Big Magic and Moby-Dick

Andy Brink
Oct 10, 2017 · 3 min read
((Teeth spacing not to scale))

This morning I was reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic, her most recent, about the creative process.

It’s a marvelous book: hilarious, insightful, and challenging. Most of all, it’s gentle, which is something that my oft-uptight creativity craves.

Towards the end, Gilbert writes about how people with busy lives struggle to find the time to be creative.

She references a letter that Herman Melville, the celebrated author of Moby-Dick, wrote to Nathaniel Hawthorne, another famous American writer.

In the letter, Melville laments that he can’t find the time to do the work he longs to do. He’s just too damn busy!

Melville tells Hawthorne that he longs for a time of extended repose, when his mind can relax, unfurl, and get to the business of creating. He’d eventually get around to penning his book about this certain whale, if he could just get a handle on his daily life first.

I love this exchange. I’m so glad Gilbert shared it in Big Magic.

Not because it reminds me to buckle up, wake up earlier, and stop sniffling about how life is too hard or I’m too busy.

Not because if you could only get these two (or 22!) anti-procrastination habits down, you would be 43% more effective with your day.

I love it because Melville’s lament is so human. It’s so full of emotion. It’s so utterly us.

The dude just wants to write. He wants to write about this story he can’t get out of his head. But, you know: life.

Eventually, after he writes it, his story will be elevated into the pantheon of American Literature. Try finding a treatise on American writing that doesn’t have an excerpt from Moby-Dick in it.

The page couldn’t contain Moby-Dick. Its influence would eventually stretch into places Herman could have never imagined. How? Look at the white cardboard cup on your desk, the one with the green circle in the middle and the half-naked nymph. Starbucks took its name from a character in the book Melville was trying, trying to write, if he could only find the time. (BTW, Starbucks is a much better name than others management was considering, either Pequod or Cargo House. Close call!)

I love that at one point in time, Melville couldn’t find an hour of focus between work, kids, life, family, or whatever it was that bandied him to and fro. But today, on October 10th, 2017, his seminal work is so engrained in our national psyche that its tendrils touch even our daily caffeine intake.

I don’t know why I love this, but I do.

I relish the sheer humanity of this man whom we now consider a genius complaining to his friend…something I know that as a writer I would NEVER do. Right Patrick?

I love how cool it is that Gilbert dug up this correspondence and shared it with me. Otherwise, I might have thought that famous authors like Melville (or Gilbert), never battled with their humanity along the way.

I love the fact that we can share sentiment at all.

I love that in a world where there is so much we don’t say, that what we long to say, whether in a letter to a friend, or a book about fishing, can touch other people in ways we never envisioned.

Isn’t that the point of work, money, the Internet, politics, HR departments, cars, caffeine, love, and kids anyway? To share, to help, to connect?

Keep creating. Whether you’re Melville and your little ditty about a water mammal will ascend to literary Rushmore. Or whether your Elizabeth Gilbert and you’re writing an autobiography on creativity. Or whether you’re a Texas attorney writing in a Facebook status normally block reserved for funny memes, political outrage, and baby pics. The message is the same.

Keep it coming. All of it. We need to hear from you. We’re all in this together. Tell me what you got to say.

((Thanks for reading! Go buy Elizabeth Gilbert’s book BIG MAGIC on Amazon. Hit me up on Twitter @andrewbrink ))

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade