Big Magic: Or, Some Pre-NaNoWriMo Wisdom

NaNoWriMo is a month of fear and excitement. It’s thirty days of creativity, pressure and bloody minded determination that sometimes ends in 50,000 words. NaNoWriMo, whether you’ve done it tons of times or are making your first attempt, is a pretty daunting prospect, and I can think of no better advice to get you started than that given by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

Because we all need a little NaNo-spiration.

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On fear (and getting started anyway)…

‘Dearest 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 making any decisions along the way.’

On living a creative life…

‘You can live a long life, making and doing cool things the entire time. You might earn a living with your pursuits, or you might not, but you can recognize that this is not really the point. And at the end of your days, you can thank creativity for having blessed you with a charmed, interesting, passionate existence.’

On writing…

‘Most of my writing life, to be perfectly honest, is not freaky, old-timey, voodoo- style Big Magic. Most of my writing life consists of nothing more than unglamorous, disciplined labor. I sit at my desk and I work like a farmer, and that’s how it gets done. Most of it is not fairy dust in the least.

But sometimes it is fairy dust. Sometimes, when I’m in the midst of writing, I feel like I am suddenly walking on one of those moving sidewalks that you find in a big airport terminal; I still have a long slog to my gate, and my baggage is still heavy, but I can feel myself being gently propelled by some exterior force. Something is carrying me along – something powerful and generous – and something that is decidedly not me.

On originality…

‘…the older I get, the less impressed I become with originality. These days, I’m far more moved by authenticity. Attempts at originality can often feel forced and precious, but authenticity has a quiet resonance that never fails to stir me.’

On rejection…

‘…editors could reject me all they wanted; I wasn’t going anywhere. Whenever I got those rejection letters, then, I would permit my ego to say aloud to whoever had signed it: “You think you can scare me off? I’ve got another eighty years to wear you down! There are people who haven’t even been born yet who are going to reject me someday – that’s how long I plan to stick around.”

Then I would put the letter away and get back to work.’

On being an artist without losing your mind…

‘The paradox that you need to comfortably inhabit, if you wish to live a contented creative life, goes something like this: “My creative expression must be the most important thing in the world to me (if I am to live artistically), and it also must not matter at all (if I am to live sanely).’

On life, the long game…

‘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 I can neither see nor prove, nor command, nor understand.

It’s a strange line of work, admittedly.

I cannot think of a better way to pass my days.’

 

Big Magic

The tag-line of Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert is ‘Creative living beyond fear.’ Anyone who has ever listened to Liz Gilbert talk will know this is pretty much what she’s about. It is a book that implores the reader to get out of their own way. It’s where a lot of us are.

It’s a place I’m in ninety percent of the time.

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Symptoms

  • Constantly comparing yourself to others.
  • Avoiding starting projects because of fear.
  • Spending long afternoons convincing yourself that you have nothing to contribute.

Sound familiar? Yes? Don’t feel bad.  Lots of people brought this book. There are a few of us around.

Big Magic is medicine for all the above complaints. It offers a way to work through your fears to become the person and creator you want to be.

Big Magic Lessons:

There is room for everyone

For many of us, the second thought after an idea is usually along the lines of I bet someone already did this. The truth is, yeah, someone probably already did. We’ve been on this planet a few million years and we’ve been telling stories the whole time. But that doesn’t mean you don’t have anything to contribute. Yes, someone has told the story before, but you haven’t. That’s the crucial part.

If you feel the need for evidence of this fact please turn to the genre of fairytale retellings.  Are there a million of them? Yes. Have we, the blogger community, read most of that million? Yes. Would be read more? Winter just happened, didn’t it?

Misery isn’t a prerequisite for creativity

You don’t have to suffer to make art. In fact, Liz Gilbert is a big proponent of something she calls stubborn gladness. Part of this is living with the knowledge that whatever is bad for you, is also most likely, bad for your art.

I have never brought into the idea of the suffering artist. There are few things I find more annoying than when people make jokes about how their stable, happy upbringings were so detrimental to their art that they created drama to compensate.

Another aspect of stubborn gladness is resilience. It’s the choice to remain true to yourself through rejections, setbacks and failures. It’s approaching each new obstacle with a smile.

Perfection isn’t a ‘thing’

Gilbert advocates for deeply disciplined half ass-ery. This means that we should create constantly, but with the mindset that all projects have an ending. Odds are, that ending isn’t going to be perfect. There are going to be sentences, characters and chapter endings that no matter what you do just don’t quite work. But at some point you just have to throw up your hands and admit that you’re finished. Sometimes, as Gilbert says ‘done is better than good.’

Fear is always with you… and that’s actually fine

Fear is a part of creativity. Gilbert talks about how whether you like it or not, it’s going to come with on whatever creative journey you decide to take. Her argument is that if you spend the whole time fighting it, chances are you’re never even going to leave the starting line. Instead of striking out into the unknown you’ll be left sitting at the bottom of your staircase surrounded by suitcases, so busy arguing with an imaginary demon that you didn’t even notice your life passing by.

So take the pressure off.

Let fear in. Just don’t let it take control. Acknowledge it, but also remember that it’s no use to you on this journey – the demon couldn’t read a map if it’s life depended on it. If you make fear your companion and partner in your creative endeavours, it can’t hurt you anymore.