5 Big Lessons I Learned from Reading Big Magic
Is there a better feeling than devouring a book cover to cover? When you're so engrossed that you'll carry it with you at all times, hoping to steal a few minutes to read the next chapter?
I've only felt that way about a handful of books in my life, and I never thought the most gripping read of my year would be from the self-help shelves.
Until recently, I'd have self-defined as a self-help cynic. The tips they dole out are basically just common sense, right? Then I read Grit by Angela Lee Duckworth. The mental dialogue in my head as I was reading (that usually goes something like mmmm....mhm....is this supposed to be news to me?) was nodding along with uncharacteristic enthusiasm (yeah..... yeah.... then what happened? This reminds me of me in every possible way!) In Grit, Duckworth wasn't saying anything particularly revolutionary, but she highlighted everyday truths in a light I'd never seen them in before, and turned them into a blueprint for grabbing opportunity so whole-heartedly that I'd be torn between voraciously reading the next chapter and leaping out of my seat and getting on with making sh*t happen.
I came to Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic after watching her inspiring TED Talk about the life of a writer.
Boy am I glad I did.
Once I'd started Big Magic and realised what treasures lay within its pages, I devoured it over three evenings, and didn't fail to fit it or its author into every conversation I had in the follow up period. I then managed to find a great interview about the book with Marie Forleo, and enjoyed the message from its author all over again. Because okay, this isn't reinventing the wheel or anything either, but for me, as a creative, GIlbert's manifesto on creativity was pretty groundbreaking. There's a whole host of nuggets of inspiration lying within its pages, but there are five takeaways that really changed the way I viewed creativity. Here's what I learned.
1. You don’t need anyone’s permission to be creative.
Generally, when it comes to careers, you decide you want to do it and you do it. Wana be a doctor? Great, on your way. Dreaming of customer services? Interesting choice, but off you go. In nowhere but the creative arts, do we feel the need to seek validation for our passions from outsiders. We think that if we're not told how good a writer/singer/actor we are, we don't deserve to nurture that dream inside our souls. If the people around us aren't fully behind us, we're doomed right from the get go.
Well, Liz Gilbert (and now me) are calling bullshit on that.
Why should anyone but you have a say in your future? Sure, I'm going to be the first to suggest that whatever you do, you keep it legal, but beyond that, does anyone have a right to tell you how to live your life? If creativity is where you find peace and happiness, that's where you have to start. Period.
2. You might not be successful, and that’s OK.
This might sound like common sense, but honestly, it blew my mind. Creative careers are typically viewed with a sell-by date. I'll give this a go until I'm 25. then if it hasn't worked, I'll go out and get a real job. We all know people who have a dream, but who are doing something else with their lives because the chances of the dream working out are way too small.
To be honest, if you're in this thing for the recognition, you probably are better off bowing out now. If success is the most important thing to you, there are plenty of other industries that dole out pats on the back for much less blood, sweat and tears. But if you truly love what you're doing, success is the cherry on the cake, rather than the goal. Placing the burden on you not just to find time to create, but to be really insanely good at it, is pressure you don't need. As long as you're enjoying yourself, keep doing what you're doing.
3. You don’t have to lead an exclusively creative life to be creative.
If you decide to embrace #2 as your mantra, you need to get behind this one as well. Before reading this book, I was of the opinion that to be a successful writer, writing had to be my exclusive career, hobby and source of income. How could I call myself a writer when it wasn't paying the bills? I was a hobby writer, but first and foremost something else.
I'd like to thank Gilbert a thousand times over for opening my eyes on this one. A writer isn't exclusively someone who pays the bills through writing. A writer is someone who writes. A singer is someone who sings. A painter is someone who paints. Some people have gone so far as to argue that you'll do a much better job in whatever your creative field if you maintain the distinction between your job and your craft. The thing that's abundantly clear though, is that it's far better to earn a living and write on the side, than to write and starve or abandon your creativity entirely.
4. Your idea might not feel original, but YOU are.
We've all felt that frustration. Every idea you've had has been done a trillion times before, and you'd rather put nothing out there into the world than produce a mediocre piece of work that's merely a clone of someone else's. Thing is, if everyone had this opinion, the creative world would be drying up pretty fast.
Fact is, it's practically impossible to have an original thought these days. Come on, we've been on the planet for long enough now that someone somewhere is going to have had your idea first. The thing that makes your work unique isn't what you're doing (unless you're an abstract artist, then everyone has to pretend you're super duper great), but how you're doing it. A samey story line told in your unique voice is original and special to you. Promise.
5. You’re supporting your creative dream, not the other way round.
This for me is the biggest takeaway from Big Magic. Before reading, I fully expected my creative (ahem) genius to do the legwork in our relationship. If it wasn't quite polished enough to land me a book deal or a thousand readers to my blog, well hey, thanks for absolutely nothing.
Now, my mindset is transformed. I choose to view my creativity (bear with me here) as a lovable golden retriever type figure - full of joy and enthusiasm, but you wouldn't trust it with your life savings. The phrases 'feel the fear and do it anyway' or 'what would you do if you knew you could not fail?' are bandied about on Pinterest, but the reality is that lots of us might fail, and lots of our fears are actually trying to protect us from bankruptcy and homelessness. So, inspired by Gilbert, I've made a pact with my creativity: I will never expect it to be the sole breadwinner for us, and instead will use whatever means necessary to nurture it, and support us both so that it can thrive.