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James Hetfield and Lou Reed on the creative process

I’ve been a fan of Metallica since I was probably 11 or 12 years old. Recently I was doing a little digging on some older interviews with James Hetfield for another project I was working on and came across a quote he gave about creativity.

Some time back, Metallica had recorded an album called ‘Lulu’ with the legendary musician, Lou Reed. In this interview James was talking about how Lou imparted a totally different take on creativity to Metallica’s process.

The information was shared in the Official Metallica fan club magazine, So What!. To paraphrase, he told the magazine how Lou would come in and give you one take. He wasn’t interested in doing multiple takes of the same music.

His philosophy that James shared is pretty fascinating: “Trust your craft”, “Trust the moment”.

How often have we, as creatives, found ourselves constantly second guessing our art? We put pen to paper, brush to canvas, camera to eye, and feel like we need to keep erasing it and doing it over because we worry we don’t have it right.

As photographers, I know we’ve all continued to shoot multiple versions of the same photo to make sure we “got it”, only to get back to the computer and find we nailed it in the first attempt. It happens and way more often than any of us care to admit.

For me, there’s a feeling of guilt, or fear, if I get the photo I was looking for on the first attempt. A feeling of “that seemed too easy, I better shoot some more to make sure” or “I must be missing something because it shouldn’t come that easy”.

It’s a lack of self confidence.

It all comes down to trusting ourselves and trusting that in that moment, we are fully capable of capturing/creating what we are trying to communicate in our art.

Yet that lack of self confidence leads to us feeling like we have to keep shooting, keep tinkering with the writing, because we worry it isn’t “right” or “finished”.

Don’t get me wrong. This is not to say that we won’t make bad art.

We will. I guarantee it.

But we have to find a way to have the confidence needed to trust ourselves and the moment so that we can create it and see what we’ve come up with. Trying to evaluate how good our work is before we finish making it is like trying to evaluate if the soup you’re making is delicious before you add the final ingredients.

Simply put, you won’t know what you have until you see the finished product.

James goes on to say: “You can get very analytical, pathologise everything that happens all the time. but that’s what makes art art. If you’re the creator, then when you say you’re done, you’re done.”

It’s paralysis by analysis.

Something I’ve talked about any number of times in the past.

And it happens to EVERYONE. It’s human nature to want to really scrutinize the value of what we are making AS we make it. Judging the final product from the initial ideas and what we THINK it will turn into.

Yes, planning and thinking about our art is part of the process. But there’s a delicate balance that’s so easy to cross the line on. Spend more time taking action and making your art than you do analyzing what you hope to make.

But I love the last part of that quote the best. The blunt reminder that you are the creator of the art, not the other way around. You are in control and, as such, YOU get to decide when it’s done.

Give yourself permission to take back control of your art.

Put your focus on taking action and making your art.

You’ll know when it feels done to you, especially if you’ve continued to trust yourself through the process. When it feels done, let it go. Release it with the confidence that you set out to do what you wanted to do.

Once you release it you no longer control how it’s received by your audience. You’ll hit on some, miss on others. It’s out of your hands at that point.

All you can do is take that information, learn from it, and allow it to build further trust in your own craft and in your own ability to successfully capture and communicate that moment to your audience.

And whether the audience loves or hates what you made, you know you stayed true to yourself. You created something you are proud of, learned from the process of creating it, and can move on to creating the next work floating around your head.

It seems oddly fitting that this sage advice came from the act of creating the ‘Lulu’ album since it’s certainly not a widely loved album from the monsters of metal.

Just goes to show that sometimes the art you create isn’t as important as the lessons learned through the act of creating it.

If you want to hear the album you can check it out below on Spotify:

David (Usually Dave) Szweduik is a photographer, podcaster, and all around geek from the great state of Minnesota and can be found weekly on his podcast Adventures in Creativity. There you’ll find him having conversations fueled by curiosity around the amazing world of all things creativity.

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