The 'Crap it Out' Theory
He had everything he needed, the house was quiet, his favorite pencil was in hand, and manuscript paper was loaded on the piano. He had been noodling around with an ornamented melody, but it just didn't sound right, so he stared at the blank manuscript paper, and it stared back. He had up to come up with something quickly, but nothing came - how in the world would he finish this piece on time!?
There's nothing more intimidating to an artist than a blank piece of paper, a deadline looming, and the feeling that you're not at your 'creative best'.
When I'm in these situations, I recall the story a friend once told me about a theater technician who used to 'crap out' his initial designs of the stage layout for an upcoming play. He knew that the initial design would not even resemble his final design, but he recognized that in order to speed up the creative process, he needed to 'crap out' something initially to criticize and improve upon.
Part of the problem many artists face, including yours truly, is the desire for perfection. On some level we understand that humans are not perfect, and that in the end we'll not really achieve perfection, but we constantly strive for it. This desire can be paralyzing in the first stages of creation, because it's rare that initial ideas are 'perfect', so they can be rejected outright in our heads before even hitting the page. It's a mistake to approach music making this way, and in the end, it inhibits the creative process.
Need proof? Take an afternoon and look at the sketches of Beethoven. I find it comforting how far this great artist's ideas progressed from his initial sketches to their final versions.
In the past, I've tried tinkering with ideas while they are still in my head. Eventually however, with this approach, the idea will either be lost entirely, or I'll no longer be able to recall the initial kernel because so many changes have happened. I've found that 'crapping out' imperfect ideas onto manuscript paper is a much more productive approach for me. Knowing that the initial idea will most likely not be perfect sort of takes the pressure off. Having something concrete on paper allows for complete recall of the idea at a later time and allows for further tinkering during walks in the neighborhood.
And one more secret, 'crapping it out' works in a lot of other creative endeavors. I crapped out this blog entry initially before revising it as well!