The first time I tried composing, I severely underestimated the difficulty of the task at hand. My fellow seventh graders and I had been tasked with creating personal melodies that were to be performed in front of the entirety of the middle school orchestra, and I jumped at the opportunity to display my self-proclaimed musicality and artistic prowess. I wanted to make something beautiful, some sort of never-before-heard chord progression that would latch onto heart and soul, tracing shudders into the spines of all who heard it.
But no matter what combinations I tried, I couldn’t spin my sky-high expectations for my composition into reality. My beginnings fell flat, clattering to the ground in soft puffs of dust instead of blooming into sparkling life like I’d hoped they would. Notes that I’d never paid attention to before my musical tinkering took on ominous visages of their own, radiating a stubborn aversion to any sort of cooperative union despite my pleading. Everything I tested sounded awkward and out of place, as if I’d somehow managed to discover the musical representation of a gracelessly gangly calf.
Even more paralyzing was my acute fear of accidentally plagiarizing music that already existed. In the rare instances when I thought I had the start of something even remotely acceptable, it didn’t take long for me to realize that the reason the tune seemed familiar was because it was similar to a long forgotten television jingle or, in one instance, the theme song to “Mr. Bean’s Holiday.”
I don’t know how I settled on a final version to perform. I remember going back to my seat with my cello in tow, filled with an all-consuming dissatisfaction with my piece and what I once considered to be a natural musicality. When the grades came out, I was surprised to have gotten full marks on the assignment, but even that didn’t do much to dull the slight bitterness I still had at myself for being unable to meet my own standards.
I haven’t tried to compose in the years since, mainly because I’m more focused on writing for my artistic outlet now. However, I still encounter the same dilemma whenever I’m stuck with writer’s block. There’s nothing more frustrating than feeling like your creativity has been trapped behind a very thick, very tall and very concrete wall that exists for no reason at all.
For people like my parents, who appreciate my writing ability but are immediately dismissive of anyone who chooses to pursue a career in the humanities, writer’s block is laughable, even more evidence that there’s barely any distinction between those who study the art of the word for years and mere students. They don’t understand the indescribable, thriving nature of creating, because it has never played much of a role in their lives. The problem is made worse by the fact that creativity is not a definitive subject with specific rules and regulations; the concept of creativity itself heavily relies on its immeasurability.
I think of creativity like a rice paddy — the more rice you plant, the richer the soil gets. Being a part of an environment that actively encourages creativity not only has a positive effect on my mental state but also my productivity overall. Writing is a very personal activity that I take a lot of joy in, and it’s not only hurtful but also disheartening to have something extremely meaningful to me treated so indifferently.
The problems that I faced when I first started out with my seventh grade composition still pop up every now and then when I sit down to write. Sometimes I can’t get my sentences to flow the way I’d like to, and they’ll sound as wispy and formless as an unrosined bow over clean strings. Other times, I’m simply unable to convey the exact picture I’m trying to paint no matter how many phrasings I try. Worst of all is when I can’t even fit sentences together. I’ll sit in front of my laptop for hours at a time, feeling the exact same way I did six years ago when I was cramming random notes against each other, desperately hoping that the sharps and flats would assemble into some semblance of a satisfactory song.
However, if writing were easy, I probably wouldn’t enjoy it as much as I do. Part of the allure of writing is the uncertainty surrounding the end result; even when I have a clear idea in mind of what exactly I want to create, I have no way of knowing precisely what’s going to show up on the page. I’ve changed and grown in countless ways since that 20-measure composition, and one of the most important things I’ve learned is that obstacles such as writer’s block never truly go away, even as you get older. The only thing you can do is keep on trying.