This is the first in a series of posts about Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Join the discussion, and read more with us at the Books on Writing Reading Program!
“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner – -continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you – is a fine art, in and of itself (p 12).”
I feel like there’s a meme out there somewhere that illustrates this (although Gilbert’s book cover does a pretty good job of it). It’s like Dorothy leaving Kansas and entering Oz. Everything is dull and grey, and then suddenly it’s technicolor. That’s what creativity – of any sort – does to your world. Your senses are heightened, you notice more, you feel more alive. And it’s hard to go back from that.
“I believe that our planet is inhabited…by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us – albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest (p 34-35).”
This reminds me of Julia Cameron’s idea that the stories are out there, waiting for you to discover them. Gilbert tells the story of Ruth Stone, who would “take dictation, letting the words pour forth onto the page (p 64).” This is exactly what Cameron, in The Artist’s Way, is talking about when she says, “When I teach screenwriting, I remind my students that their movie already exists in it’s entirety. Their job is to listen for it, watch it with their mind’s eye, and write it down (The Artist’s Way, p 118).”
Gilbert goes on to say, “The idea will organize coincidences and portents to tumble across your path, to keep your interest keen – you will start to notice all sorts of signs pointing you toward the idea (p 36).” This sounds suspiciously like Cameron’s idea of synchronicity!
Gilbert talks about the book idea she had, Evelyn of the Amazon, and how she left it unattended for a long period of time, and when she got back to it the novel was gone. I worry about this with my WIP, Luke and Ann (working title). I love this book so much, but I’m so stuck, and I’ve been stuck for 4+ years. I’ve decided to take a break from it, and I’m scared it won’t be there when I get back to it. It still calls me, I still think of it often, and I still spin my wheels on it. Has the idea “grown tired of waiting” and left? I hope, since I’m still hearing the siren’s call, that’s not the case, but in the meantime, it’s slowly driving me insane.
But there’s still hope: “Sometimes they do wait. Some exceedingly patient ideas might wait years, or even decades, for your attention (p 48).” I can only hope my idea does. Still, I might need to remember this advice: “…the best you can hope for…is to let your old idea go and catch the next idea that comes around. And the best way for that to happen is to move on swiftly, with humility and grace. Don’t fall into a funk about the one that got away. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t rage at the gods above. All that is nothing but distraction, and the last thing you need is further distraction. Grieve if you must, but grieve efficiently. Better to just say goodbye to the lost idea with dignity and continue onward. Find something else to work on – anything, immediately – and get at it (p 48-49).”
This is not The Artist’s Way, although I do see a lot of similar thoughts echoed. Julia Cameron leads you along gently, coaxing, trying not to scare you, like luring an abused dog to trust you. Gilbert doesn’t have time for all that. Put on your big girl panties and let’s go. She writes in a friendly tone, almost as if you’re sitting across the table from her. You’ve just finished telling her how terrible everything is, and she says, yes, yes, I know, I’m so sorry. So what are you going to do about it? She’s the friend that drops truth bombs on you, the one that sees through all your bullshit and calls you on it. In the most loving, caring way possible, of course.
And sometimes, that’s just what you need.
What do you think so far of the book? Has anything touched you, sparked your interest, made you realize something about yourself or your writing? Do you have an idea that may have waited too long for you? Let me know in the comments below!
Join me next Friday to discuss Big Magic, Part 3 (Permisssion)