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Writing words vs. writing music…

I’ve begun working on a book about arts entrepreneurship. And as I proceed with what’s called the “proposal” (essentially a highly boiled-down version of each chapter) I’m beginning to notice some fascinating similarities and contrasts between writing words and writing music. Here are some, in no particular order:

• I find the initial act – just getting words out of my head and onto the (digital) page – far easier with words. I’ll think about a musical motive or idea for days, weeks, or even months, before sitting down at the keyboard with my pencil and putting the actual notes on the page. With words, I can pretty much start right out of the box.

• But then things diverge. When I’m composing, the process of evaluating what I’ve written and revising it, polishing it, working it over until it’s just right, etc., comes quickly and relatively easy (provided I have the time to do it). In other words, the initial act of composing is very hard but the second step of polish is far easier. This is the exact opposite for me when writing words: I find that re- working, editing, re-shaping my sentences to be excruciatingly difficult and slow.

• The basic rhythm of my creative process is identical, however: I find I need dedicated blocks of time to focus only on The Thing, that it takes me a little time to transition into a creative space, and that I require frequent breaks with mundane tasks: work intensely for an hour and then go wash the dishes; work for another hour or two and then fold the laundry. It remains true that the house is never in as good a shape as it is when I’m allowed time to be home for extended stretches devoted only to writing/composing.

• When I compose, the thing that comes most naturally to me, that emerges with great clarity early on and usually remains virtually unchanged throughout the process, is a very sure sense of the large-scale form, the pacing, the “pillars” that hold up the whole structure. As I work on the book, though – currently I’m working on these chapter summaries and an overall outline, you’ll recall – I’m finding that this large-scale view is a complete mystery to me. I keep shuffling the order of chapters around, combining some and separating others, wrestling with how themes will be developed and at what pace and in what chapters. After thinking about the movements of the symphony for a couple weeks, the whole thing presented itself with great clarity and never changed over the course of composing the piece; I’ve been thinking about the chapters and large-scale content of the book for over a year, and the form still feels elusive.

On the whole, though, I’m finding work on the book to be every bit as exciting as working on a composition. My mind is filled with the project in the same way (the program is constantly running the background, as it were) and I look forward to working sessions with the same eager anticipation. Once there are more details to report I’ll be sharing them here!

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