I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Elizabeth Gilbert is my favorite writer. The proof is in the pudding: I have read three of her books (Eat Pray Love, Committed, and Big Magic) more than one time each. Most recently, I revisited Big Magic because…
…when one leaves a steady, creative job to embark on her own, self-started creative adventure in the hopes of making something out of nothing, she could probably use a little Liz Gilbert wisdom. And I did. So this go’round I sponged the contents of that book up like whoa. LIKE. WHOA.
The first time I read Big Magic was in the Fall of 2015 and how Gilbert explained ideas, inspiration, and creativity resonated with every fiber of my being. It inspired my one little word® for 2016 and I spent all of that year living as BIG as I could, paying attention to clues and zoning in.
I love how she stressed curiosity, and following THAT. Curiosity has been what’s driving this site and everything coming up next for me.
This time around, with newly opened chunks of time on my lap to plan out what’s next for me – I read Big Magic with a different set of eyes, and a new perspective: one that is ready to ‘make things happen’ for herself, someway somehow.
Four key points stuck out the most to me in this revisitation, and I can pinpoint them because I was able to use them as examples in recent conversations with my boyfriend, John.
(1.) Firstly, I can’t expect my creativity to support me; I have to support it. Creative living isn’t always easy, but it’s always possible. Make art out of “things residual” in stolen time. In other words, create whenever you can with whatever you have. (pg. 158)
// WHAT THAT MEANS TO ME: I often times feel an acute panic to make a living off of my creativity. However, I’ve come to the realization that (1) making a living off of your creativity is NOT a guarantee, and (2) I will spend an enormous amount of unpaid hours on my creativity in pursuit of this goal to which there is no such guarantee, so I better have another way to support myself and this impulse. Noted, Liz Gilbert.
(2.) The second point that buzzed in my psyche was this: conventional success depends upon three factors — talent, luck, and discipline — and we can only control one out of three of those things: the discipline, a.k.a. showing up everyday. Liz Gilbert writes, “…the best plan would be to work my ass off. That was the only card I had to play, so I played it hard.” (pg. 183)
// WHAT THAT MEANS TO ME: I have to show up and get better by doing the work — not reading about the work or fantasizing about the work or listening to a podcast about the work. I have to go hard: design the printables, write the posts, call the shots, hit the deadlines — it’s up to me to get the content out there — the talent will follow (or not) and the luck will happen (or not). Show up anyway. Everyday. With whatever inspiration’s got for me at that time. I shall do whatever I can with it.
(3.) The story about Gilbert’s Uncle Nick (page 196) about the response the great American writer Richard Ford gave a man in the audience is the third key point that I loved loved loved. Basically, the man in the audience can’t figure out why Ford is a celebrated writer, and he is not, even though they are the same age, from the same background and write about similar themes. The man asks Ford for advice but begs him not to tell him to “just persevere” because that’s all anyone ever tells him to do.
Ford’s reply is perfect. Ford says, “Sir, I am sorry for your disappointment. Please believe me, I would never insult you by simply telling you to persevere. I can’t even imagine how discouraging that would be to hear, after all these years of rejection. In fact, I will tell you something else – something that may surprise you. I’m going to tell you to quit.”
Ford continues: “I say this to you only because writing is clearly bringing you no pleasure. It is only bringing you pain. Our time on earth is short and should be enjoyed. You should leave this dream behind and go find something else to do with your life. Travel, take up new hobbies, spend time with your family and friends, relax. But don’t write anymore, because it’s obviously killing you.” … … … “However, I will say this. If you happen to discover, after a few years away from writing, that you have found nothing that takes its place in your life — nothing that fascinates you, or moves you, or inspires you to the same degree that writing once did…well, then sir, I’m afraid you will have no choice but to persevere.”
// WHAT IT MEANS TO ME: I am here to stay. By “here” I mean living this creative life, which wraps us back around to the first point that I have to support and foster and allow for this creative life to happen because nothing else fascinates, moves, or inspires me to the same degree as blogging, crafting, designing does. I can’t expect my creativity to support me monetarily, but I can expect it to support me emotionally and spiritually, which, hey…is worth it.
Also, this story touches upon the dreaded phenomenon of comparison. Ick. Eww. We seem to be surrounded by people (thanks, social media) that we perceive to be just as capable as we are of doing the great things we dream of, yet there they are doing them, and here we are NOT doing them. This is all a bunch of hooey, really, because we are not them – they are not us – and our journeys are inevitably going to look different. Making a living off of your creativity is NOT a guarantee, but still — what a thing to get to participate in something you love! We need to learn to ride on that a little bit more.
(4.) Finally, in one of the last chapters of Big Magic (pg 232), Gilbert touches upon the notion of lightness in your work, and relates it to not holding so heavy to your heart the sacredness of your work. She writes “what you produce is not necessarily always sacred just because you think its sacred. What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life. The more lightly you can pass that time, the brighter your existence becomes.”
// WHAT IT MEANS TO ME: This is the trick, I believe: to have fun even when the delightful expression of this thing you love feels heavy and sacred and scary. The way to do this is to remember that creativity is just that: a delightful expression of something you love, and try to take delight in it. Bravo for making something — anything: this post, an art journal page, a diary entry, a half-assed version of a gourmet recipe, mistakes in a dance routine, a phone pic of your pet — you did it! Did you enjoy it? Good! Now, try something else!
I took all this and more away from Big Magic this time around, and Lord knows I needed it. Cheers to this creative conversation, forever & always!