creative projects

What I Learned From My 2nd 100 Day Project

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If you follow me on Instagram or my Facebook page, you couldn’t miss my 2nd 100 Day Project while it was happening, but I didn’t write about it on the blog as much as the first one. Although I finished it right at the end of 2017, I haven’t taken the time to reflect on it until now. My observations about the 1st 100 Day Project are here

Both projects had the same parameters: write 8 measures of music each day, of any kind, for any instrument. Some ended up continuing from day to day, some were picked back up later, and some never went anywhere (but were still equally important to do!) My favorite pieces that I finished during the 2nd 100 Days were: an as-of-yet untitled maxixe/samba; Centimonk, a 100th birthday tribute to Thelonious Monk; an autumn-inspired waltz, a funky ostinato about a crime-fighting manatee; a Bartok-esque piece for solo violin; and another piece about Rusty the Cat (his superhero identity).

HOW THE 2ND PROJECT WAS DIFFERENT FROM THE 1ST

  • 21 days of the 2nd project were spent doing a different piece every day, so that I could test out some composition prompts that I wrote (along with a small group). Many of these didn’t develop into anything more, but the manatee one and one designed to accompany this piece of art definitely will!
  • I stretched my comfort zone a bit with these prompts, by trying out some different styles, and also, by writing a piece for solo violin toward the end of the year.
  • Toward the end of the challenge, I started to get tired of having to post something every day, and I felt a little boxed in my 8-measure requirement (even though there was nothing stopping me from writing more.)

SIMILARITIES BETWEEN THE 2 PROJECTS

  • Every day is not going to be profound (as in music, as in life), but accepting this fact makes it so much easier to show up and do the work every day
  • It was still hard to think about form (something I want to try focusing on more), especially without feeling like I was boxed in by groups of 8 measures.
  • I ended up with tons of ideas, and many finished pieces - lots of material to work with.
  • Editing pieces and finishing them is the hardest part of the process for me, probably because the perfectionist part of my brain wants a flawless finished project. I thought that easing the requirement of having to generate something every day would help with this, but I still need to create some structure around it, both through scheduled work time and having a list of pieces that I definitely want to finish, then dedicating my writing time to those.

OTHER INTERESTING OBSERVATIONS

  • Even though finishing pieces is still the hardest part for me, I am now really comfortable with generating ideas and starting things, from doing it so many times over the course of these projects. Oddly, I don’t worry about running out of ideas (which definitely surprised me) - I proved that I could show up on 200+ days last year and come up with something. Running out of good ideas, on the other hand, might be another story, but I’ve developed a lot of trust in the process.
  • Even though I did need a little break by the end of the project, my daily habit has lapsed since then. Although for good reason - I have other projects I’m trying to launch, on top of my normal teaching and rehearsal schedule, I don’t like that. I want to have a mostly-daily habit (I am always pro-days off when needed) without the hassle of posting something every day. But, committing to a daily habit is part of the motivation for me, and public accountability certainly helped, too. I’m still figuring out how to re-structure my practice habit this year, and writing should be easy to roll in with that.
  • Looking back now, choosing to do the first 100 Day Project was an amazing decision because it has totally shaped the direction of my work and my decision to focus on composition and sharing composition resources with other musicians, which has been SO FUN! 

You can also listen to all of the pieces from my 1st 100 Day Project here, and many from the 2nd project here - other projects like launching my 5-day composition prompt course (which you can sign up for below), and my sheet music store (coming soon!) have eclipsed it lately, but I will finish soon!

Have you ever embarked on a daily creative project or challenge (of any length)? If so, I want to hear about it - the good stuff, the bad stuff, anything!

 

Currently: December 2017

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I’m currently out of town in Raleigh, NC for a concert with my friend James Newcomb on cornet, so it’s time for another Currently post!

  • Feeling a mix of disbelief and relief that this year is over (I always love a fresh start, new year or not).

  • Getting excited about having only 3 teaching days left before winter break.

  • Thinking about the projects I want to finish before the end of the year - launching my sheet music store and a free 5-day course with bite-size composition prompts for busy musicians.

