Composing Music: Kill The Editor

Do you have a hard time coming up with ideas? How about having one of those sessions where nothing seems to work and all that comes out is crap? Do you have problems finishing projects? Do you start new projects with tons of energy but lose interest fast? Does it take you forever to finish songs?

If this is you, it may be because of your own inner editor that's inside us all

You inner editor may be killing your creativity.

Useful, Mostly

We all have an editor inside us. It's a very useful skill in most situations. It's the little person inside you that tells you when something might not be appropriate and stops you from making a fool of yourself. Most of the time the editor is quite useful if not essential to our wellbeing. For a lot of artists however, their inner editor is they're greatest enemy.

In art, it's imperative that we have this editor. Your inner self will question what you've done. It'll ask questions and cause doubt. It'll criticize and evaluate. These are all useful a point. The problem arises when you allow the editor in too early in the process. There is also the problem when you give the editor too much power and authority. The editor isn't playful and takes things way too serious. When you're trying to be creative, this isn't helpful.

The Exception?

Some people don't seem to have any editor at all. These are the people you meet who may be slightly delusional and no matter what people say, can't seem to see any fault in what they do or say. These are the people who can't take any criticism. When they do get some, they look at it as a personal attack and don't take any of it to heart. These are the people you see on 'American Idol' who are astonished and amazed when they are told that they don't have any talent; yet it seems completely obvious to everybody else.

The Norm?

For many artists though, their inner critic is all powerful. Their inner editor is such a tyrant that nothing they do is enough. No matter how good they may feel about your creations, the inner editor will get in there and tell them that it's terrible. It may not matter how many people tell them it's great, they still hold true to the editor's word. Some artists and writers go through their whole lives tweaking and editing their work until its 'perfect'; i.e.until their editor 'tells' them that it's good. The editor filters and distorts your reality. Sometimes it has great insight. It tells you what is good, what's not and it's spot on. Then there are times that the editor is completely wrong. There are times when the editor has no objectivity and only sees the faults. Unfortunately, since it's our own internal editor, there's no way for us to tell the difference...not at that moment anyway.

Cut It Off At The Pass

The best way to combat the over zealous editor is to completely shut it off...for a while. Shut it off when you want to get your creative work done Don't worry, it'll always come back. There are many ways to do this. One of the best is to simply set a timer and get working. Set the timer for half an hour or something short enough that it's not overwhelming. Then just get to work. Don't let the editor in. You'll know when it tries to get back in. It's that voice inside you telling you that what you're doing is terrible. It may be telling you that it's useless, this is bad, this isn't as good as what you did yesterday, it's too happy (sad, dark, light, whatever), etc. You get the idea. It's pretty much any negative thought. You also have to make sure that you stick to the time you set.. Procrastination can result as a symptom of fear and escape from the editor's harsh negativity. Sometimes that little bugger gets in there before you even start. It's then that it's the most dangerous.

Listen Carefully

Another way to ward off this creativity killer is actually pay attention to it. You know that you want to get the work done but there's something stopping you. Pay attention to what thoughts creep up that stop you from getting started or finishing. What's your internal dialogue? What's that editor telling you. You really have to pay attention to what's going on because the editor can be subtle. It may be giving you excuses like: you're being unrealistic (your work isn't that good), there are lots of people out there who are much better at this than you (so why bother), or your art isn't that important (you should be doing something more vacuuming). These are subversive little things that go on in our inner dialogue killing our creativity and our ability to get the work done.

Take 5

The best way I have of fending off the editor is to take a break. Sometimes in the middle of a piece of work, I would hear my inner editor chirping away telling me how bad this piece was turning out. At that point I would take a break and leave it for a while. If you have one of those long sessions it's a good idea to take breaks. This gives your mind a break; not just a break in doing work but a break in thinking patterns. You'll find that something happens when you take a break and focus on something else for a while (or focusing on nothing at all is just as good). This breaks the patterns in your brain. It's that same as when you do any activity for an extended period of time. Your mind gets into a repetitive state. This is normally good. This is the time when we get ' into the zone' and things just flow. The problem arises when we get into repetitive patterns and we lose objectivity. Our ears and mind also get 'tired'. It's harder to tell when our ears get tired because there aren't usually any obvious tell tale signs. If I've been working on the same area for a long time, I know that I'm no longer being objective and I'll just drop it for the time being. I usually take a couple of short breaks during a session and then make sure I have one long break before making any final decisions. The best break for final decisions is overnight. I'm always amazed at how different the piece sounds the morning after a long session. The problem areas usually jump right out at me. The first listen is usually the best. Take notes.

Sabotage Part 2

Unfortunately, most people remember their failures much easier than they remember their successes. By remembering our failures, we hope that this may prevent us from doing the same in the future. Learning from your mistakes is one thing, but focusing on our weaknesses and failures isn't a great mindset. It sets you up to be defensive and no take chances. I've had students who didn't want to improvise because they didn't want to look bad. They knew that it probably wasn't going to turn out well so that stopped them from trying in the first place. This is part of the editor within us. It will stop us before we even start. It tells you how bad you're going to be before you even start or finish. It's the editor inside us telling us how we messed up. It's the faults and mistakes we hold close. This gives more power to the editor who uses this in it's favor. 'If you had just listened to me (the editor) in the first place...' it tells us.

Important Stuff

You have to make your creative work important; as important as showing up for your 'regular' job or an important appointment. It is an 'important appointment'. If your inner editor is getting in your way, you have to work at getting it out of the way just like you work at your craft. Working on this shouldn't be a full time job though. Work at getting it out of the way and then get to work. Make notes on why you didn't get something done or why you abandoned it before it was done. Listen to your inner dialogue and see if you can find the reasons why your aren't being as creative as you can be. Being creative is like any other discipline, it gets better with practice.

To be creative, you have to be willing to take chances. You have to be willing to fall flat on your face and get up again. You have to try new things even though you may not be sure if it's a good idea or not. Keep in mind I'm talking about creative risks here, these aren't life threatening decisions. At worst you'll feel bad, at best you may create a masterpiece. Trying new ideas, searching for that next great idea is never straightforward. The most important part is keeping the editor in it's place and only allowing it to come in when you ask. It's always a journey. There are going to be wrong turns. Don't stop at the turn before you even get a chance to see what's around the corner.

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