Lessons I Learned From Elizabeth Gilbert’s Book on Creativity
4 lessons that I borrowed from ‘Big Magic’ to enjoy and enrich art as a process
I have always loved reading books on writing, even before I decided to pursue writing. A writer’s memoir about his craft satisfies my curiosity about the behind-the-scenes of my favorite books.
For instance, Stephen King’s memoir On Writing is one of the best books on practical writing. But the way he narrated his inspiration and its translation into best sellers makes it even more interesting and actionable.
When I started my writing journey, each book on writing subconsciously helped me learn the ropes of writing. However, Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic entirely changed the roots of my creative life and, for that matter, of my life.
They offer inspiration as well as a practical way to unleash the reader’s creative soul.
Elizabeth’s candid write-up about the beauties and frustrations of a creative life and about letting go of fear encourages everyone to kill the boredom of creative life by rebelling against fear.
Here are the top four lessons I learned from reading Big Magic.
1. Follow your curiosity while writing
Many lessons that we have learned from self-help speakers motivate us to follow our passion.
A combination of passion and love creates a path of least resistance — where we sometimes cannot feel the obvious frustrations because of our dedication and love.
One issue is that some of us have no obvious way to figure out our passion amid the abundant choices and our inclinations.
A study, for example, shows within 3 years of initial enrollment, about 30 percent of undergraduates change their major at least once.
Similarly, in writing, some of us intuitively know the topics (niche) for which we’re passionate. Yet, at the same time, others have to try their hands on varied topics to uncover passion.
As she says,
“Passion can seem intimidatingly out of reach at times — a distant tower of flame, accessible only to geniuses and to those who are especially touched by God.” Elizabeth Gilbert
The abundant choices and our flexible interests make it even more confusing. So the lesson of the following curiosity is pertinent when we aren’t sure about passion.
When we choose a random topic, it’s even more difficult to translate our thoughts into our writings, as per my experience.
The topics that fuel and satisfy our curiosity tempt us to probe deeply into the topic and thus helps in mature writing.
Furthermore, curiosity is unbiased and approachable — an honest call by our soul.
Curiosity is a disguised form of passion as it leads us to our passion.
So in creative and other realms of life, when we aren’t sure about passion, curiosity is a sure way to uncover and chase it.
“Curiosity is, in great and generous minds, the first passion and the last.”
― Samuel Johnson, Works of Samuel Johnson
2. Write as if the outcome does not matter
Looking upwards and onwards is a part of human nature. But this approach isn’t feasible in the creative realms of life.
Elizabeth asked her readers to have a fierce trust in themselves and writing — a compelling trust to avoid fear and perfectionism. Having trust in our writing practices helps us to enjoy writing as a process.
All writers start their journey at a different point, even though our destination is the same. With each piece of writing, we learn about new directions of our writing life.
But the harsh truth about online writing is ‘we’ve to consider skimmers’, as most online readers are skimmers.
Now writing for skimmers means rebelling against all techniques of beautiful write-up and offering the reader what he wants. We write in an objective tone instead of following a writing process, and the result is an article that soon dies its death because there are many similar articles. (Trust me, I know it too well!)
I believe as a writer, we all want to write at least one such piece that wouldn’t have to die as the day ends. We want to write stuff to evoke a stronger emotional reaction from our readers. We crave to leave a part of ourselves in the literary world, which would make us immortal.
However, the fear of the outcome makes our writing boring, and we unconsciously chain our creative souls.
Considering the outcome of my writing, for me, is like trying to please everyone at the expense of my pleasure. And if you have had read self-help books, you might know how bad it is for ourselves — for our creativity.
This writing lesson, in particular, has blessed me with a luxurious and liberating writing life. It allows me to learn and practice every single literary technique to hone my craft.
Craving for growth instead of perfection encourages us to explore our writing journey — a lonely yet beautiful journey.
So the miracles in our creative life expect a lifelong dedication to our purpose — a dedication that asks nothing in return — a dedication that has no worries for outcomes as the book instructs.
“In a creative career, thinking about odds is a drink of emotional poison. It robs us of the dignity of art-as-process and puts us at the mercy of imagined powers out there.” -Julia Cameron
3. The reaction to your work does not belong to you
One major purpose of our writing is to share it with the world. And so we’re told to consider the audience’s preference before ours.
