What does it take to make you realise that all the effort you have put in, all those hours and minutes, all those thoughts and refinements, were for nothing? The further one gets into a piece, or book, or anything else, the harder it is to admit that it might just be a lost cause.
This is the sunk cost fallacy, something I have seen many times in my other life as a board game reviewer and writer. We cardboard nerds tend to buy new boxes at a much faster rate than we can possible play them – substitute books, DVDs, or your own other particular poison here – but never get round to selling them because we have spent money on them already.
We need to get value, we say, despite the obvious fact that the only value that remains in something that serves no purpose is in getting rid of it and receiving emotional relief (probably) and some financial recompense (possibly) in return. That spent money is gone, irrelevant, and you need to look forwards rather than backwards.
Something similar happens in composition, that moment when, despite days and sometimes weeks spent on a piece, you just need to admit that it is, frankly, rubbish. This happened to me twice this week, in a single day and on a single piece, to boot, which was something of a sobering experience.
After a bunch of time spent on A Certain Everlasting Polyphony I scrapped it on Tuesday morning and began again, and less than two hours later I scrapped it once more and began again again. That I sit here on Thursday afternoon with the vocal parts fully sketched and a thoroughly satisfying structure to the piece (which, in its third incarnation, has come close to writing itself) proves that I made the right decision.
This has happened before, with The Human Seasons, and this time I was sensitive enough to recognise that same feeling of trying to squeeze the music out, of forcing the notes onto paper. Better to say goodbye to the sunk cost than to have the piece sink.