I had the pleasure of intersecting with Elizabeth Gilbert yesterday afternoon. As I’ve mentioned before, her latest book, Big Magic is a work which resonates on several levels. She’s a dynamic speaker and is incredibly raw and uninhibited when she talks about writing, life and everything-in-between. I’ve had the pleasure of listening to her once before and learned so much wisdom from her previous visit. My second experience offered different lessons on writing and life and here is a sampling of what I learned:
1. PERFECTIONISM IS A SERIAL KILLER
Gilbert emphasized the following point: To enjoy the miracle of creativity you must kill perfection. In regards to our writing, there is a certain vision we imagine in our head versus our expectations of how it might translate on the page. Take a sledgehammer to this vision in your head and just begin with the work without comparing it to what it should be. She admitted her own work has places where plot lines fail, beginnings and endings are rushed and characters aren’t as developed, but she still took the risk to unleash her version of her work to the world. She said, “I made this. And it might be messy, full of nails, duct tape and bandaged together – but you know, there isn’t anything else like this in the world.”
2. UNDERSTAND THE PLACE WHERE YOU ARE IS WHERE YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE
Midway through her talk, an audience member asked how to overcome the voices that say she isn’t old enough or good enough to take on a certain project. To this Gilbert offered a candid answer. There is a huge gap between what you can do and what is deemed good – and the only way to reconcile this chasm is to accept where you are now and then PRACTICE the process. It isn’t going to happen overnight and you must be patient and loving with wherever you are.
3. SAFEGUARD YOUR ENERGY
Are you constantly throwing up excuses that blind side your work? Do you complain you don’t have time or energy to do what you want to pursue? Gilbert urges us to safeguard our energy and that means saying no to things we enjoy and don’t enjoy. By committing to your craft, you cut distractions and she emphasized it might mean also stepping back from things you love.
4. THERE IS NO SPECIAL CREDIT FOR FEAR
When we focus on our anxieties, it is the same thoughts running in our head every single time and there is no special credit for these fears. Fear doesn’t have any variety to it. It’s boring and repetitive, but according to Gilbert, you still need to make space for it. Imagine a road trip – where creativity and magic go on the road and of course, fear wants to accompany you on your trip. You welcome fear, but you don’t let it navigate the road, tell you what places to visit and under no circumstances is it allowed to change the radio station. Creativity and magic have firm control of the wheel and YOU direct fear to take the back seat.
5. YOU WILL NEVER GET IN TROUBLE FOR FAILING
In our writing and personal lives, the fear of failing is pervasive. How many times do we stop ourselves for fear of being rejected? Gilbert conversed with her friend, Brene Brown about this very subject and they arrived at this wisdom: “Unused creativity is not benign.” Without your creativity, you are not ok. She urged us to fail in interesting ways.
For those of you reading Big Magic, what has resonated with you the most?
I enjoyed this, Rudri, and thought it was wonderful you were able to meet her in person. I would love that opportunity (in my daydreams she finds my writing, emails me, and asks if she can be my personal mentor). The biggest thing about her book, for me, was that creating should be something you do because you love it, not because you want it to be your job or your life but simply because you can’t imagine NOT doing it. It was an eye opening moment for me!
Thanks, Allison. Your takeaway from the book is what resonated with me too. On days I feel irritated, I survey the details of my day and more often than not it’s because I haven’t dedicated any time to my writing practice. It took some time for me to realize the undercurrent of my irritation.
Such great points. I loved Big Magic. Like really, really loved it. The points you listed above were some of the best take-aways from the book, I think. I also like the point that she makes about scarcity and the way we tend to think that someone else got what was ours, or that someone stepped on our toes while doing their thing. We toss elbows to get ahead, or we have a knee-jerk reaction that someone “stole our idea.” But Gilbert makes the point that there is no scarcity of creativity, and we all bring our own uniqueness to everything that we do.
During her talk she mentioned a conversation with Ann Patchett. Both were exchanging ideas about their novels and how they centered on the same theme – the Amazon. Gilbert mentioned they were both surprised they were writing on similar subjects, but instead of accusing each other of stealing ideas, they embraced the fact that they landed in the same place. I love how she believes there is room for all of us.
I have a hard time and working actively on #1 and #2. Those are powerful words and so very true. It’s hard to admit that where you are is where you are supposed to be when you are a perfectionist who wants to be advanced right away but things take time adn one must be patient. Have a great one Rudri and glad you were able to see Elizabeth Gilbert! Take Care -Iva
I think when we give ourselves licenses to be less than perfect, a whole world opens up. It is definitely a process to arrive at this place.
We are on the same wavelength Rudri. I am about three quarters of the way through Big Magic and it is astounding. Even though I probably know in my heart most of the truths Elizabeth Gilbert is giving us, somehow reading them “out loud” brings so much relief and inspiration. I’m also reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and the two books are working well together: creating space in which to live creatively. xo
I loved your piece on Big Magic and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up – merging the themes of these two works is a great way to pave the road for maximum creativity.
I think what resonated with me the most was her discussion about “good enough”. We can’t hit the sweet spot with writing every time, sometimes what we produce is good enough and that’s okay. I kind of needed that permission, you know? I love this: “Because that is the anthem of my people. That is the song of the Discipline Half Ass.
By giving ourselves permission to let go of our writing is a part of the process. I need to embrace this philosophy when I revise my work. That’s when the words “good enough” blocks my writing energy. I am so grateful Gilbert offered some sound advice on navigating the creative life.
I just picked up her book Big Magic this weekend. I’ve never read any of her stuff (despite the high praise) but this one has intrigued me because SO MANY folks have loved it within my creative spheres. Glad you got to see her in person!
Have you read The Signature of All Things? I am curious to hear your thoughts on her fiction.
I did enjoy her talk – she’s quite transparent and authentic in person. (By the way, I will email you soon).
Dear Rudri, thank you for sharing this, it is so timely. I have been struggling with #1. The vision and what I heard in my head and then not having it translate to the page. It really helped me with my current project. Wishing you a peace filled day.
Perfectionism is a serial killer of writing and also other aspects of our lives. It prevents us from beginning. Gilbert’s message focuses on starting and watching the magic unfold.
Thank you for sharing this today. Fear is my big issue. Ordering the book today!
I hope passages of the book resonate with you. Would love to hear your thoughts. Thx!
I haven’t read it yet, but I have ordered her book. I know I’m going to love it. How wonderful you got to attend this and hear her speak.
I do believe many of the passages will resonate with you. I am curious to hear your thoughts after you read the book.
I’m so happy you reported on the talk. I LOVED the book so much and highlighted so many sections. She’s so encouraging AND realistic.
She is an effective speaker as well. There is authenticity about her that accompanies her message. It is powerful and comforting to witness.
I am happy that you had this experience Rudri. Thank you for sharing.
I have yet to order the book but watched her interview on this over at YouTube. One of the things that struck me and stuck with me was when she said that ‘finishing’ is better than ‘good’; that there are far too many unfinished work out there and it’s better to get something done, however it turns out, rather than obsess over it being good.
Not relying on perfection offers liberty on the page (and for that matter in other parts of our lives to).