I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear last weekend. While I don’t normally review novels on this site, I thought I’d highlight a nonfiction book that may especially resonate with some of you fellow writers and other creative people.
Unlike other books on how to unlock creativity or be a writer, Gilbert’s book is more philosophical, more a collection of thoughts, quotes, and stories around six ingredients she sees as part of creativity: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust, and divinity. So if you’re looking for a clear path to Becoming an Artist, this ain’t it. But it is a breezy, accessible, inspiring, funny, and often poignant view of creativity that we don’t always read about.
Gilbert suggests we should all have a light, playful relationship with creativity and the inspiration that flows to us (what she calls “Big Magic”). This can be the calling we feel to be a novelist, but it can also be the simple interest we have in taking tap lessons or cooking casseroles. It’s all making. She’s not a fan of quitting your day job to do pottery full-time, or getting a MFA, or crocheting an afghan until it’s perfect. Above all, she’s not keen on the idea of the miserable starving artist. Instead, she wants us all to approach the creative pursuits that interest us diligently–but not so seriously, and with a sense of joy and wonder.
Particularly for a romance author like myself, Elizabeth Gilbert’s metaphors on having a relationship with creativity can delightfully veer into sexy, even tawdry, territory. In Big Magic, as in an episode of her Magic Lessons podcast (“Sexy, Dirty, Nasty, Wicked”), she says to have an affair with your art. When people have affairs, she reasons, they make time to see that person, even if it’s just for a stolen kiss. It’s exciting. It’s special. It’s something you can hide away.
I love this, since writing is often this for me–something I steal time to create, something just for myself as I’m drafting, something thrilling. Seeing writing this way, or whatever art gets your blood pumping, is a great shift to embrace, since it then feels like something you crave and yearn to get back to…versus that story you really ought to finish.
Gilbert also extends the sex metaphor to how we should treat art lightly, regardless of outcome. In the Magic Lessons podcast episode “Access Your Joy,” she advises a songwriter who’s having trouble penning lyrics to commemorate her sister. “I think it’s possible that you might have a little bit too much respect for music…You know how sometimes… when someone respects you too much, the sex is no good?” Though likely controversial, I get her drift: take your creativity too seriously, too reverently, too concerned with making A Great Thing, and you risk losing the joy and passion for it–and perhaps even the momentum to create.
I’m curious: do you other writers (/knitters/painters/potters/poets) out there see your art like a French lover?
I’m trying to with a short story I’m writing now. But, don’t tell anybody: I don’t want the novel I need to revise finding out.