Reading List: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Image of Big Magic Book

Liz and I have a somewhat odd relationship. We’ve never met and she has no idea who I am, yet I feel a familiarity about her. Perhaps because in all her writings as Elizabeth Gilbert, her voice seems so intrinsically “her” on the page that she could almost be sat across a table in a cafe, nursing a cup of something delightfully warm, imparting the kind of knowledge only your most trusted friend would supply.

If an audio book could show its well-thumbed, dog eared pages, you’d either be alarmed at the state of them or in complete awe of the mental notes pencilled across the margins of my copy of Eat, Pray, Love. Far behind the crowds by a long shot, I came across her years after the height of her success, during a turbulent time in my life, and that audio book played on repeat for several months, her voice the only thing that was able to soothe my mind’s darkest moments.

I’d pre ordered Big Magic with the intention of reading it as soon as the parcel dropped on my mat, but life happened (as it often does) and it became one of the few books I’d lean against the spines of the rest of my collection, as if to say “this one next…”

In the years that have passed since Liz and I last met on the pages of a book, I’d forgotten her a little, and as I read I found she was still the beautiful wordsmith I remembered; still filled with all the intelligence and wit in the world; an old friend who’d once guided me off the ledge of my own life allowing me to rebuild myself stronger yet different.

 

The important thing to remember… about that exhilarating encounter between a human being and divine creative inspiration… is that you cannot expect it to be there for you all the time. It will come and go, and you must let it come and go.

 

In Big Magic she talks about throwing all caution to the wind, taking the hand of creativity and inspiration when it appears, and skipping off down the path of an idea. It might be a dead end, none of us will know until we reach it. Maybe it will fork off into another more interesting idea or lead us to the masterpiece of our lives. Or not. Maybe. Perhaps. And if that spark of inspiration doesn’t come to play for months or years, what then? Are we destined to wait around for inspiration to rock up and present us with the best thing we’ve ever written, painted, or crocheted? Liz says it’s better for inspiration to find us working. In essence, don’t stop, even when it’s painful and everything you create feels like it’s not quite right, because eventually… inspiration will flit in through a gap in the tiles when you least expect it, and you’ve got to be ready.

The book explains the paradox of the need for creative fear: that although we shouldn’t nurture fear, it does come hand in hand with creativity, and we can’t throw a hissy fit about the fact it’s there. Nothing will change that. Fear is so instinctual in us; it’s a necessary part of human existence. The moment we stop experiencing fear is the moment we stop questioning, and those questions are as important as it is to know when to tell fear to sit down and shut up. Liz even goes as far as to prepare a welcoming speech of sorts, to both welcome and put fear in its place.

 

Dear Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting – and, may I say, you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but, understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still – your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps; you’re not allowed to suggest detours; you’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.

 

It’s also refreshing to hear the gentle, but just tough enough “Liz Gilbert Smackdown”. Yes, fear may try to hold you back, but you are also very much responsible for your ability to show up for the work. None of us should put all the blame on fear. This very week, for example, I’d cracked open the stash of Kalms I keep in the back of a kitchen cupboard in case of emergencies, to try to counteract the crippling anxiety that came over me every time I attempted to write something. I understand more than most that saying “feel the fear and do it anyway” isn’t always a feasible option when it comes to anxiety; there’s no rhyme nor reason to it, but I know where it started. FEAR.

What made me keep coming back to the keyboard this week, was the notion that I had a choice. I could choose to let fear and anxiety win or I could continue to do my part, show up, sit, even if it yielded no notable work whatsoever.

But I would show the fuck up.

And I did. And it felt good.

Let me know what you think