever-it-is is the highest priority on the to-do list. It’s practical, you know, to do something that is objectively completed, for the time being at least.
Relationships are valuable, too. Should I talk to my mom or my sister? Should I have a coffee date with my husband? Should I spend the evening playing a game with my daughter? Should I go see my son’s concert three hours away? Should I chat with my best friend late on a Friday night? Should I help someone move? Or should I compose?
It is easy to fill up the day with important things: things that are real, immediate, and practical. Everything is important, and that is the problem. Which do I let go of in order to make time to compose? I find it even trickier because I essentially work second-shift. Most of my teaching is done in the after school hours, and most of my accompanying is done in the evenings. While most people rest after work in the evenings, my only downtime is before I go to work.
Add into the mix the fact that my husband is a pastor. There is a slight rhythm to the week, but no day from one to the next is the same. A few weeks ago I suddenly had a funeral to attend. Attend is not the right word. I was there from setting up for the service to cleaning up after the collation, and it took up most of a Wednesday. I was glad to be of service, but it is things like this that make it very difficult to schedule a set time to compose. WHEN should I compose? I need to make that time because it will not be found, hidden among the ever-pressing needs of the day.
I had the privilege to attend the 2019 National Conference of the Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers this past weekend. Amidst several concerts of wonderful new music written by my colleagues, and including a piece of my own, we had the privilege of attending several workshops. One particular workshop that spoke to me especially was the one on “Finding Your Voice,” presented by my friend Glenn Pickett. He spoke about the need to be at work composing, and through doing the work your voice will come out. As he spoke, he mentioned that he writes from 5-7AM each morning because he knows that once the day begins with his teaching responsibilities at the university he will not be able to do any more work. He did not intend it, but that statement was the little kick-in-the-pants I needed. If he can set aside time to write from 5-7 in the morning, I can write from 6-8. Everyday except Sunday, I have uninterrupted time during those hours. On most days, I can work until 9AM before needing to start taking care of my other responsibilities. On a special day, I could possibly even work until 10 if my stomach doesn’t growl too much for breakfast.
The feedback I received from my colleagues, most of whom are professors with PhDs in composition, greatly encouraged me to do more: compose more, take more risks. The weekend confirmed for me that I must commit to making composition a high priority. So this morning, I got up at 5:30AM and made myself coffee. I got to work and composed until 8:30. Already, I have found benefits from doing so. I have no guilt. No nagging voices in the back of my mind are hounding me asking, “Do you really think you ought to be doing this right now? Are you choosing the best use of your time?” I didn’t have to worry about finding time to do my composition because I already did. This gave me permission to do all the other things I have done with my day. I also discovered that while I’ve been puttering around doing chores or even sitting here typing this blog the back of my mind has been processing what I worked on early this morning, expanding the effort I put in. I will be back at it again bright and early tomorrow.