I have been working on my long-term photography project for a really long time. I am in the midst of finishing the final phase of revisions, after much work. Recently, during this time, I have reflected upon the process, thus far, of bringing forth this work to fruition; and below are some lessons I have learned.
1. Have the courage to start your project. I found fear always showed itself, and continues, at every stage of creating this work. You can let the fear be present, with you, but you should not surrender to it. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is a great read on this subject. There were many times that I felt fear, I do still feel fear, but I did and do my best to convince myself that I can keep going even though I do not know what lies on the other side. So, if you love doing the work, mastering your craft, find the courage to do the work and remain passionate and curious.
2. Be Open. When you start a creative endeavor, you may have one idea on how you think the work will take shape; however, be open and see where the work takes and guides you, which might be different. For me, the work expanded in ways that I could not initially foresee at first. I also found that there are many unanticipated twists and turns you need to navigate, which you cannot anticipate at the outset of starting a creative endeavor. While creating this work, there were many twists and turns that presented themselves that I had to figure out and overcome to finish the body of work. Thus, I learned that I had to be creative and determined to press on, no matter what.
3. Everything takes more time than you think. I have been working on this body of work for over six years. (I think most people likely would have given up long ago!) Life happens all the while, and we experienced multiple life events during this time, including: selling a house; building a house; two moves; losing our beloved Biscuit; adopting our rescue, Victory, who joined our family; experiencing great loss; and welcoming our biggest collaboration, the addition of our baby Alex! As a result, I would have thought going into this that I would have been done long ago. However, I learned that things take much longer than you might initially anticipate, and it is good to know this going into any creative project. I also find it helpful not to focus on the time and to have the mantra, in this final stage, “to take it a day at a time and an image at a time.” And, there seems to be endless revisions, but then you finally settle at the place where you know the work is done, and I cannot wait to reach this place!
4. Mistakes happen. Invariably, mistakes happen while undertaking a large project. I certainly had my share, I likely still will, and I had to learn either how to work with them or how to improve to cure the ‘mistakes.’ Additionally, I learned that everything is ‘figureoutable,’ no matter what.
5. Find trustworthy people to review your work. I have found that it has been invaluable to me to obtain feedback on my work, at various stages, in order to continue to refine and revise the body of work.
6. Allow the muse show up. There were times when I was working, trying to figure something out, and when I worked too hard or when I agonized, I was unable to resolve the issue, which was extremely frustrating. However, when I stepped back, asked the Universe for help — the muse showed up during times where I had no idea how I was able to get the image where it needed to be — it was magical and I was able to resolve the issue at hand in no time. These are moments of pure bliss.
7. Push yourself. Inspiration does not come knocking every day, as we all know. You have to keep going at it yourself, too. In order to pursue something creative, you must also work at it unassisted by inspiration and push yourself and your boundaries. I dedicate time in my schedule, almost weekly, to work on this body of work. There were, along the way, periods of rest, too. I worked bit by bit, little by little, for a really long time, which I continue. What I keep in mind, is that if you work like this consistently, the work quickly adds up– and finally one day the revisions are done and you are finished, the greatest gift. One of my favorite quotes by Sally Mann, “There is a great quote from a female writer. She said, ‘If you don’t break out in a sweat of fear when you write, you are not writing well enough.’ I tend to agree. I think my best pictures come when I push myself.”
8. Be persistent. If you are going to do any long-term project, you must be persistent, and not give up. As mentioned above, life happens, and things, for me, are even more challenging getting this work finished with a baby; however, it is not impossible. You have to find a way to keep going in the midst of it all and not let life or setbacks stop you from finishing. Creating this body of work is so challenging and rewarding simultaneously. I found that creating this body of work was much more difficult than attending law school, in so many ways. In fact, it is one of the most challenging undertakings I have done. At the inception of this project, I was incredibly naive about how involved this project would actually become. Looking back, I suppose this was a blessing at the time.
9. Choose to trust. You must have faith and trust while working on any creative endeavor, which, I know, is easier said than done. It is like having a daily a blind faith and optimism that things will somehow work out, while still enjoying the process and the journey, while living in the unknown.
10. Let go of a specific outcome of the work. The idea for this project came to me during the summer of 2012. I will never forget the day the idea came to me, prior to leaving for our trip with Biscuit to Nova Scotia, and I thought I might actually be able to create this body of work. I am not sure of the specific outcome, but finishing is the greatest reward for me right now.
This, outlined above, is what I have learned, thus far; I am sure there will be many more lessons learned in the next phase of this process and journey.
“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels — that’s creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place — that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one. The often surprising result of that hunt — that’s what I call Big Magic.” — Elizabeth Gilbert