I intentionally published this review of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear the week of the one-year anniversary of my blog, Good Life. Better., because I thought it a very fitting way to celebrate these last twelve months of creating.
(Want to read more about the nuts and bolts of my first year blogging? Check out this guest post on Do You Even Blog!)
As I shared in 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Start a Blog, this is not my first blog but it is the only one that didn’t die a very early death.
Why is this? Based on this lovely book by the successful writer of Eat, Pray, Love (which, I confess, has sat unread on my shelf for many years, purchased after seeing the movie), it is because fear got in the way of living a creative life and I think this sounds about right. But maybe I am getting ahead of the myself.
What is Creative Living?
In Big Magic, Elizabeth states her belief that “the universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them,” adding:
The hunt to uncover those jewels—that’s creative living.
The courage to go on that hunt in the first place—that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one.
The often surprising results of that hunt—that’s what I call Big Magic.
This hunt is a scary thing, as you can imagine. If you have been told your whole life you aren’t enough, it will likely require lots of daring to look in the mirror and say, “actually, not only am I enough but I have some amazing gifts to offer the world.” Piles and piles of daring.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to become fearless (which is good news because fear and I go way back and I don’t see it taking a hike anytime soon). Instead, it’s about letting the daring and the fear co-exist.
It seems to me that my fear and my creativity are basically conjoined twins—as evidenced by the fact that creativity cannot take a single step forward without fear marching right alongside it.
Why this symbiotic relationship? Simple: “Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcomes, and fear hates uncertain outcomes.”
So Why Choose Creative Living?
Constantly negotiating with fear doesn’t sound very attractive, so why do it? Because, she says, of the “quiet glory of merely making things, and then sharing those things with an open heart and no expectations.”
All I know for certain is that this is how I want to spend my life—collaborating to the best of my ability with forces of inspiration that I can neither see, nor prove, nor command, nor understand.
I can appreciate her choice.
Your Permission to Create
Living a creative life will require you to commit and work hard, and there will be lots of doubts that can stop you in your tracks.
The first doubt she addresses goes back to that daring mentioned above. “Who am I to think I could be a [fill in the blank]?” you may ask yourself. Her response? Your existence alone is justification.
Are you considering become a creative person? Too late, you already are one….
If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers….
The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts only belong to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying. We are all the chosen few. We are all makers by design.
Next, she says to stop worrying about being original because it’s unlikely what you produce will be original anyway (even Shakespeare borrowed his plots from those who came before him). Focus on being authentic by creating in your voice.
Also, she adds, don’t feel that whatever you create must change the world to have value. It’s “okay if your work is healing for you, or fascinating for you, or redemptive for you, or if it’s maybe just a hobby that keeps you from going crazy…. Your own reasons are enough. Merely by pursuing what you love, you may inadvertently end up helping us plenty.”
Her example? Her wildly successful travel memoir, Eat, Pray, Love.
Living My Creative Life
There is so much in this book that resonated with me, especially about the healing aspect of being creative.
Give your mind a job to do, or else it will find a job to do, and you might not like the job it invents…. It has taken me years to learn this, but it does seem to be the case that if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind).
As I have shared elsewhere, the grief after my brother’s suicide in 2012 was almost my undoing. I continued to breathe and go to work and to function, but I felt hollowed out and so very fearful of life.
Grief can still knock me on my ass—I suspect it will always be able to do so—but strangely enough over the last few years I no longer feel so powerless.
I know the answer to the question “what’s the worst thing that can happen” and it is not “no one reads what I publish” or “people don’t like what I write.” (If only!)
Don’t get me wrong: I do want people to read what I write and to find value in it for their lives. And, if someone starts trolling me, it will undoubtedly make me start second-guessing myself.
But, if it takes time to build an audience and maybe even more time to get paid for the hours I put into this thing, this is not a tragedy.
If your calling is to make things, then you still have to make things in order to live out your highest creative potential—and also to remain sane.
I needed to stop feeling powerless to start this blog but once I started, the joy and satisfaction I got from creating was more than I could ever have imagined. From a business perspective, Year One was promising, but from a life perspective, it was a roaring success.
What’s Next for this Creative Badass?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about something that happened a long time ago—even before my father died—when I was 13 or 14. I had just finished reading S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders and was so moved and inspired by it that I told myself that I was going to do that too one day: I was going to be a writer.
I didn’t act on this pledge for many, many years.
For most of those years, I lacked the daring to tell the person in the mirror I had something to give. Then, in a burst of almost manic excitement spurred on by my efforts and success at improving my health and getting out of debt, I started Good Life. Better. I became a writer.
Up next, I will continue to write for this blog, improving my skills along the way and helping others on their journeys to take control of their finances, careers, and health. Once it is on solid ground, I will then branch out into longer-form communications, including e-books and video training series.
And someday, I am not sure when, I will branch out into writing fiction. I feel like there are ideas fluttering around me at the moment that aren’t quite ready to fully reveal themselves. When they do, though, I want to be open to them. Because that’s how creative badasses roll!
Are You Living Your Creative Life?
Are you incorporating creative living into your life? If not, why? Is it because—like me for so many years—you are struggling to believe you have something amazing inside of you to share with the world?
If that’s even a little bit of the reason, I urge you to rethink your worth. Start incorporating a little bit of creative whimsy into your life and see what happens!
Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below!
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