Though letting go of perfection is a huge part of the decision process (at least for me), I’ve found some other mind tricks that help me decide the details of a piece.
- Consider the scope – One single note doesn’t probably affect an entire composition, but a whole section might. Don’t fret too much over the smaller things until the bigger ideas are aligned and placed. When I look at a famous piece of music, say something by Mozart, I like to imagine it as a series of thousands, maybe millions of decisions. Some decisions are microscopic, “a C# here” or “accents here.” Others are medium-sized, “strings will play the melody” or “rhythms will be suddenly active.” And some are much larger in importance, “a key change here,” or “a new theme here.”
- “Don’t create and analyze at the same time” – This piece of advice comes from Sister Corita Kent’s 10 Rules for Students, Teachers, and Life, though it is often attributed to John Cage. Both creativity and analysis are necessary for art, but trying to do them simultaneously gets in the way. Go back and forth between creating a section or passage then analyzing it to determine any revisions or how it fits in the bigger picture.
- Assume you are doing the right thing – As a perfectionist, this one is particularly important for me. If I don’t assume that I’m doing the right thing, I start to feel like I’m only doing the wrong thing. Not helpful at all! Trust that you are making the right decision. If you have some reason later to change it, simply change it. I remember watching a video of a Pixar artist who described this mindset as, “Go up the hill until you have a reason to come down.” Art is 20% creation and 80% revision! Many times our final artistic decisions are determined by the information we learn along the way after our early decisions.
- Embrace the creative process – The creative process is messy. It takes a lot of time and a lot of frustration to create something worth the while. Embrace the unique conundrum that is your own creative process. Accept it. As long as it works for you, it works! Use your own methods of creation that best fit you, but do give yourself opportunities to experiment with your creative process every now and then. Take what you learn to enhance your own process.
- Again, let go of being perfect – Remember, it's impossible to be perfect, but it is very possible to be very good! Instead of doing the right, “perfect” thing, I try to focus on approximating what I really want. Every time I go back to composing, I keep approximating, always getting a littler closer each time to my musical goals, intentions, vision, etc.
Happy creating in 2020!!