Other Voices

In some real sense, the only thing that separates me from a person deem-able insane by productive society is the fact that my internal monologue remains internal.

I expect it’s the same for most of us.

Were I to project everything I think and feel out of my mouth whenever it arose the results would be so strange, so incoherent, so occasionally troubling but more often fatally repetitive and boring, that almost nobody would be able to vouch for the soundness of my mind.

And yet, it seems to me, this is the silent condition of almost every human being on the planet.

We are constantly invaded by unwanted and unnecessary commentary. We can disappear, psychologically, into episodes from the past that we can’t change, or (in my case more often) episodes from a future that probably won't ever happen.

And it isn’t possible to switch this off. The best we can hope for, as far as I can tell, is to learn to recognise our thoughts as thoughts; obscurant but temporary clouds drifting through the stratosphere of our minds that shouldn’t be mistaken for the sky itself.

A four-year-or-so sojourn into the world of meditation has allowed me to recognise the importance of this all the more clearly, but it still doesn’t stop me becoming identified with thoughts all the time.

Nowhere can this be more frustrating than during the creative process.

On bad days, my inner critic is pretty suffocating. And he seems to be getting harsher, which isn’t ideal.

In pop-psychology there is a phenomenon known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s best illustrated by the graph below:

When you embark on learning a new skill your own ignorance, coupled with that rapid sense of early achievement, engenders a false confidence. You don't yet know all the things that you don't know (see the peak of 'Mount Stupid').

As you gain experience you realise just how much more complex the process actually is.

The cruel irony is that the better you get, the more out of your depth you begin to feel. This is the Valley of Despair and is the point at which most people, shaken by the realisation of just how much work true mastery is going to take, simply give up the ghost.

When I began writing songs again a few years ago, I was astounded at how easily it came. I was so overjoyed by the process itself that I wasn’t even overly concerned with what it was I was writing. Three major chords and a refrain and I was away. I’d planted my flag at the peak of Mount Stupid and couldn’t understand why anyone would agonise over this stuff when the sheer novelty of writing a song was so intoxicating that I just wanted to write as many of them as possible.

A few years on, having seen one record to completion and having almost finished a second - far more complex - I’m scrabbling about in the mist that lurks at the bottom of the Valley of Despair.


Because I’ve seen the rising slope ahead of me and there's no guarantee that I'm fit to climb it. I know how much music - genuinely good, well-crafted, inventive music - is subsumed by the sea of noise. I know how many great songwriters are scratching a living in call centres by day and blowing away Open Mic nights for nothing in the evening. I know how many hours, how much money, how much tedious organisation it takes to run a handful of songs through a rehearsal process, into a studio, through a mix, into pre-release and out into the world to be met by... what?

And suddenly, writing a song is a far more emotionally loaded task.

If it isn’t good enough to justify all that sweat and all those tears then why bother?

And my inner critic is extremely quick to identify ideas that shouldn’t be bothered with. He can spot them in less than a second - way before my conscious, rational mind gets a chance to think them through properly.

He throws them gleefully onto the fire - another set of predictable cowboy chords (if only you'd actually learned how to play a guitar...); another slow one (you’ve got too many slow ones...); another one that sounds too much like gimmicky pop (you’re in your thirties now, come on...); another set of cliched lyrics that don’t really mean anything; another verse heading for the inevitable brick-wall where a chorus should be (why are you so obsessed with choruses anyway? Dylan didn’t need them...)

The clouds pour out of his mouth thick and fast, and often it's tough to remember that there's a sky behind them at all.

So, down in the Valley of Despair - where pawn-shops trade in the detritus of the mind, and the walls are covered in self-lacerating graffiti - you’re left with a fairly simple choice: do your time or find another mountain.

I guess I’ll do my time?

Rob Jones & The Restless Dream

Get our latest news!

Sign up for weekly correspondence: thoughts, ramblings, exclusive mini-releases and more.