I’m not feeling all that brilliant right now, so many of my in-flight creative projects have suddenly ground to an enforced halt. I get bored by that. It’s not a comfortable feeling for me. My head is full of frustration and of intricate plans for next steps on projects I don’t feel up to progressing, at this moment.
Rather than do absolutely nothing, I started reading Tunesmith, written by no less a song writing luminary than Jimmy Webb (famous for the immortal “Up, up and away in my beautiful balloon”, “Someone left the cake out in the rain” and “And I want you more than need you, and I need you for all time” – I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out the song titles)
If you’re interested in song writing, this is an indispensible book, full of wonderful, self-deprecating, practical advice, insights, humour, levity, wit and inspiration. For those stuck in a muse-free zone, this might be the kick start you need. For other artists, though, there was one part of the book that stood out for me.
Webb recounts the story of when he became a “proper” songwriter on Broadway. He was lead to a room, with a piano, that was to be his place of work. His new employer told him that this room was a room in which he could never make a mistake. Whoa! Sounds heavy, right? An employer telling him that everything he did had to be good? How oppressive. No, that turns out NOT to be what was meant.
Webb’s employer was telling him that this was a place of artistic sanctuary and safety. Here, he could experiment and ply his craft, without the fear of failure. With the fervent belief that he was within an imaginary charmed circle, he would be free to create, without needing to worry about the negative reactions of others. He could work undisturbed, with full focus and un-self-consciously. Because of the magic of the room, he also had the confidence and assurance of knowing that everything he finished in this room would be first rate, once it emerged. Nothing he did in there could fail.
I think about that a lot. Most people have creative spaces that are crammed into some corner of a busy household, with other people within earshot, the hustle and bustle of normal family life and frankly, the chaos that can sometimes ensue. What you need, though, is a place of solitary confinement, where you can work undisturbed and without interruptions, in peace and quiet. You don’t want a critical audience, even of your closest and most loving family members, while your nascent creation struggles to take its first breaths, or clumsily takes its first steps. You don’t want to feel like your every brush stroke, or every note, or every word you write is subject to scrutiny. You want the changes to be bad only in private, while you apply your artistic skills to make what you create absolutely perfect (or good enough), before it leaves your room.
So, try hard to make that time and space for your art. Ask family members to respect the need for some serious privacy. You don’t need to make it into a prison, but you do need to be able to create without any fear of failure, knowing full well that what you make in there can never, in the final analysis, be a mistake. You need a magical, charmed, protected, protective, creative space.
Everybody needs a room in which you can never make mistakes.