When I was a kid, I wanted to be a rock star. Didn’t you? Eventually, I did learn to play the guitar. I enrolled in a couple of different music schools and eventually earned a degree in music composition and arranging. I played professionally for several years, and made some decent music and friends and memories.
But I was never satisfied. And now I think I know why.
1- I cared more about my reputation than the music. Honestly, I just wanted people to like me, to be impressed, to say nice stuff about me. I probably wanted to be famous (ick!) and have lots of money to waste. Of course, I would never have admitted these things, not even to myself. But hindsight is not only accurate; it can be downright cruel too.
2- I was never fully prepared. I was good enough because I had put in a ton of hours and thought and sweat perfecting things I thought I already knew how to do. But I was never great. I thought I could get by on what little technical prowess I had accumulated. I could be flashy at times and fake my way through most gigs. But I was putting style before substance. And the music suffered.
Again, I did work hard. I just didn’t work smart, or in the right direction.
Thankfully, I learned my lesson when it came to writing. Although my heart is still prone to wander, I write because I love it, because I truly believe creative writing magnifies truth and beauty, and because writing makes those who choose to write it better people.
It’s about serving the work, not the other way around.
I’m playing music again too. But no longer do I try and “get by.” Instead, I take a more balanced, sometimes laborious approach. I listen, take notes, learn the songs as recorded, then try and find alternate ways to play them–different inversions, single-note lines, just anything that might serve the song better in the heat of the moment. ON gig days I get up way early to rehearse tunes, scribble more notes on charts, and to make sure I have all my gear packed and ready to go.
This is not original with me: “Practice does not make perfect. Perfect practice does.” This is original with me: “Artfully perfect beats technically perfect any day of the week.”
What is artfully perfect? Who really knows? It’s an eye-of-the-beholder kind of thing. But the odds of finding yourself in that hollowed creative space is by properly setting the table for your Muse.