Most writers need an attitude adjustment about their creativity. I know I did. After reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, my head’s buzzing with ideas to share with you. It blew me away. The #1 takeaway you need to hear…
Stop waiting for permission to write.
Big Magic’s Big Mama
Liz Gilbert is the world-renowned author of Eat Pray Love, a memoir that sold over twelve million copies, then was made into a movie with the same title, starring Julia Roberts. That book didn’t change my life the way it was touted, but I still thought, “Man, this chick is smart and funny and cool. I’d pilgrimage with her anytime.” Plus, I’m willing to listen to anyone who’s sold millions of books.
Liz gives all artists a big ol’ talking-to. She says we don’t need permission from anyone to live a creative life. Maybe your parents didn’t give you that permission to do so, but ignore them. Look back further at your ancestors. Before binge watching on TV, gaming and the lives of couch potatoes took over, go back several centuries to when everyone was creative. There was no Target. People made stuff. They were welders, shoe makers, carpenters, butchers, gardeners, hatters, potters, bakers, painters, jewelers, glass blowers and masons.
This is who we were.
This is who we still are.
The Worst Girlfriend Ever
This is my favorite analogy in Big Magic. A young man once told Liz, “Writing is like that bitchy, beautiful girl in high school who you always worshiped, but who only toyed with you for her own purposes. You know in your heart that she’s bad news, and you should probably just walk away from her forever, but she always lures you back in. Just when you think she’s finally going to be your girlfriend, she shows up at school holding hands with the captain of the football team, pretending she’s never met you. All you can do is weep in a locked bathroom stall. Writing is evil.”
“That being the case,” Liz asked him, “what do you want to do with your life?”
“I want to be a writer,” he said.
Stop Being Addicted to Suffering
As a society, we’re pain junkies. We wear our creative torment like badges of honor. We even use it in our language:
The starving artist.
To write, cut open a vein and bleed.
Toiling away over your book.
Kill your darlings.
That doesn’t sound very happy. The myth of the tortured artist has always existed, and that illusion has left countless corpses behind: F. Scott Fitzgerald drank himself to death, Virginia Woolf drowned herself, Ernest Hemingway put a bullet through his brain. All these authors were considered to be the best of the best, but they still destroyed themselves in the end.
“Writer” and “crazy” don’t have to go hand in hand.
My Own Suffering
I’m not an alcoholic or drug addict, but I’ve struggled over the years with my own love/hate relationship with writing. I’ve badmouthed and belittled my muse. I’ve verbally beaten the hell out of her, then expected her to show up daily and dazzle me on the page. No wonder she appears with such reluctance.
Why should creativity bless me with another story, or any words for that matter, if I groan about her, and act like she’s an all-round pain in the arse?
It was an epiphany a few years ago to realize what an important part fears plays in the process (self-doubt, perfectionism, procrastination). It’s an equal revelation now to know how much I should delight in my fears. Not treat them like those drunk, obnoxious relatives who show up uninvited at Thanksgiving.
My New Attitude Toward Creativity
Now, I’m seeing creativity like a game of Charades. Creativity is making all the silly hand gestures to me, and I’m trying my hardest to guess what creativity’s trying to tell me and pen that story. Here’s the kicker. Creativity and I are on the same team. We’re not enemies at all. Creativity wants me to win. It just can’t give me the answer ‘cause that’s against the rules.
You don’t need anyone’s permission to be creative. Not New York City publishing, not your parents, not that teacher who said you didn’t have enough talent.
Write. Do it badly, but happily, so that someday you may do it better, or even be great.
The only one stopping you is you.