In her wonderful book, Bird by Bird, author Anne Lamott describes a one-inch square picture frame that she keeps on her desk. She defines her daily task of writing as simply putting into words whatever she sees inside that frame. The big idea is that my creative work becomes overwhelming when I try to create an epic in an afternoon. In my musical work I often despair that learning new performance repertoire feels excruciatingly slow at times and I am sorely tempted to be overwhelmed by the seemingly impossible task before me. If I forget to keep the perspective of the miniature picture frame, I will soon convince myself that 1) my memory just isn’t what it used to be, 2) maybe I have no real musical talent after all, and 3) God surely made a mistake when he created me in the first place so I really don’t deserve to live.
These days my antidote to this musical version of author’s angst is to simply tell myself, “Go sit at the piano and for the next twenty minutes and see if we can make this page of notes sound more like our imagined ideal performance. . .“ My favorite euphemisms for this bit of therapeutic monologue include “focusing on process not product” or “seeking incremental improvement over time.” The far more effective version that I repeat often in my teaching studio is this: “Shut up and play!” Of course I say it with a smile in my voice and my students laugh about our shared melodramatic experiences. Still, the point is to get on with the work of creating the universe of our vision in increments the size of a one-inch picture frame.
You can see an interview by Anne Lamott my friend Dr. Dean Nelson here.