You may have seen my tweets a few weeks ago saying that I was going through a writer’s block / creative block. I have received a lot of support and thank you for that.
During that time and early in my ‘block’ state, I decided to write down exactly what I was feeling so to understand why this was happening and possibly find a solution. Following is an article describing my initial feelings, when I felt this way before and why I used the certain path to overcome the creative block I was in.
This feeling wasn’t a new one. And not just in the writing sense, but my body has experienced that feeling many times and will carry on doing so. Because for me, when it came to writing this new piece there was something else new and different about me that I didn’t know immediately.
What does writing music and feeling (notice how I said “feeling” and not “having”) blocked creatively have to do with parkour??? Well…!
Disclaimer 1: I am not trained or qualified to coach or offer any advice to anyone regarding parkour or understanding themselves. This is only my journey.
Disclaimer 2: If this isn’t your experience doing parkour that is okay. This is mine.
Imagine you want to jump from position A to position B. The distance is 2 metres and the drop is 1 metre from the ground. A lovely, safe jump, no obstacles, small distance and low. You have done this 1000s of times before, it has become your warm up jump.
But! For some reason, while you’re standing on the edge ready to jump, you feel something holding you back. Your palms start getting sweaty, and your body doesn’t move, your knees don’t bend and your arms don’t sway… what’s happening! It is the same jump you’ve done so many times before, you have progressed to bigger challenges, why has your body frozen in the sight of a small jump like this one?
Maybe you haven’t warmed up enough, so you do. You practise jumping smaller distances and work your way up to that. But every time you come face-to-face to the initi jump you freeze. You carry on drilling smaller jumps, practising balancing or climbing, observe someone else in your parkour team, help someone else, drink some water and every now and then check the first jump but you still freeze. What. Is. Happening! You have done all the right things. Except from identifying what exactly is holding you back.
Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash
This is what I felt when I sat down to compose the piece for choir, horn and trumpet in September 2022. Just to clarify, this piece wasn’t commissioned and there is no guarantee of it being chosen to be performed, not by the company I sent it to and not by any other company ever! After about 6 months of not writing new music, merely polishing pieces for a concert I organised in June 2022, and spending the rest of my time applying to calls, I wanted to take a break from that and focus on composing (since that is the reason I apply to calls in the first place). This was a good opportunity to put me back into composing and be ready for the bigger things (that may come) later in the year because there was a deadline and it kept me motivated to start and finish it and there was no pressure to actually do it.
Just as in parkour, when you’re doing a jump you’ve done so many times, there are still variables that change and might affect your mood, and psychological state you’re in that day, and as a consequence affect your performance – doing the jump or not. Those variables may be the rain that changes that affects your grip, the feel of different surfaces – are you jumping on a rail, wood, brick – maybe you skipped half the warm up, ate too much, had an argument with your friend, are distracted about xyz, tired, haven’t trained in a while, are you pregnant or just gave birth, the list is endless. All these variables, from physical changes, the ones that you can see and touch and easily identify the differences from the previous time you did the similar jump to “metaphysical” which I mean the mental differences. These are the ones no one can see with their eyes, touch with their hands and are often overlooked because of that. But they still affect our performance and maybe even more so. Maybe we are tired, had a long week and the sight of something so simple overwhelms us.
This is one of the things I learnt from my (little) training in parkour with @espritconcrete. To check and acknowledge all possibilities (I learnt more stuff from these guys, especially from Dr. Kasturi Torchia and Gogoly Yao and I hope I do them justice writing this article). When I felt this block, stopping-and-holding-me-back feeling, I knew it was coming from a place I couldn’t see.
Photo by Jakob Owens on Unsplash
Back to composing, during the first 5 days or so, I took upon this challenge, I couldn’t write anything of worth because of this blocking feeling. I felt I knew nothing in terms of music, composing, what a trumpet, horn or choir sound like. But this isn’t true. This is something I wrote that features a trumpet, this features a horn and this a choir. I know I can write better but I know I can write. If there was something that this process revealed was that I wrote very little music for these 3 forces so I immediately wrote it down in my Ideas Diary.
But, time was ticking, my daily writing time is limited as my mum-responsibilities take up 90% of my day. Preparation is key, I believe. And there are 2 types of preparation I should do to start composing freely again and be happy with what I write. There is the physical preparation and the metaphysical (or mental) preparation. The mental preparation was to understand where this blocking comes from. The physical was to do small tasks daily that are, what I think, logical steps to overcome any block. Actually, not even overcoming any block but developing like a composition warm up. The research, habits, rituals and actions a composer has in place that helps them write their music. A composition warmup if you like.
Just as when you are exercising, you will start with a warm up and if you have an injury you will tailor your warmup around that injury and be extra careful, kind and patient with yourself when warming up that area. Likewise with my creative block, I felt I needed to tailor my creative warmups around my creative injury. But what exactly was my “creative injury” and where was it coming from? The answer to this question comes in the next article. The journey of identifying my mental state and how it affected my musical creativity.
Some of the physical actions I took, that you may also read in many “overcoming writer’s block” how-tos were
- Find contemporary pieces written for solo choir, trumpet and horn
- Examine scores
- Read about contemporary techniques for french horn and trumpet
- Watch videos of the company I was writing for, what they play. Asa bonus for me, they had composition tips for brass instruments, and choir
- Play on the piano – as I don’t play any of the other instruments
- Bought 3 books about music (1 was long overdue – even though all information is available online I have to search different sites to find which is time consuming)
- Look through my Ideas Diary for notes about themes I thought of and wanted to write about, checked old, unpublished and unfinished work
- Forgot about it and enjoyed my time when I was not working (aka being a mum and doing mum stuff)
Photo by Christopher Martyn on Unsplash
This didn’t work. Well, it probably did but I can guarantee you that it wouldn’t have worked as well as when I understood where this block was coming from, why now, why it was happening, to find the solution I needed. I don’t know if it was the right thing to do, the right way to do it. It worked this time and I feel good after it.
Don’t miss my next article where I go through my process of mild soul searching to discover why my music creativity was blocked.
Copyright © Rania Chrysostomou, Kent 2022
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