Classical composer Annie Gosfield’s advice to young composers:
Make sure you’re always doing some work that is yours and yours alone — not composed for the approval of teachers or colleagues. There’s a chasm between writing in school and writing in the real world. Regardless of what you’re doing in school, you should always write something that’s not subject to grades. You may learn a lot comparing what you write for yourself to write for others. Guidance can be helpful at times, but I have never found authority to inspire creativity.
When I was studying composition at U.S.C., I would sneak into the Arnold Schoenberg Institute after hours to rehearse. It gave me access to a stage and a P.A. without having to run my music past my teachers, so I could experiment with my own band and work with other improvisers. It was a very conservative environment, so it was especially fun to sneak around, another great motivating factor that got me started as a composer/performer/improviser.
She also offers advice on gracefully handling the unexpected during performances:
Remain calm in the face of computer crashes. Better to distract the crowd with a joke then to show off your trembling hands when you fumble to re-boot your computer.