Creative work is a painful pleasure. These are four things I learnt about the creative process from reading and watching The Lord of the Rings.
Every Ring wants to be Found
No one begins with brilliance. Most people don’t start creative work because they think the finished product won’t be good enough. They’re right. It will be mediocre, at best. But that’s no reason to quit before trying. The first page of a book gets written after fifty pages of rubbish. Give yourself lots of time to create bad things before you turn a corner and make something good. The key is constancy. Start in the morning and create junk until the end of the day. Then, if you want, sulk through the night about your inadequacy. But wake up the next day and do it all over again. Don’t get discouraged by the mediocrity of your work and don’t let the neighbors frown on you for being an amateur. You’re the one actually doing something with your talent. Your best work is like the Ring. It wants to be found. But it’s hiding under six feet of rubbish. Start digging, get your hands dirty and don’t stop until you find it.
Every Hobbit needs a Fellowship
No one should work alone. Most creative people don’t like to sell themselves. They simply want to focus on the art and expect their work to sell itself. They assume that people who appreciate quality will recognize the quality in their work. But the ring didn’t walk itself to Mordor. It needed a Fellowship. So do you. Take a piece of paper and write down the names of the people you trust – people who believe in you. Ask them to share your work with their friends. If you don’t want to sell yourself, you don’t have to. But you need to get someone to do it for you. Every artist knows a salesman. Find them and ask them to do the dirty work for you. To keep your artistic integrity, urge them to do it only if they think it’s worth sharing. Not only will you get more exposure, but you’ll feel validated and affirmed when people like Aragorn lift their sword with you in battle.
Every Fellowship needs an Ally
No one likes to share their struggles. Most people want to keep their secrets to themselves, because it makes them look weak and it might empower the competition. But the pursuit of excellence isn’t measured by the person standing next to you. It’s measured by how far you are from perfection. We’re all further away than we think we are. To close the gap, you’ll need a few allies – other people in the creative field, even if it’s not your own. The fellowship would be lost without the Elves and Ents.
Every creative person needs a few key friendships with people who are not threatened by competition. It’s rewarding to have an open exchange of knowledge and information between people who seek each other’s success. Healthy friendships with people in the creative field, not necessarily your own, can enrich your creative process. They can inspire great ideas, introduce you to resources you didn’t know about, help you overcome self-doubt and mindless criticism, validate your ambitions and even your very existence. Find your Elves and their bread will sustain you to Mordor.
Every Purpose Needs Persistence
No one likes a time table. Most people think that discipline is restrictive and primitive. They think inspiration is an exotic bird that will suddenly appear and sit on your shoulder when you least expect it. That’s partly true, but it’s mostly rubbish. Inspiration comes to those who are searching for it, intentionally. Sometimes the only thing “creative” people are creating is excuses. The best way to find inspiration is to make sure it knows where to find you. When the fellowship was broken, the task remained the same. They hoped that favor would find them; but they made sure it wouldn’t find them sitting idle. Their persistence was rewarded with Victory. Your discipline will be rewarded with inspiration.
Make sure you get into a healthy rhythm of work and rest and work and play. Work even when you don’t feel like it and once you start working, the feelings will follow. Then play and don’t feel bad about it. Your mind needs to rest before it can work again. If the first tip was about giving yourself grace to create rubbish, this one’s about getting into the habit of creating rubbish regularly. If you’re constantly and consistently where you need to be, inspiration will find you, because it knows where you live. The bird that was once a stranger will soon become your friend.