Posted by: jgurner | March 31, 2010

Stuck in a Slump

Everyone knows what it’s like to be stuck in a slump.

You’re in a period where it just seems like you can’t get anything accomplished. Or things just don’t seem to be going like they should.

It’s frustrating for anyone, but for those of us who engage in some form of artistic outlet, whether it be writing, art, music, etc., it gets to be downright painful. It becomes an obsession and the longer the slump lasts the more we become convinced it will never end.

But it does. Eventually.

Sometimes it just takes relaxing a bit and not trying to force creativity. Sometimes it takes stepping away for a while. Sometimes a long while. Sometimes it takes outside events to get things stirring again.

I have to admit, I’ve been in a pretty major slump musically for a while. Months, really. The last completely original song I wrote and recorded was November of last year. But, really, I’ve been on a decline for about two years. Last years saw only a handful of new tunes. In the years before that, I tended to average more than one new song a month. Most of the time I would have two or three songs I was working on at the same time. It kept me quite busy.

Now, however, my song slate is completely empty. And every time I sit down to try to spark a little bit of creativity, I just end up more frustrated than I was to begin with.

I’ve had slumps before. Sometimes they’d last a few weeks. Sometimes a few months. My biggest creative slump, though, was epic. Basically a decade, from 1994 to 2004. I did little or nothing musical. My bass went unplayed. My French horn sat in its case. I didn’t write songs. I didn’t really do much of anything creative.

A lot of that was because of my job. I spent my days writing stories and columns, taking photos, designing newspaper pages, creating ads, etc. While note being creative for entertainment’s sake, it still used up a lot of creative juices that would have otherwise gone into music. Plus, the schedule I worked tended to leave any time or energy for anything else. After a while, averaging 60-plus hours a week at work begins to drain you. All you want to do is go home and plop down in front of the TV. You don’t even want to think, really, and you become quite an uninteresting person.

That slump ended when a number of factors came together at once. Life was changing. I spent a year basically on my own as my ex (who was not my ex at the time) was in her first year at law school and was living away. Work changed and my new boss was actually caring enough to make sure I wasn’t overworked so much. And, Apple was good enough to introduce GarageBand, which allowed me for the first time in a decade to begin recording music again.

I quickly got into the groove again and began writing and recording new music. It was slow at first, but within a couple of months, the creative itch was back and I found myself really getting into it again.

Then, a few months later when I changed jobs, moved back to my home town and was reunited with my ex (back when that was a good thing). That opened a floodgate of creativity. Not only was I happier than I had been in a decade, but I had something I hadn’t had before – time. It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you only have to work 40 hours a week like a normal person.

Then, a few years later, my separation put me into another slump, but, oddly enough, the actual divorce got me going again. Funny how that worked out.

After that, it was pretty steady for a couple of years. I can’t say everything I did was great. But really, that doesn’t matter so much. For me, the creation of music is more about the creation. The product is important, sure, but it doesn’t always have to be something that will blow someone’s socks off.

It also serves as a great form of therapy. The creation of any kind of art is a great way to express emotion, even when you really aren’t aware you weren’t feeling the emotions you end up expressing. Whether it’s happiness, sorrow, anger, humor, it doesn’t matter. I’ve used music for a long time to get those feeling out. Plus, it’s a great way to entertain myself. There’s the creative component of creating words and music. There’s the physical component of playing the instruments and singing. And there’s the technical component of recording the music, mixing it and getting it ready for the world to hear.

It also is nice to be able to share my creation. I love to pimp MacJams. Not only because it’s where I’ve made my home on the web for sharing my music, but because it’s a place where you can find tons of others who are doing the same. It’s full of great music, available for free. And I’ve made a ton of really great friends there. Plus, it feels good to know that people actually listen to my music and, for the most part, enjoy it.

Music is important to me. Look at my CD collection, or the MP3s on my computer (all legal), and you will see not just a love for music, but a love for all kinds of music. It really doesn’t matter what genre, I can find something that I will enjoy.

But, just listening has never been enough.

That’s why a slump is so frustrating.

I know this will pass. It may be a week, or a month, or a year, but I will find myself once more immersed in creating music again and this prolonged dry spell will be just a distant memory.

Until then, all I can do is wait… and try to relax.

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