When writing music, there are two main different stages that your mind goes through to write a song you're proud of. There’s the creative side, and the destructive side.
The creative side is all about making & creating things (whether they be words, notes, rhythms, paintings, or anything else). This is a force in you that makes things happen, and comes up with new ideas.
On the opposing side you have the editor, who is a destructive force. This is the guy inside that tells you “that part really sucks”. He’s also the guy who gives you a big thumbs up when you've done something right.
He gets rid of things that aren't very good, and chisels away at your songs until only the best parts are left. This guy makes executive decisions about what your songs should really sound like, and gets rid of the rest.
Each of these roles (the artist & editor) are both equally important. Without the artist/creator, you wouldn’t have any material to edit and refine. And without the editor, you would just have a big, unwieldy mass of unlistenable ideas.
Sounds like the perfect combo right? So what’s the problem then?
Well, us humans seem to get into this very bad habit of trying to edit while we create.
Have you ever felt self-conscious about your music? Ever felt afraid to write a song, or even to try writing one because you don't think it’s going to be very good?
Do you ever have resistance to working on music, even when there’s no good reason to feel that way?
Any time you feel fear about creating, that’s because Mr. Editor is coming in and trying to tell you whether it’s good or bad, before you've even had a chance to do anything. He stomps out your creativity, because you're trying to edit before you’ve even created anything.
Mixing these two roles up can be disastrous for your creativity.
Now it’s not so bad to mix them up the other way around though. If you’re editing a song, and you come up with some new ideas, it’s fairly easy to just implement them and your song will be all the better. But let the editor into your creation process, and you’re almost guaranteed to become paralyzed within your own ego.
Speaking of paralyzed - need help with your writer's block? Check out my article "getting unstuck when writing music". A good companion to that is knowing the difference between the commercial approach to music, and the artistic approach.
Let’s just get a few definitions clear here before we move forward.
Creativity means to create something original. If it’s not original, it’s not creative. If it’s not unique, you didn't create anything, you simply copied it.
But what if you take other elements from what other artists are doing, and mix it in with your own work?
Well that would be considered “synthesis”, which would be mixing a few ideas together to create something unique.
The end result is still unique, even if you had heavy inspiration when making it. So don’t be afraid to copy someone else, just make sure you add in enough of your own creative ideas or perspectives on their work so that it becomes your own.
As an “artist”, your goal is to draw from deep within, and put your private emotions on public display for all to see. Your goal is to draw as deep and honestly as you can from yourself, and see what comes out.
Getting in “the zone” is a really special way to do this.
What is the zone?
The zone is a focused place. It’s a place in your mind where writing music becomes amazingly important to you, and you aren’t distracted by anything. You’re able to work for hours on end without getting sick of the work, and working on your music is all you want to do.
Steve Pavlina (a self-development writer) describes this as a “creative flow state”, and I would highly recommend you read his article “7 rules for maximizing your creative output” in order to fully understand “the zone”.
He outlines 7 ways for you to achieve this creative flow state. They are:
He provides a lot of details on each of these subjects (which is required to get in “the zone”), so please do click through and read. I’ll be waiting here for you when you get back ;)
Getting into the zone for music isn't necessary all the time when writing music.
John Cleese also has a very wonderful speech on creativity that I would recommend checking out.
Some of the best stuff I've ever written came when I was just relaxing and noodling on the guitar or piano, enjoying myself. But if you combine that enjoyment, with a focused block of time that you’ve set aside to do music, there’s no limit to what you can write.
It takes a lot of self-discipline to stay focused, and to not allow yourself to say “oh that’s stupid, that isn’t even worth trying” or whatever other excuses you might come up with to avoid being creative.
Even writing this article, I can feel myself becoming distracted and thinking “this topic is too important. Who are YOU to write such an important thing? You’re not smart enough to do it. You need even more experience than you have.” I have to remind myself that I’m not allowed to edit my work right now, and that now is the time to be creative, not to hold back.
But what if I screw up?
Well, I’ll delegate the task of “fixing screw-ups” to my good old friend the editor. You see, even though he seems like my worst enemy when I’m trying to create something, he actually has my back.
When I’m afraid something won’t be good, I just say to myself “Let the editor fix it! He likes fixing those things anyways!”
It’s great to simply delegate the task of quality assurance to such a critical guy. He will pick out every little flaw and throw them out, leaving only a great piece of work!
I can remind myself that no one will even see my work until my editor friend has had a chance to get his hands on it with a fresh set of eyes. He will then be able to fix all of my mistakes for me so I end up looking really good!
It’s great to be able to trust such a reliable character! I recommend you let him worry about being perfect, so that you can just focus on creating things, even if they suck!
Did you know that to write the grammy-award-winning song “Wax Simulacra”, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez was attempting to write a song that was under 1 minute long?
He didn’t actually stick to that goal, but because he tried to write such a short song, it ended up being a hard-hitting, focused-yet-frantic masterpiece. That was because the limitation he put on himself helped to focus his efforts - this is a creativity exercise.
Omar is far from the first person to think up an idea like this. Roger Von Oech had thought of these ideas long before him, and others before him.
A wonderful book of his, about being more creative is “A Whack To The Side Of The Head”. It’s a must read for any creative person.
Roger gives dozens of suggestions on how you can be more creative by the way you think.
Just like with any medium, you can also apply his “sideways" thinking to music. Take a look at my own creativity exercises below for ideas on how to stretch yourself and coax your mind into providing you with stellar artistic ideas.
These ideas & requirements can cause focusing limitations that just might bring out some incredible new music from you.
I'm Andrew Muller, and I wrote near this whole flippin' website. As you can see in my picture, I'm an intense fellow.
If you had to find me somewhere, you would probably find me down at O'neils home cooking eating an organic sweet-potato bun breakfast sandwich with ham. Pretentious much?
I play drums, guitar, piano, and I write & perform music for my semi-electronic & vocals act My Goal Is Telepathy. Take a listen to the latest sound here.