We’ve all been in this kind of situation before…
Deadline is approaching quickly, inspiration and motivation are lacking,
but procrastination is in full effect. No matter what field you work in
the “wall” will rear it’s ugly head and it is essential
as working professionals that we obtain the knowledge to climb over it
so we can become productive once again and finish our project(s) before
the deadline. Being a “victim” of procrastination in the past,
I’ve spent many hours researching, thinking on my own, and talking
to other professionals about how to deal with the topic and… perhaps
more importantly… how to overcome it so we can Do the Work.
*While this topic is quite broad and applies to many different professions,
the following strategies and tips for overcoming procrastination will
be presented in a way that will be most beneficial to Composers for Media.
I. Work on Another Cue
Whether it’s boredom from working on the same piece of music for
hours straight or a lack of inspiration, I can guarantee some musical
cues will take longer to finish than others. When I’m stuck and
dumbfounded on what to do next (Should I have the Clarinet play the melody
here? Maybe I should change keys there? Etc.) I’ll save/close the
session and begin to work on a new one.
I’ve found that many of us reuse motifs when scoring for a whole
project and working on another piece of music (perhaps similar or very
different from the other cue) can help give you ideas on how to resolve
your issues with the “plagued” cue you left earlier. Maybe
playing the same melody in a different time signature will spark an idea
or perhaps even re-harmonizing that melody. Either way, I’ve found
it’s beneficial (especially when the deadline is tight) to keep
being productive, but focus your attention on a new cue if stuck on your
current one. Often, this has inspired me to finish the “plagued”
cue when I’ve come back to it with “fresh ears.”
II. Do Another Activity
This is the most commonly recommended tip from other composers I know.
There are as many different ways to “relax” and take time
away from working on the “plagued” cue as there are stars
in the sky. So, I’ll just list a few of the activities that have
seemed to work for other composers, but will go into detail on one of
my activities and why it worked.
- Take a Nap, Take a Walk, go play a Game or watch a Movie, Exercise,
Coffee break, etc.
- One of the activities I’ve yet to mention, but has been very
effective for me is… Taking a Shower. Some of my most creative
and inspirational moments have come from taking a shower, but it wasn’t
until a few years ago that I found an article describing and supporting
this “phenomenon.” (Link) I’m paraphrasing, but the
summary of the article went a little like this… “Showers
are “inherently” relaxing and by preoccupying your body
with familiar scrubbing/washing movements (some could say that are etched
into muscle memory) it allows your mind the freedom to relax and follow
certain thinking paths that may not have been available when you were
stressfully working earlier.”
So, if I’m ever in a dire situation where I’ve absolutely
run out of ideas (or even need to refocus) I’ll hop in the shower.
If I wasn’t able to think of anything that would solve my musical
dilemma while taking a shower, I’ll at least feel refreshed and
energized so that I’ll be better prepared to confront/resolve the
III. Step Back and Organize Your Thoughts
This is especially important if you’re writing many different
cues that have to relate to each other, scoring a huge project, or are
just writing a very long piece of music. In these situations (especially
if you’ve already been writing recently) it’s not uncommon
to just “run out of ideas.” So, what some of my colleagues
and I have found to be helpful, is to stop actually writing music and
take the time to figure out the “big picture.” Ask yourself
many different questions (A few examples below) and write down the answers
on paper so that you have a “guideline” to follow.
Where/How will this start? Where will the Climax be? Will there be a
Modulation, if so… where? (perhaps even as detailed as) How many
bars will this section last?
If this isn’t enough, go one step further and visually
represent the form of the entire song. Here is an example:
I highly recommend working in either of the previous ideas
to your music creating process, even if you’re not stuck and procrastination
is running rampant. This is because executing either of the suggestions
(or perhaps both if you so choose) will help you focus your ideas and
position yourself so that you are in the best spot possible to accurately
express and compose what is needed.
IV. Baby Steps
It’s also very common (especially when working on larger projects)
to become overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be completed.
So much so, that you can procrastinate so much that it actually ends up
putting more pressure on you than before.
So, one of the most effective ways of combating this is by separating
everything down into tiny little chunks/goals that are easy to achieve
(especially when compared to the overall goal of “finishing the
To demonstrate what I mean further, if writing a whole cue is too overwhelming
then break it down by sections. If each section is still overwhelming,
break it down by chords. If chords are still overwhelming, then have one
of your goals be “I’ll figure out the first few notes of this
particular chord or melody.” It’s all up to (and perhaps more
importantly) controlled by you.
The overall goal of this method is to simplify your tasks and take away
the stress gained from being overwhelmed by a large amount of work, so
that the composition process can be allowed to flow more smoothly and
thus… be more productive. Before you know it, all those tiny goals
you set for yourself and accomplished will eventually result in a finished
Perhaps it’s just me, but when I get on a writing spree I tend
to neglect a “regular/normal” eating schedule. It’s
easy to think that you’re a machine and can run off of inspiration
alone, but the lack of actual energy will eventually begin to deteriorate
your motivation and productivity. Having a great wholesome meal can help
resolve this issue.
Now, I don’t mean go over to a fast food restaurant and pick up
something there really quickly or even ordering a pizza (unless your deadline
is very tight). I’m recommending that you set aside time to either
go to a nice restaurant (perhaps your favorite place… I always justify
it by saying “If I reach this goal I’ll go to this nice place
to eat”) or taking the time to cook up one your favorite dishes.
The extra time away from your writing desk will allow your brain to relax
or at least occupy itself with something other than work. The great food
will help re-energize you so that finishing that “plagued”
cue is no longer an issue.
VI. Just Finish It
Last but certainly not least, sometimes it’s best to just finish
the work. Even if you’re unhappy with where it’s going or
completely lacking original ideas, the burden of “I Need to finish
this now!” is lifted off of your shoulders. This in no way infers
that you have to keep the music as it is in this state, as you can always
come back/change it later, but by finishing whatever is troubling you
the options to relax, move on, etc. are now open.
Plus, you may gain some additional inspiration and most definitely a
confidence boost by pushing through and finishing something that you otherwise
thought was “impossible.” Furthermore, if the person paying
you wants to hear a finished demo of whatever you’re composing,
pushing through and “Just Finishing It” will give you that
cue to send over. Who knows, perhaps this producer/director/audio lead
will love the section that was giving you trouble earlier.
This concludes “Do the Work” but I hope
you find these 6 procrastination pummeling strategies and tips as useful
as I did (and still do!) when that ominous “wall” appears
in the distance. Best of luck and keep composing fellow artists!