For the last few weeks, I spent some much-needed downtime with my daughter and parents on Cape Cod. I spent several hours each morning writing, helping my dad around the house, and working in a few hours each afternoon to stare at the ocean.
While hanging out with my family, I also read Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book, Big Magic. It’s really helped me gain some much needed perspective on writing as a creative pursuit. I recommend you read the whole book, but I want to reflect on some of the main points I took away from Big Magic.
- A book is not a baby – So many times we talk about our books as our “babies” as if they are part of our very being. Elizabeth Gilbert points out the pitfall in doing so. Other writers are going to criticize your book, agents and publishers are going to reject your book, and some readers are going to hate your book. She points out the need to see books as products separate from the artist that do not reflect the artist’s worth as an artist. A product can be changed to appease an editor. A product can be poorly received by the public without meaning the artist is a hack. A product can be deemed a mistake and stuck in a drawer.
- Ideas come and go – Gilbert tells a fascinating story about how she worked for several years researching and planning a book about the Amazon then had to put it down for some time to deal with real life issues. When she came back to it, the spark was gone. Then, some time later, she met Ann Patchett who was working on her novel, State of Wonder, which is shockingly similar to the book she had been writing. She talks about how she hadn’t been nurturing the book idea so it moved on to someone who would take care of it. This resonated with me because I’ve had a few great ideas that I didn’t attend to and they didn’t stick around until I was ready to write them. C’est la vie.
- “Love writing more than you hate failing” – There’s a concept for ‘ya, huh? Failure is awful no matter how you define it. It hurts to have your short stories rejected by literary magazines. It hurts to have agent after agent say they’re not interested in representing your book. It hurts to receive bad reviews. But, if you love writing more than you hate failing, you might just have the strength to pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and go back to the page. Then again, there’s a difference between passion for your art and masochism. If the inevitable disappointments are negatively affecting your mental health – do something else that will bring you joy.
- The universe doesn’t owe you anything – Gilbert spends a good portion of the book talking about how hard work and a sense of accomplishment is the goal of a writing life, not fame and fortune. There are many fabulous books that never get read by anyone and there are terrible books that become bestsellers. It’s unfair, but them’s the breaks.
If you are not already familiar with Elizabeth Gilbert as a person beyond her mega-successful Eat, Pray, Love, you might enjoy her TED talks where she touches on many of the points she covers in Big Magic.
July’s IWSG question -What’s the best thing someone has ever said about your writing?
A few months after How To Climb The Eiffel Tower was published, I received an email from a reader that read: “Although none of our experiences were the same, Lara’s slow optimism has changed my attitude towards cancer. I don’t know how or why…but her ability to face her fears has given me courage during a dark time in my life.” I keep a copy of that email on the wall above my desk to remind me why I write.
Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writers Support Group. The purpose of the group is to share and encourage each other to express our doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds, so consider joining the group.