Creative wisdom from Rick Rubin
Adapted from Creativity law Written by Rick Rubin, published with permission from Penguin Press. Copyright © 2023 by Rick Rubin.
No matter where your ideas come from or what they look like, they all eventually pass through a specific aspect of yourself: the editor, the gatekeeper. This is who will determine the final expression of the work, no matter how many people were involved in its construction.
The editor’s role is to collect and inspect. Amplify what is vital and reduce the excess. Draw the work down to the best version of himself. Sometimes the editor will find gaps and send us to collect data to fill in. Other times there is a wealth of information and the editor will remove what is not necessary to reveal the final work.
Editing is a testament to taste. It is not expressed by referring to the elements we like: music that pleases our ears or movies that we revisit. Our taste is evident in how we coordinate our work. What’s included, what’s not, and how the pieces are put together.
You may be drawn to different rhythms, colors, and styles, even though they may not live together harmoniously. The pieces should fit together in the container. The container is the organizing principle of the business. It dictates which items don’t belong. The same furniture that would fit in a palace might not make sense in a monastery.
The editor must put ego aside. The ego is proudly attached to the individual elements of the work. The editor’s role is to remain unattached and look beyond these feelings to find unity and balance. Talented artists of unskilled editors can do substandard work and fail to live up to the promise of their gift.
Avoid confusing the cold detachment of an editor with an inner critic. The critic questions the work, undermines it, enlarges and captures it. The editor steps back, looks at the work holistically, and supports its full potential.
The editor is the professional in the poet.
As we get closer to project completion, it can be worth cutting the work dramatically down to just what’s necessary, to make an unforgiving adjustment.
A lot of the creative process so far has been added. So think of this as the subtraction part of the project. This usually happens after the building is fully completed and options have been exhausted.
Often, editing is seen as trimming and removing fat. In harsh editing, this is not the case. We decide what absolutely needs to be there in order for the business to remain the same, what is absolutely necessary.
We do not aim to reduce work to its final term. We’re working on shrinking it beyond its final length. Even if cutting out 5 percent will leave work at the scale you intend to do, we might cut deeper and leave only half or a third.
If you’re working on a ten-song album and you’ve recorded twenty, you don’t aim to cut it down to ten. You whittle it down to five, just the tracks you can’t live without.
If you have written a book that is more than three hundred pages long, try to reduce it to less than one hundred without losing its essence. In addition to getting to the heart of the work, through this brutal modification we change our relationship to it. We come to understand its basic structure and realize what’s really important, to separate from the connection of making it and see it for what it is.
What is the effect of each component? Did you exaggerate the essence? Does it distract from the substance? Do they contribute to balance? Does it contribute to the structure? Is it absolutely necessary?
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With the extra layers removed, you can step back and see that the work is successful as is, in its simplest form. Or you may feel like you want some items back. As long as you maintain business integrity, this is a matter of personal preference.
It’s worth taking the time to notice if any of the boost add-ons actually work. We are not looking for more for the sake of more. We are just looking for more for the better.
The goal is to get the work to the point where when you see it, you know it couldn’t be arranged any other way. There is a sense of balance. of elegance.
It is not easy to let go of the items you have devoted so much time and attention to. Some artists fall in love with all manufactured materials so much that they resist giving up an item even if the whole would be better without it.
Charles Mingus once said, “Making simple complexity common.” “Making the complex simple and simple, that’s creativity.”