The other day I was playing through the beginning of the third movement of Mozart’s Sonata No. 12 in F major, K. 332 — and I should note that I began studying K33 in August of last year and am just now starting the third movement, which just goes to show that things take the time they take — and I noticed that I was starting to get a little bored.

Like, “whoop-de-doo, I got to the end of the first fourteen measures, might as well do ’em again.”

(You should probably have some context for this bit of Mozart.)

(It’s the movement that Jane Fairfax plays in the 2020 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma.)

(Amber Anderson, who played Jane, is actually performing live — they didn’t dub in another pianist.)

Anyway. Where were we?

I was practicing, and I was bored. Anyone who’s ever practiced anything has experienced this, right? The repetition coalesces into monotony, and you’ve stopped feeling like you’re improving and started watching the clock.

AND

THEN

I

REALIZED.

I had stopped trying to solve any of the problems that still remained in those first fourteen measures (and believe me, there were problems still to be solved).

I picked a problem, almost at random. A small one. The phrase with the B natural in measure 3 was more even, rhythmically, than the phrase with the B flat in measure 4.

(I told you it was always a B flat.)

And then I began trying to solve that problem.

And my practicing session got way more interesting.


You don’t need me to tell you — though I’m going to tell you anyway — that this applies to so much more than music.

The problem, whatever it is, becomes much more interesting when you’re actually trying to solve it.

Maybe you’ve dug yourself into a creative rut because you haven’t figured out what to do next — and you’ve been substituting the work of figuring it out with the work of “repeating what you were previously doing, over and over,” because at least that means you’re doing something.

Maybe you and someone else in your life have dug yourselves into an interpersonal rut, and instead of figuring out what’s really going on between the two of you and whether that problem can be addressed and resolved, you’ve just been having the same argument over and over again.

And the thing is that YOU KNOW, WHEN YOU START THE TRILL OR THE DRILL OR THE CONVERSATION, whether you’re going to actually address the problems or whether you’re just going to run through the old stuff from beginning to end.

One of those options leads to boredom and frustration and resentment.

The other leads to renewed interest and possibility and growth. (Not to mention connection, if you’re working through a problem with another person.)

I’m going to write more about this on Thursday, since tomorrow it’ll be time for Tara K. Shepersky’s monthly column on her creative practice. I love how Tara and I are working towards similar goals (doing our best work, natch) from very different perspectives. Here’s what Tara wrote in her last column, for example:

But if I’ve learned anything useful about my own creativity, it’s that it doesn’t like to be scheduled or timed or optimized. It will produce under those conditions, but it prefers—and tends to make better art on—its own terms. I’ve also learned that trying to negotiate those terms leads, more often than not, to a tangled pile of emotional exhaustion, missed sunrises, and tears.

So come back tomorrow for Tara’s insights into creativity and problem-solving, and then come back again on Thursday as I continue working through mine. ❤️

4 thoughts on “The Problem Becomes More Interesting When You Are Actually Trying to Solve It

  1. The problem, whatever it is, becomes much more interesting when you’re actually trying to solve it.

    Yes! And (personal experience) trying get something over with to check it off the list is not “trying to solve the problem.”

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