The Motherlode Myth

Len WilsonCreativity, Faith1 Comment

Last week, I took my family to the largest gold mine east of the Mississippi. The Dahlonega Mine was the site of the original American Gold Rush, in 1828. It contains such rich deposits that miners once discovered $800,000 worth of ore in a single day.

Gold still comes out of the earth at the Dahlonega Mine now, but it’s illegal to commercially extract it. Instead, owners make money selling the myth of striking it rich.


We took the tour. The area was originally so rich with deposits that early miners could collect the stuff from under trees and grass while walking along riverbanks. After a while they began to use pans to sift it out of sediment. Eventually they had to move underground, where gold ore is embedded in quartz veins which cut through the earth. To get it, they had to extract it by hammer, drill and dynamite. At Dahlonega, they dug tunnels up to 1000 feet below the surface in pursuit of these veins.

Walking around the tunnels deep under the earth tempers the allure of striking it rich. The miners’ work was dirty and dangerous. A miner could make a solid living and some got rich. Most didn’t, though, and the risks were great. The lowest workers were paid $1 a day to hold a stake in place for 12 hours while someone else hammered on it. If they slipped once and screwed up the bore hole they lost their dollar.

The tour guide told a story how some of the miners got wind of a gold rush in California and headed west, only to return to Dahlonega two years later, more broke than before, still hoping to hit the motherlode.


Creativity is minecraft.

The allure of hitting the motherlode is the myth that drives many of us creatives. If you’re the first on the scene, it can be as easy as going to the riverbank and picking up the nuggets. But eventually, you discover that the real creative work is deep underground, where you have to extract bits of gold from piles of rock. You give your life to it, going underground every day, hoping for a big hit. And sometimes you do. But most of your life is spent hammering, drilling and blasting in an effort to extract bits of beautiful ore.

If you’re lucky, you someday realize that the drilling and hammering isn’t just what you do while you wait for the big score, but it’s what creativity really is after all, and what you do isn’t about the myth of the motherlode but about the hard work of extraction. And that’s okay – and maybe not even just okay, but how it’s supposed to be.

The end of something is better than its beginning.
Patience is better than arrogance.
Ecclesiastes 7:8

Why do you create?


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Len Wilson

One Comment on “The Motherlode Myth”

  1. Pingback: 5 Sort of Easy Steps to Make a First Version of Your Creative Idea | Len Wilson

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