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(part 20 of 20)
The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh

The Elusive Creative Flow

It’s crucial for musicians to understand the thought process behind effective practice, so they can rapidly identify problematic passages and work effectively to master them. It’s also crucial for composers to understand the thought process behind creative productivity, so they can fully harness inspiration when it strikes, and make strikes richer and more reliable. This involves identifying both what slows you down in the composition process and what invigorates you. Unfortunately, though interestingly, the path can be quite elusive, varying significantly from person to person.

Listed below are key elements to help maximize creative productivity. These are not all universal, so experiment to find what works for you. For some people the polar opposite might be best.

  • Time of day that inspiration is most likely to strike:
    • For many people, the closer to sleep the better. Either right after waking up in the morning, or in the evening.
    • Composing immediately after a nap can also be quite productive.
    • You may not feel motivated to compose at these times, but push yourself to begin and you may quickly find yourself “in the zone.”
    • By midday creativity often wanes, ideas may flow much slower, and they may be less likely to excite.
    • Less creative times of day can be good for playing through scores, working on ear training, piano technique, or taking a nap.
  • Creative flow:
    • While writing the outline of a composition, when melodic and harmonic ideas are flowing, it’s easy to get distracted by details. Details are often easy to flesh out later, and inspiration won’t wait, so quickly write as much skeleton/general outline as possible, maximizing inspiration as it’s there.
  • Build up stamina for composition:
    • While composing, try to push yourself to continue as long as you are making good progress. At some point, be it in 2 hours, 4 hours, or 20 minutes, you will notice your mind tiring, ideas flowing less easily. This is a logical time to take a break, but before you do, push yourself to continue just a little bit longer. Concentrate all your mental power to regain some of that creative flow and push on for another 10 minutes or so. This is a great mental exercise not only for building up stamina to compose, but also for training your mind to identify the state of creative flow to more easily find it in the future.
    • Mental and physical health are intertwined and both play an immense role in productivity. Eat healthy foods, drink water, get plenty of sleep, and exercise daily. Seek out and spend time with people you can talk openly with, people who respect and care for you, people who you enjoy being around.
  • Find what works for you:
    • Be extremely attentive to your mental/emotional state when inspiration strikes. What led up to it? Were you tired, alert, angry, sad, excited, calm, stressed? Did your mentality or emotional state change as you went into this heightened creative state? The variables won’t always be the same, but search for patterns. Creative flow can be elusive, so keep an open mind and be persistent.
    • As you discover what plays a role in preparing you to enter a state of creative flow, you should, in time, be able to more easily return to that state. This can be similar to achieving a meditative state, or lucid dreaming.
    • When composing, or anytime you use creative energy to make something new, your inspiration reserves are drained. Recharge them. Go to an art gallery, read poetry, listen to music, take a walk, watch a movie, have a good in-depth conversation with a friend–whatever is likely to inspire and get you thinking from a new perspective. You need roughly equal parts input (things that inspire) and output (creative work).

Combine inspiration, creativity, technique, and discipline, and you will achieve great things.