  • Trying to finish up the Braid Branding E-Course so that I can revamp my website and business cards a bit.

  • Refusing to get swept up in holiday madness - I have a few more gifts to buy and wrap, but nothing else is obligatory.

  • Soaking up the energy of my friend’s adorable and goofy 3-year-old son (who would play with me nonstop if it were possible).

  • Bringing winter with me wherever I go (apparently) - it’s supposed to snow here in Raleigh today.

  • (Wishing I had brought a winter coat.)

  • Drinking massive quantities of tea (what else is new!)

  • Loving having my drawing habit as a way to unwind, and proud that I finished a drawing and sent it to print (look for those in my sheet music store, launching soon!)

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  • Listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast - I forgot that I hadn’t finished all of the episodes! It’s great flight listening.

  • Feeling triumphant to be finishing Brass Week - on Monday I accompanied my friend Lauren Husting on a concert of low brass works by women composers, on Friday James Newcomb and I presented a concert/workshop at an area high school, and tonight we will perform a program of music by Jewish composers at a synagogue in Cary, NC, all great collaboration experiences.

  • Enjoying a break from the normal routine while I’m out of town, but also…

  • Looking forward to being home with Tom and Rusty (this damp rainy weather is really making me feel the lack of a cat on my lap!)

  • Reading Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor and about to start Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown, probably on my flights home tomorrow.

  • Still pondering my plans for 2018 as it gets even closer - look for a 2017 recap and 2018 goals post at the beginning of January.

  • Celebrating the awesomeness of others, and telling them about it (seriously, do this, it’s great).

  • Reminding myself to rest. Whatever holidays you’re celebrating (or not celebrating), don’t forget that you’re allowed to take time for yourself, as much as you need.

Tell me what you’re celebrating right now, big or small - write it in the comments below!

Currently: November 2017

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I always like to take time during holiday breaks to slow down and reflect on what’s been going on lately. Here’s what I’m up to this week:

  • Relaxing for a few days with very little on the agenda beyond eating and having a game night with friends.

  • Enjoying two lovely Thanksgiving meals with family.

  • Feeling grateful for so many things.

  • Still walking daily. I’ve gotten so attached to my daily walk for its effect on my mental health and meditative power to affect my mindset that I’m committed to bundling up even when windchills here in Minnesota are reaching single digits (😬)

  • Drawing a lot with my new markers😍

  • Releasing expectations on my time (for once!)

  • Listening to: NPR Music Turns 10 yearly recap episodes of All Songs Considered, Chris Thile + Brad Mehldau (I LOVE their cover of Elliott Smith's Independence Day), Tulio Araujo, Eunbi Kim playing music of Fred Hersch, St. Vincent (Strange Mercy is still my favorite), Maria Rita, and Sharon Jones’ new posthumously released album (RIP!)

  • Pondering the question "What Makes A Great Album Last?" (also inspired by NPR Music). I love how Robin Hilton expresses it in this episode: “I think for a record to truly stand the test of time, it's got to find a way to weave itself into your DNA.” Those albums that I had strong emotions about, related to formative times in my life, are definitely imprinted, especially albums either from the late 90s/early 00s or that I discovered then: Ben Folds Five's Whatever and Ever Amen, Elliott Smith's XO and Figure 8, Radiohead's OK Computer, Joni Mitchell's Blue and Court and Spark, and basically all of Stevie Wonder's albums from the 70s, especially Innervisions. (This topic could be a whole post!)

  • Reading: Grit by Angela Duckworth, and just finished The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

  • Catching up on The Good Place Season 2.

  • Roasting all of the vegetables (squash, brussels sprouts, and cauliflower!)

  • Rehearsing for this concert of pieces for trombone by women composers with my friend Lauren Husting.

  • Experimenting with breathwork

  • Pondering my plans for 2018 - I'm 90% sure that my word for the year is going to be CONNECT.

  • Looking forward to getting out of town to someplace slightly warmer in a couple weeks - I’m going to North Carolina for a concert with James Newcomb.

  • Getting ready to finish up my set of composition prompts next week and brainstorming about what form they’ll evolve into next. To stay informed about this resource when I finish it, sign up below!

