Saturday, February 19, 2011

Making quick decisions

I reached my goal of writing 14 new songs for the 2011 February Album Writing Month challenge, and I was able to stay on the schedule of writing a new song every day for 14 days in a row.

After boldly claiming that writing 14 song would be easy, it was a bigger effort than I planned on. Even the simplest of songs took me a few hours to write, and finding a few extra hours a day, even for something as fun as songwriting, is no easy thing.

Pressing that "non-negotiable" daily goal against my tight schedule forced me to find ways to simplify things and to make decisions quickly and to keep going, when normally I would have been overcome by the accumulation of complexity and uncertainty. Without a deadline, I certainly would have put many of those songs aside in the middle of writing them, planning to pick them up another day when — hopefully — I'd have a fresh perspective that would help me see how to proceed.

But this month, setting things aside was not an option, and when pressed I found I could make some of those difficult decisions, I could dodge the messiest tangles, and I could get a song done by the end of the evening. Can't think of a bridge? Hey, you know what, this song is fine without a bridge!

Of course, the whole point of FAWM is to provide a arbitrary deadline so that songwriters can learn to push past obstacles like these and get their songs done.

I think my songs turned out just as good, maybe better, than if I'd given myself all the time I thought I needed. But, more important, the songs got finished — and, in reality, if I'd set all those songs aside to "finish later," less than half of them would ever have gotten finished.

Being decisive means making compromises, settling for things that you know aren't quite as good as they could be. But those compromises are less severe than they seem at the time. I can always return to the songs later and fix any problems that bug me, any weak rhymes or overly repetitive chord patterns. It's much easier to tinker with a finished song and polish up the details than it is to take a half-finished song and get it finished.

Being decisive — being willing to make decisions quickly even when you're not sure — is one of the key strengths that you need as a creative artist in any field. Creating anything brand new requires diving into the pool of infinite possibilities. But the only way to get yourself back out of that pool with a new creative work is to make some decisions — many, many decisions. Most people won't even dip their toes in; they find it too unsettling and bewildering to have that many options open. It challenges their confidence in the solidity of reality. That's why we need to have artists. Artists are specialists in making decisions.

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