Writer Beware of the Gollum Factor

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In November 2017, I joined a bunch of crazies who write rough draft novels in a month. Maybe you’ve heard of it, National Novel Writing Month.

With the help of my oldest son (the idea guy), NaNoWriMo 2017, would be the year for kid’s books. Not one, but two shorter middle grade action adventure books.

Crazy? Why, yes.

Thirty days later of blood, sweat, and tears… we did it. We wrote not one, but two rough drafts of our kid’s novels.

Enter early 2018, the hard work of cleaning up plot holes, fixing obvious spelling, grammar, and unclear sections of the book. A polish here, rewrite there.

Sent the book off to a couple editors and proofreaders. Found an illustrator to make line drawings. And employed a cover design, formatted for ebook and print, and hit publish (obviously there’s more to it, but you get the gist).

But now what? The euphoria of the creative process dimming like the setting sun. No more wondering if the book will ever see the light of day. It’s out, no do-overs.

What if people like it? What if they hate it? And the writer police arrest you and throw away the key.

All the hours of spilling your guts on the page and wondering if you’ll ever see the finish line. In the process of creation you fall in love with the characters, ideas, and in some strange way never want the feeling to end.

Maybe it’s fear, resistance, or the self-doubt of wasting hours on something that will not cure cancer.

Beware of the Gollum Factor

The post-creation hangover is what I call the Gollum Factor. Every writer, creator, designer, artist, or human who makes anything, feels this repeatedly.

You know Gollum, right? The creepy gremlin looking creature in the Lord of the Rings who says: “Oh, my precious…”

Gollum is how I think about our books, art, and projects. We labor for days, weeks, and sometimes years on something. We share it with the world. Sometimes to great applause and other times with a thud.

But instead of moving on, making the next thing, we live in the past and continue to pet, caress, and obsess over Our Precious.

It’s not a bad thing to be proud of the stuff we make. But when our art, book, or project becomes too precious, we have problems. Instead of making the next thing, we talk about the old thing. We sound like the old guy in the bar reminiscing about the state championship in football. Move on, already.

I see this in many areas of life. Politicians trying to create a future, based on a mythical past. The church stuck in the past and wanting to hold on to the good old days, whatever that means. A couple who talk about when their relationship was thriving, but never invest in today. The business using the same marketing tactics of the 50’s, with little to no results. My Precious… Our Precious…

When the Gollum Factor is alive and well, instead of letting go, moving on; we freeze. Instead of climbing the next hill, trying something new, pushing ourselves to make something better than the last, we pet, caress, and talk about Our Precious.

Hard Hats Required for Defeating Gollum

I live by a simple phrase for creation: Hard Hat Creative. It makes the process of creating less mystical, and more practical. Instead of treating every book, article, or talk I give as the greatest thing since slice bread. I put on my creative hard hat and go to work again the next day. Pushing, sweating, thinking, praying, and not waiting for inspiration that may never come.

No Muse, no magic fairy dust, no superstitions, no waiting, hoping, and begging for inspiration. We punch the clock, butt in a chair, and make the next thing.

I’m not immune to the Gollum Factor. My first kid’s book is out in the world, and I want to talk about it, caress it, and tell the world how precious it is.

But, I will try my best to resist. In fact, book two is already off to the editors. Take that Gollum…

Toss Our Precious on the floor, say thanks for the memories it was fun, and make the next thing.

*Originally published on The Writer Cooperative