Quit before you're ahead: a partial concurrence (guest post from Michael McGill)

This morning's post earned a thoughtful response from my friend Michael McGill, a musician, artist, and teacher.

I think where people go wrong is with rigid thinking: They assume that they have to stick with something even if it's not working or their gut is telling them to stop...or they don't notice that it stopped working for them a half-hour ago. And they might think, "I'm just not cut out for this," and scrap an attempt at something new instead of digging in deeply to a creative pursuit as Michael explains below.

Michael's post:

The Casey article on “quit before you’re ahead” and the discipline of stopping was well-written and thought-provoking. My thoughts:

There are certainly areas of effort in which to quit before you’re ahead. These are  activities that risk “mindless repetition” and boredom (or even injury!), like practicing music or running.

Michael and I with a pickup band at the Eclectic Music Open House Party, January 8, 2011.Areas where you definitely DON’T quit at “normal,” approved times: creative areas like songwriting. In these areas, the rules are exactly the opposite: if you don’t stretch yourself, making an effort to “get into a different headspace,” nothing new will be achieved. At best, you’ll be a mere formulaic song-factory. Tired clumsy fingers are actually good for songwriting, because slick facility is bad; and in the mental realm, you have to keep coming at it from new directions, and that sometimes requires long sustained effort, and sometimes long goofing around, bouncing the fledgling song in the air like a beach ball and batting it around. Once in a while a great song comes rolling out in a brisk and cooperative manner, and in a reasonable amount of time. But don’t be counting on that.

Areas that involve both sides of the brain, like recording and band practice, fall somewhere in the middle, because exhaustion and mistakes (downside) and breakthroughs (upside) both will occur; but beware of always stopping band practice at the usual hour, because good things happen in the realms of sonic mix and interpersonal dynamics well past quitting time. A band (if it’s a good and interesting one) is a very delicate mechanism: when this guy’s voice gets hoarse, that girl’s playing gets a little smoother to compensate; when this bassist’s fingers get tired, that drummer pushes him a little harder. The results can be magic.


Thanks Michael! Can't wait to play with you again.