Our creativity has roots in our ideas and thus in our lives, as ideas are based on our observations and experiences — on our life. Some of our ideas may seem weird or even disagreeable because we all are unique in our experiences.
But as the writer said, it’s not the writer’s responsibility to have ideas that resonate with people. The writer isn’t there to teach or to serve the reader.
Each idea, each aspect of our life has worth. How we write is way more important than what we write. The way we engage readers with our writing depends on how we write. A respectful and mature write-up, even on a disagreeable topic, makes it less disagreeable.
The reader on the other side of the story can not see beyond his perspective. Therefore, he can not see the motive and provocation behind the story even though he wants to.
So there is a fair chance of being misunderstood, of being judged. But it’s neither reader’s fault nor the writer’s.
“Recognizing this reality, that reaction does not belong to you is the only sane way to create it.” Elizabeth Gilbert
For instance, the death of an unvaccinated person in my neighborhood deeply touched me. The family is grieving loss and is sad for delaying their decision (regarding vaccinations) as well.
My intuition beseeched me to write something on it. But, of course, we all are free to choose. I have no right to ask someone to get vaccinated.
From my life experiences, I too believe that today's choices, in many ways, will influence us in our road ahead. So I disguised my idea in general freedom of choices in my article and added ways that particularly help me while choosing from abundant choices.
I penned how our irresponsible choice can chain ourselves. The article focuses on getting the most out of our present to help ourselves in the future.
Even though I mentioned in that article that life hardly ends on one choice, there are some circumstances — as the death, I discussed above — when a poor choice leads to catastrophe.
But I’m sure my observation doesn’t apply to all people. It might seem a pessimistic approach to some of the readers. The odds of being misunderstood (or judged) are greater.
The point is the reaction to our work is the reader’s right and choice.
So for creative explorations, we’ve to set an emotional boundary with reactions to our work. Judging ideas while considering reactions to that work is like questioning our existence.
Every untold story is a burden on our souls. But each idea earns a worth when we write it responsibly.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
4. Enjoy each step to get the most out of (creative) life
Frustrations in writing make it lonesome. Unlike other matters, uncertain feelings linger in our creative world. We don’t feel like writing, yet we want to write. And when we feel like writing, we can only hope for creative flow.
But after several encounters with gruesome writer’s block, I’ve given up on seeking inspiration in those days. And this approach is helping me even more.
“The feelings of desperation and unhappiness are more useful to an artist than the feeling of contentment because desperation and unhappiness stretch your whole sensibility.” — Francis Bacon
We all look for ideas to inspire and motivate ourselves in our bad writing days. And when we fail to find a way, we get even more frustrated.
I, for example, left no stone unturned in finding a way to avoid writer’s block and writing disappointments as, being a beginner, sometimes it’s too difficult to focus on writing.
But trying to avoid frustrations instead of learning to live with them is emotional pain — that saves time but sucks all the joy out of creative life.
Since frustrated feelings fuel a negative mindset, it’s more difficult to overcome those gruesome writing challenges.
The more we run away from frustrations, the more frustrated we get. So she asked her readers to embrace these frustrations as they’re a part of our writing process.
We, as writers, nourish our creativity even in non-writing hours. So frustrated mindset narrows our perspective on life, and thus it blocks creativity even more.
Tough as it seems, embracing creative life and its all offerings is the only way to get most of life. There is always a lesson when stuff doesn’t work in a linear fashion. And we learn that lesson only when we clear away tears clouding our sight.
So we’ve to open our hearts to life — to the blessings that are disguised as frustrations.
As she wrote,
“Don’t rush through the experiences and circumstances that have the most capacity to transform you.” Elizabeth Gilbert
- Follow your curiosity while writing as it leads to passion.
- Practice writing considering the outcome does not matter.
- Set an emotional boundary with reactions to your work.
- Embrace creative life as a whole. Don’t run away from frustrations; embrace them.
Writing is a lonely journey. Chasing success by following rules emotionally drains our creative souls. However, when we enjoy the process, success eventually finds our way.
So write at your ease, be slow, weird, and different, but above all, persistently uncover your creative gems.
As William Zinsser has said,
“I’ve often found that the hares who write for the paper are overtaken by the tortoises who move studiously toward the goal of mastering the craft. … Forget the competition and go at your own pace. Your only contest is with yourself.”
— William Zinsser, On Writing Well