Over the next two weeks I’ll be trying to finish up one of the longer pieces I’ve set out to write. As my pace begins to pick up for this final stretch I’m finding that the increased focus and time spent working is naturally leading to my becoming a little bored with the sections I’m concentrating on most intently. Fortunately, the piece is made up of several more or less self-contained sections and I’m able to switch to a less worked-over area when I need to change things up.
I’ve worked out of sequence many times in the past, but these occasions were mostly motivated by purely compositional desires—defining a later section to get a better idea of what an earlier section might be building to or foreshadowing. This is probably the first time I’ve been doing so primarily for my own comfort or well-being, but any initial knee-jerk pangs of guilt are quickly assuaged by the understanding that by keeping my relationship with the material as fresh as possible I’ll undoubtedly be making better compositional decisions, too.
To be sure, there have been times when I didn’t know how to proceed because I hadn’t spent enough time with the material, and where it was beneficial to keep pushing until some kind of minor breakthrough occurred. For me at least, every time I switch gears there’s a period where I’m spending very little time writing and lots of time taking walks, staring out the window, or lying face down on the couch thinking. So I can’t be making a habit of jumping around or the effect would probably be to delay the piece’s completion rather than hasten it!
Still, there really are times when just walking away (for a while, at least) can be one of the composer’s best options. Especially for composers and other creative artists, the notion that there are occasions in which we are only going to make things worse by acting can be distasteful to our famously fragile egos. But sometimes, after even a day away from a particularly difficult musical problem I return to it to find that my relationship with the material has advanced, almost as if by magic and through no conscious efforts of my own. Call this the subconscious or just the benefit of a fresh perspective, but it sure trumps the hours of unproductive grasping my conscious mind would have surely inflicted in its stead.