Facing The Blank Page – A Composer’s Anxiety

The blank page

The empty Word document. The blank Finale file. The sharpened pencil lying next to an untouched sheet of paper. These objects can bring grown men to tears. Grown writers, anyway.

Every composer of music must face an empty page to create something new, and this is much easier said than done. Sometimes it’s overwhelming to me even to look a single empty stave of music. Often doubt and fear will try to stop me from doing what I know I must, which is to keep writing, and persevere. The doubt is of my abilities, and the fear is of the end result, of creating something just… embarassing. Strong resolve is needed to begin a project and then put it away and begin again the next day.

Sometimes the toughest part of a new creative project is figuring out where to begin. The possibilities are limitless!

Here are some things I like to do when I can’t stand the empty page:

1. Say a prayer. I believe in a God that cares for us. I remember that He’s given me this opportunity and desire, so I shouldn’t be so afraid.

2. Free write. Commit yourself to write something, anything, no matter how painfully bad it looks. It will get better later once you’ve had a chance to revise and rewrite. I’m a visual person and this works wonders. Often even a poorly constructed idea will seem much more inspiring once it’s out in front of me where I can see it. Give it a try!

3. Set boundaries. Rollercoasters have safety harnesses and so should your work. Instead of thinking “I’ve got to write a whole symphony this month or I’m a failure!”, just say “I’m going to write until 8 bars are filled.” Or, “I’m going to come up with a melody/bassline/rhythm/harmonic progression/kazoo solo that I can use as a launching point.” Do you see what you just did? You’re still going to write the whole symphony, you just convinced yourself it wasn’t so difficult after all!

Don’t be so afraid. Go write something!

2 thoughts on “Facing The Blank Page – A Composer’s Anxiety”

  1. Totally know how you feel David, fear of the empty page! I was just checking out your stuff on the website, you’re very good at what you do and it’s inspiring to know that you struggle the same at the start of the creative process. Thanks for posting this!

    Sjoerd

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