Welcome back to the Creative Life Adventure.
I’m currently reading Francis Ford Coppola‘s The Godfather Notebook. It’s a reproduction of an actual notebook Coppola used while filming The Godfather. He physically disassembled a copy of Mario Puzo‘s novel, on which the film is based, and added extensive notes related to every planned scene in the film. He went into great detail about the purpose of each scene, tone and setting, character interactions, etc. It ended up being the director’s “bible,” more important to him even than the script.
What fascinates me about The Godfather Notebook is how it documents the transition from novel to film. We get insight into what Coppola was thinking as he decided what to keep from the novel and what to omit. Even material from the notebook changed considerably, or was omitted entirely, in the final motion picture.
It’s a reminder of how much creative work is never seen by the final audience. Like a mechanical watch that displays the time while the complex gear mechanism remains hidden, much of the effort required to complete a creative work will remain behind the scenes. A writer may spend considerable time researching a book, even a work of fiction, and complete several drafts before releasing a finished manuscript. For example, Ken Follett does considerable research for his novels, an effort that clearly contributes to his success. Painters often create sketches and preliminary paintings leading up to the final work. Actors and singers rehearse, models may sit through hours of hair, makeup and wardrobe preparation. This doesn’t even address the years spent training and practicing, sometimes apprenticing under a mentor, before they even begin to pursue their craft seriously.
This can be frustrating because it’s only natural to want to jump ahead to the final product. Even if we are nervous about sharing our work, as creatives, at some level, we want an audience, someone to share our work with. But the longer process of drafting, trial and error, practicing, and revising is part of what distinguishes the serious from the wishful thinkers. The novelist John D. MacDonald expressed some of that sentiment in his wonderful introduction to Stephen King’s short story collection Night Shift: “The only way to learn to write is by writing. … Because there is no other way to do it.” It’s something the musician Keith Jarrett expresses when he talks about how the nature of practice sessions influences his work.
All of this is one more reason why motivational techniques, and keeping yourself motivated, is so challenging and so important. Your work will only fulfill your creative vision if you invest the time to develop your skill and perfect your work. One technique is to work in a way that makes it enjoyable, just as Coppola himself did while assembling The Godfather Notebook (from The Hollywood Reporter): “He put it together sitting at a corner table in a cafe in San Francisco’s North Beach. ‘I was living a dream,’ he recalls. ‘There was lots of noise and Italian being spoken and cute girls walking through; it was La Boheme.'” So settle in and make peace with the necessary background work. It may be a cliche to say, “Haste makes waste,” but most cliches exist for a reason. Maybe the better advice is a variation on another cliche: Good things come to those who persist.