Yesterday I wrote a nine hundred word essay. I was in a bit of a hurry, trying to fit things into an incredibly busy day, and I was stressed about how I was going to get my writing done in the midst of everything else I was attempting to accomplish. So I sat down and cranked it out, essentially going all out to produce something and hoping for the best in the process. I could post what I wrote, and it would be ok, but it really wasn’t up to my standards. For one thing I only had an implied thesis to guide me, which didn’t solidify into anything overtly tangible in the process. For another, I felt that what I had belted out was only loosely viable as a rough draft. The focus vacillated throughout the piece, and it would require some time and effort before it coalesced into something I’d be satisfied enough with to post to my blog site. While some of my writing is therapeutic, my main goal with each piece is pour some of my knowledge and experience into an essay that will either entertain or help fellow musicians, as well as other folks with creative bents. In order to do so the essay must have a point that is clearly made, be reasonably well supported through logic and examples, and also present itself in an organized manner. This requires a certain element of ensuring that I have the time available to do so, and that I have an organized approach to what I’m attempting to do. I have found that this holds true to most of the creative endeavors that I have been, and continue to be, involved in, whether it is writing creative non-fiction, fiction or poetry, practicing my instruments, or performing with them as well.
Personally I find that writing, and attempting to write well, helps in maintaining an orderly thought process in what could be a very disorderly mind. As I’ve mentioned in other essays I have ADD, which means that I have both the capacity to hyper-focus as well as be easily distractible. This increases when I become excited about something, particularly when ideas are flying around. My brain will latch onto a passing idea, follow that for a while, and then get distracted by another passing idea. This is one of the reasons why I started off my post college writing career writing poetry, because I was dealing with a smaller product. Today I find that most of my writing is primarily essay based and I follow a process to do it that permits me to focus and keep my thought process organized. I have a premise which becomes my thesis, and then I lay out my development through a logical framework until I reach my conclusion. For my shorter essays I do a mental outline after I’ve kicked out the idea, organize my thoughts in a logical sequence and then take a run at it. I can do this because I’ve been writing for years, and at this point the organization principles are ingrained to the point where they influence how I think.
The same principles can and should be applied to practicing my instruments. At this point in my career the value of my practice sessions isn’t based on how much time I’m sitting and playing, it’s based on what I get done in the amount of time I have. Focused practicing both in the short and long haul, produces far better results than long stints of unfocused practice. The latter actually tends to end up being more time spent playing than actually learning and improving. Each practice block should have a specific purpose and a plan to meet the goals of the practice session. If I need to address technique issues, then that is the focus, and while exercises are a great way to ingrain excellent technique I find that working a section of a piece I’m going to perform that requires the use of the targeted technique to be a much more practical and efficient use of the time. The technique will end up transferring to other situations where it needs to be employed, and I’m ending up a step closer to actually using it on a gig. This is an example of focused practicing that will move you closer to your goals, particularly when you are dealing with limited blocks of time.
Organization and time management are also highly valued by active performing artists. They’re keystones of professionalism both on the stage and off. When you have a contract to perform it sets the expectations and responsibilities that must be met. Typically this includes where and when you’re to perform, for how long, and what kind of performance is expected. This requires heavy duty organization and time management skills. This runs from knowing how long it will take to get to the venue, set up equipment and getting ready to perform, to how many pieces are required to fill the time requirement, and what pieces are appropriate for the intended audience. It even requires planning an organized departure. Often performances involve quite a bit of expensive gear; you do want to ensure that you leave with everything you brought, with it in the same shape that you brought it in. It is also important to plan things to minimize the amount of pre-performance stress that you encounter, which means including time for things going wrong. More often than not, things will go wrong when you haven’t allowed enough time for a gremlin to appear and be dealt with.
Over the years I have found that having an organized plan of attack for most of what I do in my life yields rewards, and through my writing practice I have helped myself establish a platform to reap those rewards in many areas of my life. It has helped me think in an organized and logical manner, streamline and improve my musical practice sessions, run rehearsals that minimalize wasted time, and ensure that I maintain certain aspects of professionalism in my performance duties. I have also found that my thought process is much clearer and more engaged on days where I’ve spent time actively writing than when I haven’t, because I apply similar principles to my other tasks. Yes, the ADD does still kick in, and sometimes my attention span has spasms, but for the most part I have found my method of dealing with it.