Let It Stew

Having to write so many words these days brings to the forefront my chronic editing habit! The tendency to be constantly shifting and changing both words and music—that is, music in either .doc or .wav format—is strong. Although I have learned to eventually let things go and move on to the next task at hand, I will shove around bits and pieces of the project of the moment ad infinitum until I cannot stand it anymore. Needless to say, at that point I have pretty much lost all powers of discrimination regarding the work.

This is when it gets put away and left to simmer on its own for a while. Often upon revisiting the work, I can clearly see flaws that I did not catch earlier, or that I couldn’t totally wrap my brain around, and I usually have an intuitive sense of how to implement fixes. For these Chatter posts, leaving them overnight works well—a decent hunk of sleep does wonders for perspective! With substantial pieces of music, I find that leaving them between ten days to two weeks is extremely helpful—they have been stewing in the background, but they are not yet so far away in my mind that I can’t remember what I was thinking. Suddenly the big picture becomes clear, and I can see whatever changes need to happen to make that composition all that it can be. This process has become crucial for me—on several occasions I have been gobsmacked by late-arriving inspirations that have rather drastically changed the form or some other aspect of a composition, definitely for the better. The ideas seem so obvious—when they finally show up!

The trick is, since some of you are all about the time-management, working this holding period into a timeline! Obviously it is not always possible to make this happen, and perhaps it should be included as another phase of The Five Stages of Composition.

Now if only I could apply this method to other realms of life, like writing difficult emails and clothes shopping!!

2 thoughts on “Let It Stew

  1. jhelliott

    editing/stewing
    I too am prone to endless tinkering and if it were not for deadlines I would never finish a piece. But what I find particularly difficult is revisiting old pieces; some of my manuscript scores deserve to be “Finale-ized,” and in the process of so doing it is very difficult to fight the urge to make changes. So I have a rule: a change is only allowed for clarification. Substantive or material changes are strictly forbidden. But it is a tough rule to follow. Yet if I don’t, then old pieces are no longer old, and no longer reflect the composer I was when I wrote them.

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  2. arssubtilior

    I’m of the opposite camp, that nothing of mine is ever safe from further tinkering, including things written 20 years ago in styles utterly disconnected from what I’m writing today. I figure as long as it isn’t a change that actually alters the character of the piece, I’m only bringing more recent knowledge/experience/insight into the fabric of the work, and hence only improving it. Some poor doctoral student in the future is going to have a hell of a time producing urtext versions of my oevure…

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