The ups and downs of work
Over the last month I've been happily immersed in a variety of work: revising and preparing a solo piano score for recording, finishing the last round of revisions on my two solo albums, and planning out a new work for violin and string quartet. I've also been thinking quite a lot about how I approach both life and work and have recently read several books which have had a really positive impact on my practice: Solitude by Michael Harris; The View from the Studio Door by Ted Orlando; and Antidote by Oliver Burkeman.
Although working from home has its challenges, I've realised that I'm very, very lucky to have that freedom. It does require discipline, but I'm also learning to be gentler with myself: that it's OK to have slow days, and that not every day will be amazingly productive. Composing is intensive work, and the reality is that I can rarely do more than 4 hours a day. Plus it's important to give things time to sit and percolate for a while, so that I can return to them with a fresh perspective. Sometimes I just have accept that I need to plod away at the slow, often repetitive work that is an essential part of the composition process: arranging, reworking and revising.
I now try to approach different types of work in separate 'blocks' - and I stay strictly offline when I'm composing or writing. When I'm free to work without interruptions or distractions, my ability to concentrate and follow a task through is much stronger - plus I enjoy it a lot more when I'm fully immersed. I've also been adjusting my work routine to allow more time for thinking and dreaming. I have a tendency to feel that I must fill up all the available 'work hours' of my day, but I'm actually much more productive when I work in a series of shorter, focused bursts.
I aim to spend at least a day a week in a different space (outside my home studio). This can be as simple as taking a notebook outside, doing some writing in a cafe, or while travelling on a train. I also walk every day, which feels vital to my physical and mental health and fitness, and to the health of my creative practice. As well as making contact with the natural world, my daily walk is my meditation, and the very act of walking is a wonderful way of working through ideas.
"The most common response to procrastination is indeed to try to 'get the right emotion': to try to motivate yourself to feel like getting on with the job. The problem is that feeling like acting and actually acting are two different things. A person mired deep in procrastination might claim he is unable to work, but what he really means is that he is unable to make himself feel like working... "
-Oliver Burkeman: Antidote
It's been really useful to identify my own bad habits! One of the forms of procrastination I've had to own up to is that I often prioritise things like administrative tasks over creative work. Somehow the creative work was consistently ending up at the bottom of the to-do list. Oh, I'll just spend a day updating my website and get onto the actual music stuff tomorrow... or the next day...
Sure, sometimes admin can be creative too - spending a few hours rewriting my bio can help me work out where I'm at, what might have changed, and what's important to me right now. But it's also something I use to procrastinate! If I haven't had a routine for a little while, beginning a project sometimes feels scary and unfamiliar - I feel vulnerable and uncertain and start to doubt my abilities. I'm afraid to start because I fixate on the unknowns of the future, instead of being in the present So I've simply made a decision to actively and decisively put creative activities first - composing, playing an instrument, thinking, dreaming and walking. There isn't ever going to be a perfect, magical state of feeling 'ready to work'. There's just now.