I remember coming across an article about Morton Feldman that said that he would always compose in pen. He would go on writing, and if he noticed that he was scribbling too many thing off the page, he would stop and be done for the day. He treated composing as if it were an act of performing.
Everyone has their routines and rituals they do whenever they set out to work. I have to have my coffee at the right time. My chair has to be the right height. I only write with Palamino Blackwing Pencils. It has to be the right paper. And, my ruler has to be within arms reach at all times.
But do any of those things really matter? Do they actually help me write better? No. In reality these are things that just mask insecurities of whatever I am working on. It’s like I’m saying “If I write with these pencils in this setting at this time of the day, I’ll do great work!” How ridiculous does that sound? All I need is something to write with and some manuscript. That’s it. Through my experience playing piano and trumpet, I’ve found that when I’m not stressing out about anything and I’m just playing to have fun, I improve so much faster and perform at a much higher level. This is the same performing experience I want to have when I sit down to compose, and I feel like having this sense of ritualistic act of writing adds a layer of stress and overthinking onto writing that doesn’t need to be there.
When you are working on a draft, there needs to be a flow to your work. The creativity needs to come out uninhibited by your mind saying “this isn’t good enough, what are you doing?” There is a time and place for that part of your brain to come out and shine, but the early stages of a work is certainly not it. Get everything down on to the page first, the good, and the bad. Get to the double barline. Then, you can nitpick, cut things, add missing bits, or completely rewrite parts that are just wrong. Hopefully with practice and time, I’ll find that the initial “flow” of creativity will get better in quality and that the later revisions don’t need to be as extensive as they do, but I’m certainly not at that point yet, and don’t need to worry about it. What I need to do now is write.