Let’s start with another bit of work-showing. Here’s the first half of the second movement of the Mozart:
First of all, it’s actually adagio. (Not “slightly-faster-than adagio.”)
Second of all, every grace note gets its moment of grace. Nothing is blurred, nothing is slurred (that doesn’t have a slur marking). I have made deliberate, replicable decisions about every single note in the first half of this piece.
I’m not sure all of the decisions are correct yet, btw. I don’t like the way I’m articulating the three notes at the end of measure 4 (30 seconds in, if you’re watching), even though Mozart put those notes into their own little phrase and I wanted to see what it was like to play them as a separate thought.
I also I think the staccato before the trill in measure 18 (2 minutes, 14 seconds in) is a little too emphatic.
And I’m not sure those descending thirds in the right hand (1 minute, 10 seconds in) are as clean as I’d like them to be.
By which I mean “I could settle for the way I’m performing those descending thirds, but I’d rather take the time to fix them.”
On very, very good days, I greet L (after our respective workdays are done) with a kiss and the announcement that I have found another “secret to life.”
I’m not sure if I phrased this discovery as “discovering a secret,” but I’m sure I shared it with the same amount of delight:
You don’t have to settle if you are willing to take the time.
If you want to work and isolate and study and perfect a series of descending thirds that nobody will ever hear but you and your partner and a handful of people on the internet, you can.
If you want to write a short story with absolutely zero clichés in it, or a choral composition with absolutely zero derivative bits in it, or an art song where the entire thing is as good as the four measures you (and everyone else who has heard the piece so far) absolutely love, you can.
(I mean, first you have to figure out what makes those four measures different from the rest of the piece, and you haven’t figured out how to figure that out yet. But it’s on your list, because you really really really want to solve that problem.)
You don’t have to create work that you secretly wish was a little better. You can, if you want to, keep working.
The perfect may be the enemy of the good, as is often said — but the good is just as much the enemy of the perfect.
I always make the joke that I can tell what you’re thinking, and in this case it’s also what I’m thinking:
But what if you don’t have the time?
I don’t mean “during the day.” If you’re able to get to whatever it is you’re practicing/studying/creating — writing, music, chess, math — at least a few times a week, you can apply the unlimited time principle that I wrote about yesterday. (“I may only have 30 minutes to work on this project today, but the total number of work sessions that I can apply to this project are unlimited.”)
I mean “before the deadline.” What if you don’t have enough time before the recital, before the next draft is due, before your next group meeting, etc. etc. etc.?
What if you have to settle simply because you have to ship?
One option is to divide your work into “time-bound projects” and “unlimited time projects.” If you know that you’re working on something time-bound, you can make strategic choices about where to settle for good-enough and where to push for a little bit more. If you’re working on an unlimited time project, you can refuse to settle and keep working (no matter how long it takes).
The second option is to figure out how to get better at the stuff you’re currently settling on. If you’ve accepted that the ends of your trills are always going to be a little blurry, then… un-accept that? Solve that problem, and just that problem, and be satisfied that you’ve moved everything forward by one specific solution?
The third option is to figure out how to get faster (or “more efficient”) at the stuff you’re already doing well, so you have more time to work on the problems that are still problems.
This is where I admit that I’m still thinking about this. That I’m trying all of these options in their turn, and simultaneously, and hoping to figure out how to put them into play (pun intended).
But if I already had all the answers, there would be no reason to spend part of every day asking myself how to get better at solving problems. ❤️