I’m wishing everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving (unless you’re not in the U.S., then happy Thursday!) - if you’re reading this, I’m grateful for you!

* FYI: some of these are affiliate links *

How To Keep Up A Creative Habit When Life Gets in the Way

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Keeping up creative habits (or any habits) is not easy, but it can be done!

I’m almost always super busy, but I'm managing to do two 100 Day composing challenges this year (almost halfway through the second one now!)

How?

Mainly, I kept it to a manageable amount of writing (only required myself to write 8 measures a day), and chose a format to my challenge that included public accountability (more about that later).

Why?

Some of us have this idyllic, Pinterest-fueled idea of creative habits (sitting down to write in a picturesque place with a hot beverage and a smile), but really, daily life has lots of obstacles, there's resistance, distractions, the list goes on.

If you’re like me, on the positive side, your creative habit makes you feel more like yourself, connected to the universe, excited about life, curious, interested in things, etc. This is how I strive to feel (although I have no magical unicorns flying around)!

Despite all of these good feelings that come from creating, there’s the negative side, too - feelings of self-doubt, uncertainty, all of the feelings! (seriously, read The War of Art).

When it comes down to it, you have to know your why for your creative habit. For me, part of it is knowing that I want to amass a body of work that will make me proud when I get old. In the muck of the everyday, that’s not always easy to remember, but I don’t like to make Future Me mad at Past Me (that’s the worst).

How do we make this happen?

  • Make it easier to do the habit - remove barriers (distractions like social media, Internet, pick a time when you’re less tired, etc.)

  • Make sure you don’t just plain forget to do it (especially early in the habit-forming process).

  • Reminders of your why - visual reminders in your workspace, on your bathroom mirror, even paper that you’ll trip over on the way to door. There will always be obstacles, so a commitment to yourself and your habit is crucial.

  • Figure out a trigger for your habit (for example, you could always do it first thing in the morning or after another activity).

  • Make yourself feel successful, with realistic, or even ridiculously small goals (floss 1 tooth) - do it daily no matter the outcome.

  • Expect resistance - it won’t feel easy or inspiring every day, and this is totally normal.

  • Check in with yourself regularly to see how/if your habit is working, and tweak your commitment as needed - this is okay!

  • Get more comfortable with uncertainty - the blank page can bring up so many other uncertainties that we feel, especially when creating is our work (am I any good at this?, etc.) So, you have to know yourself and know your excuses. Leo Babauta addresses this really well in a recent Zen Habits post.

  • Public accountability (if that motivates you) - I’ve been reading Gretchen Rubin’s book The Four Tendencies, which sorts people into 4 types based on how they respond to inner and outer expectations. I’m an Obliger (tends to meet outer expectations, and resist inner expectations) with a lean towards Upholder (tends to meet both inner and outer expectations). This book is more fascinating to me than most other “personality type” books because it really addresses different ways that people are suited to forming habits (super useful to me as a teacher).

  • DON’T GIVE UP! The process of forming habits is also a learning process. So, give yourself some grace. If you miss a day, this is not a failure - just start back up the next day. People who miss two days in a row of a habit are way more likely to give up entirely.

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You can do this, too! 

If you’re a musician who wants to compose more, and is also motivated by external accountability, you can join the Creative Musician Club to form some community around your habit! I’m taking a small group of people this fall to test out some prompts, starting Monday, November 6.

You’ll get 21 daily emails, each with a prompt to get you started writing a piece of music. These prompts aren't intended to make you finish each piece, but just to plant a seed, so, if you participate for a week, you'll already have 7 new ideas! You’ll also get an invite to join a Facebook group where we’ll share successes and struggles - a great place for encouragement and accountability. I'm going to be doing the prompts right alongside you, too, as part of my 100 More Days of Writing Music challenge - you can follow along on Instagram here.

EDIT: This 21-day challenge is over, but I'm formulating a free course that includes daily prompts and access to the Facebook group - to be notified when it opens, sign up below! 

And, if you need more help deciding on and keeping healthy habits to support your creativity, I have just the thing: 

 

What are your struggles with keeping habits, creative or otherwise? Let me know in the comments!