The magic ingredient of the method outlined in my previous post is boxes. If we create boxes of time, we can fill them with concentrated activity. If, on the other hand, we have a luxurious chunk of unstructured time ahead, we likely will fail to fill it with anything more elaborate than an occasional morsel of activity (or chocolate). To be sure, if one, for example, has the task of reducing a book manuscript by 15.000 words in two and a half days, without throwing out all the good stuff and creating a mess with the footnotes and cross-references in the text, the only thing one needs to do is to sit down and do it. The boxes will be five: one workday, one short night, another workday, another short night and a frantic print-out wrap-up, topped off by the ride to the post office to get the final manuscript out of the house. While I have been in such situations, they should not be called normal. Also the required energy level is nothing one should try to mobilize on a regular basis – it cannot be good for one’s health. In normal circumstances, we’re given choices for our activities – and so we choose.
The act of preparing a new piece of music offers too many choices. Most of them can be justified in some really good way. For example, if we hate working on some easy passages, we can claim that some really difficult stuff needs a lot of training first. Conversely, the inclination to jog through a piece without bothering about the difficult passages can be excused because one needs to get a grasp of the structure before one dives down into the details. One can keep practicing the exposition of a sonata, fooling oneself with the belief that the recapitulation is very similar. One can skip the minuets of a suite until the last minute because one might be able to sight-read them, unlike some other movements. All these evasive moves can be summarized in two words: sublime dawdling. (more…)