Creative living is a path for the brave…when the courage dies, creativity dies with it. We all know that fear is a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun.
Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic; Creative Living Beyond Fear
What an image!
A few years ago, I read the book, “Big Magic; Creative Living Beyond Fear,” by Elizabeth Gilbert. I absolutely loved it.
Mind you, the author was preaching to the converted when it comes to me and creativity. I strive to infuse inspiration and creativity into pretty much every component of my life—work, writing, e-mail management, house & garden chores, de-cluttering, finances, relationships, thank you cards, travel, health, exercise and so on.
In fact, it is only when I forget that each day is a gift that can be treated as a fresh canvas on which to create a mini-masterpiece of a larger life well lived, that a challenging creative task I usually enjoy—such as, say, working through a time-consuming rewrite of a screenplay or playscript—becomes a dreaded chore of drudgery.
Which is why I really needed to read Big Magic when I did. As it tends to go with books, Big Magic found its way to me when I needed it most. I was in rather dire need of Gilbert’s reminder that to be creative is to be joyful…and that “frustration is not an interruption of the process; frustration is the process.”
Mind you, not all days can be gold star days. In fact, sometimes an entire year or two can be pretty much a write-off. But having experienced a year or two like that myself, I do know that taking a creative approach to whatever life has thrown us can be both healing and transformational. You just never know what diamond can be created from all that emotional and psychological friction.
Way back when (in 2004), when I was writing the early drafts of my manuscript for A Widow’s Awakening, my life was chaotic. My phone rang constantly, people would drop by unexpectedly and I had an awful lot of demands placed on my time. I hadn’t yet learned the skill of setting—and enforcing—boundaries.
I was grieving my husband’s death while trying to write a book about losing him…and work with the police officers who started his memorial fund to try and figure out what the heck to do about the workplace issue that led to his death…all the while trying to keep dozens of concerned loved ones assured that I was going to be okay.
Well, I wasn’t okay. And I knew, deep down, that I wasn’t going to be okay again until I could find some peace and quiet to grieve and write what I needed to write without constantly being interrupted. Fortunately, a friend came to the rescue and offered me the use of an old farmhouse in the country. It was arranged so that I could go there for 3 or 4 days at a time to write…no internet, no phone, no other people. Just me and my two dogs.
By that point, I had a good grasp of the basic outline of the story. And I had, thankfully, written down very specific details on the events (as well as my physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual response to those events) pertaining to my husband’s death.
But the manuscript was still a long, rambling mixed-up stew of heartbreaking emotion and wishful thinking for the future. Luckily, I was working with an excellent editor who, sentence by sentence, was teaching me how to show a story versus tell it.
And so it came to pass that it was in that little farmhouse that I personally experienced the creative connection that Elizabeth Gilbert calls “Big Magic”:
The effort is worth it, because when at last you do connect, it is an otherworldly delight of the highest order…you make the connection. Out of nowhere it all comes together. You must keep calling out in those dark woods for your own Big Magic…because when it all comes together, it’s amazing. The only thing you can do is bow down in gratitude, as if you have been granted an audience with the divine. Because you have.
Big Magic came to visit me at that farmhouse and the best way for me to describe how that felt is perhaps how a figure skater must feel when landing a difficult jump…then another then another.
I would write a clever line of dialogue, then discover a connection between characters, then find a new twist in the plot. Day after day, it felt like I’d just landed a triple axel…then a sow cow, then a back flip. It was amazing.
I would write for a few hours then go for a long walk in the woods, alongside the river, with my two dogs. Sometimes I would cry and cry, as the hurt finally made its way to the surface without being interrupted by a ringing phone. Then I’d return to the farmhouse to write some more.
After experiencing so much sorrow and loss, I found the creative process of transforming my hurt into an engaging story to be an unexpected gift.
But creativity is a gift—one we’d perhaps be wise to use on a more regular basis. For contrary to the message being delivered through the constant bombardment from advertisers, we are not just consumers; we are also creators.
It breaks my heart to see people, especially teens, staring at their phones for huge chunks of time. Sure, they may be looking at creative images on Pinterest and Instagram…but I suspect that far too often, they are consuming other people’s creativity versus creating their own projects.
One of the messages I appreciate most in Big Magic is that it doesn’t really matter WHAT we create. What matters is that we are creative in some capacity.
“What you produce is not necessarily always sacred,” explains Gilbert. “What is sacred is the time that you spent working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life.”
Previously Published on Pink Gazelle