“You Do It!”
Years ago I got stuck when writing my wind ensemble work Winds of Nagual. I hammered at it for three days and finally jumped up from the drawing board, threw down my pencil and growled, “You do it!” and I stormed out of my studio.
The next day I returned and looked at it. The page in front of me showed movements 8 and 9. That puzzled me, so on a new page I wrote only the eighth movement, which came easily. I had been trying to combine two movements into one, cluttering it up and creating a structural roadblock.
I later recalled my outcry and wondered who I was talking to. After all, my creative problem seemed to have solved itself. What I gradually realized was that in my exasperation I was calling on my unconscious mind to solve the problem—the part I call the Demon. Since then I have included the Demon as a systematic part of not only my composing, but my whole decision-making process.
I just concentrate on an important question and walk away, leaving room for my unconscious to step in. Focusing on any subject — be it a piece of music, an important letter, or a particular thought or feeling — seems to activate the unconscious. But stress and gridlock in the brain can shut down the unconscious, and it only kicks back into gear when you relax or “give in.” The unconscious seems to get distressed that you are losing something valuable and feels compelled to take over.
I remember the old pro-con technique of problem-solving: make two lists that run down the advantages and disadvantages of a particular decision. But that never worked well for me. Good results usually need to bypass logic and delve into emotional elements that may be seeded deeper than we realize, especially in creative work.
My life is easier now that I don’t worry about writer’s block. But if a block occurs, I check whether I have poured enough information and ideas into the project for the Demon to work on. That usually works, because we have more and smarter resources than we know.