An Average Day
What’s your day like? This is the most frequent question I’m asked in interviews and Q&As. If composing weren’t what I did for a living, I’d probably wonder, too. Usually, I say that I answer emails in the morning, compose in the afternoon, and teach, relax, or take care of other chores in the evening. But the real answer? Some of my days look similar to one another, yes, but my schedule shifts completely depending on the deadlines I’m trying to meet.
When I wake up, I usually spend an hour on my computer catching up on news, blogs, and social media. I exercise, with either a walk around my hilly LA neighborhood or half an hour of yoga and a few minutes of meditating. Sometimes I do this later in the day; sometimes I skip it, which I nearly always regret.
Eventually, I get around to answering emails. I left Facebook earlier this year, and I sometimes use an app called SelfControl to block other sites and social media for a set amount of time. I aim to respond to emails within 24 hours, and if someone has purchased a score of mine through Graphite, I send a quick thank-you.
Does all of this take four hours? Nope, and my morning routine changes depending on what’s coming up. I’ve built in this flexibility so that when things get busier, I have time in the morning to take care of everything. From 8 a.m. to noon, I might edit my website, write my newsletter, speak with a potential collaborator, get coffee or brunch with a friend, Skype with a choir working on my music, book travel plans, edit a piece, work on press materials, write a grant, do an interview for a podcast, or write an article like this one.
Around 1:30, my cats begin to meow at me until I feed them. I feed myself lunch, too, and either eat it with my husband—who also works from home—or watch an episode of something on Netflix for 25-45 minutes while I eat.
For years, I wouldn’t admit to myself that I don’t love composing in the morning. There’s a general misconception that the most productive people wake up bursting with creative energy and run to the piano, or the easel, or whatever. For me, that’s not the case. My peak creative hours are around 1-4 p.m., and if I'm near a deadline, I’ll keep composing or until 6 or 7 p.m. Our bodies are primed to want to sleep in the evening; I think of my afternoon composing time the same way, only mine is a creative rhythm rather than a circadian one.
If I’m nowhere near a deadline, I may only compose for one or two hours. If I’ve just finished a piece, I’ll take a week or two off of composing. If a deadline is looming and a piece still isn’t done, I may bolt straight out of bed in the morning to work all day.
Either way, I have to eat dinner eventually, and my husband and I take turns cooking. We usually spend after-dinner time catching up or watching another episode of TV. Every night, I read for about half an hour to quiet my mind before I go to sleep. I write a few sentences about how my day went in a five-year journal, and I keep another small notepad next to my bed for any thoughts and to-do lists that pop up as I'm preparing for bed. Once I've written them down, I remind myself I'll deal with them tomorrow, but not right now.
I have wildly productive days and wildly unproductive ones. Sometimes I’ll spend an entire morning updating my website, sending emails, and signing contracts, and then I’ll compose for five hours in the afternoon. Other days, I sit around watching Netflix, berating myself for not getting more done. One day, I might only write four measures of a piece; the next, I might send e-mails in the morning, do a Skype rehearsal, make good progress on my piece in the afternoon, and then work on an article like this one in the evening.
Often, even when I’ve had a very productive morning, I feel like I’ve wasted my day if I haven’t composed. The good news? Even a tiny bit of work is enough to make a day feel worthwhile. Even that four-measure day counts as one where I've technically composed. Four measures are better than none.
Although the majority of my days are spent composing from home, I’ve learned that there might be no such thing as a true daily routine, at least not for me. If you’re lucky enough to find a schedule that accommodates your most creative hours and yet allows flexibility for the chaos of everyday life (or even a nine-to-five job) to intrude, that routine deserves respect. It doesn’t matter when or how you’re getting creative work done, as long as you honor that time by doing the work you’re called to do.
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Originally published in Cantate Magazine, Vol. 30, No. 2, Winter 2018.
Revised February 2020.