If this feels like bad advice, don't take it. It's worked for me, but I'm different. Whatever the case, I've learned one thing: to take a break from the things I love once in a while, for a long time, until an epiphany.
The last time I wrote some serious music was in 2012. I meant to continue in 2013, but something kept me from Finale and the keyboard. I felt I wasn't ready: that I'd done all I could possibly do with all I knew. I had to increase my capacity; learn a new skill; a better way of writing music before I took to the sheets again.
I thought the hiatus would be short. 2013 came, passed, and so did 2014. Just two or three days ago, I went back to composing, and it's been marvelous.
My earlier work flow when writing music was horrible. I'm not shy to admit I did not know what I was doing. I managed an entire mass without a grasp of chords and how music actually works. All I went with were my instincts. Four-part writing was a chore, but I could harmonize three parts fairly easily.
I sing bass and so the part is most familiar with me. Finding a strong bass line to almost any melody is not much work for someone who's sang the part as often as I have. Harmonizing the melody with the alto line was not that difficult. But when it got to four voices, I fell back to trial and error, listening over and over until I felt the part was just right. This was difficult.
Almost two years away from music composition and spent going over theory and acquainting myself with what music is has broadened my mind and made it easier to learn those concepts that, at the inception, were entirely over my head.
My work flow is markedly different from it was two years ago. It's also very intelligent: so well educated that now I need not listen multiple times to create decent sounding music: I just write according to the rules and what comes out is much closer to what I intended.
After writing my melody, I determine the best chord progressions and pick my bass notes from those chords I've selected. Sometimes I realize a chord is too discordant, and I change it on the fly. Sometimes I experiment with different voicing to give the music much better texture. But I don't place notes by trial and error. Each note is thought through and placed where it must be placed. Repeat. When I'm done, I add melodic decoration to liven things up. It's a wonderful experience writing music the right way. There's also the magic of discovering how each chord works to achieve the overall effect of the music.
I'll probably thank my hiatus for the chance to bounce back more educated and better prepared to express myself musically. It's opened up a new world of creative expression, one that I mean to explore (and exploit) throughout this year. On a blog that's now deleted, I lamented my inability to express myself in music as I do in words.
Those days are probably behind me now.