One of the books I was able to read on my vacation was Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love). I've seen this book everywhere because it's a bestseller and I was curious. The end of last year was not a fun few months for me. I was tired, burnt out, physically stressed (turned out I had a bad Vitamin D deficiency causing some of that) and had a book that was fighting me HARD. Almost every book fights me at some point, of course. But for the first time in my career, I had talks with my agent about "maybe I need to scrap this book altogether and push back release dates." That was a scary thing for me. What if this book is inherently broken and I can't do it? What if I screw up my whole book schedule? What if? What if? What if?
But after a number of panicked, I-can't-do-it episodes over a few long weeks, I was able to take a step back with the help of my hubs, my friend Dawn who was reading chapters as I wrote/rewrote them and encouraging me, and my agent who was supportive regardless of which path I was going to choose. I realized it wasn't about the book, it was about me. I'd run myself into the ground. I wrote 300,000 published words in 2015 (which means about 450,000 words if you count rewrites and edits). And I hadn't taken many breaks. I had slacked off on reading and personal time. And I was taking things way too seriously. I'd become a version of the "tortured artist." Ugh.
So at the start of this year, I knew I needed to make changes. I did not want to go through that again. This is one reason why you've seen so many posts over here about planners, productivity, organizing, and digital detoxing. I knew I needed a better plan this year and to be more strategic about how I spent my time. I set goals for the year, made a business plan. And one of my main goals was to rediscover the fun and joy in writing. After doing this professionally for years, I'd let my love and passion for writing become a grind. It used to be my escape, playtime, and now I was dreading it. No good.
And so I was already on this path when I picked up Big Magic, but it reiterated so much of what I was going through and hammered home the point that there is no glory in being a "tortured artist", that it's okay to play and have fun with my writing, and to not take things SO DAMN SERIOUSLY. Yes, work hard to write the best story you can, be a professional, but don't put so much pressure on the work because the creativity will just shut down. I had to get perspective. At the end of the day, I'm writing a sexy romance that will hopefully engage and entertain people. I am not curing cancer. If I mess up, the world won't come crashing down. And I have editors and people who will tell me if I got it wrong and help me fix it anyway. In other words, Dear Me, Get over yourself. Perfectionism will kill you.
So it was a good time for me to read Big Magic. I needed to hear a lot of it. Now, I will give that caveat that the first part of the book had a lot of woo-woo about the muse and ideas having wills of their own and attaching to people and such. I'm too scientifically-minded, so that part isn't my jam. I almost put down the book because, though I respect her view, the woo-woo wasn't relevant for me. However, I'm so glad I kept reading because the rest of the book held a lot of gold. I did a lot of underlining. So instead of going into things more, I'll leave you with some quotes. And these aren't the only ones I underlined. There's that much good stuff in this book.
On dealing with fear (and its friend perfectionism) holding you back:
"This is why we have to be careful of how we handle our fear--because I've noticed that when people try to kill off their fear, they often end up inadvertently murdering their creativity in the process." (pg. 24, Big Magic)
"You must learn how to become a deeply disciplined half-ass. It starts by forgetting about perfect." (pg. 166, Big Magic)
On not being surprised when it's hard:
"of course it's difficult to create things; if it wasn't difficult, everyone would be doing it, and it wouldn't be special or interesting." (pg. 117, Big Magic)
"Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process." (pg. 149, Big Magic)
On not defining yourself by what people think of your work:
"I can only be in charge of producing the work itself. That's a hard enough job. I refuse to take on additional jobs, such as trying to police what anybody things about my work once it leaves my desk." (pg. 123, Big Magic)
"And what if people absolutely hate what you've created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest--as politely as you possible can--that they go make their own f**king art. Then stubbornly continue making yours." (pg. 123, Big Magic)
On knowing the painful stages of your own process (I related to this SO MUCH.):
"'Ah,' I learned to say when I would inevitably begin to lose heart for a project...'This is the part of the process where I wished I'd never engaged with this idea at all.'...OR: 'This is the part where I tell myself that I'll never write a good sentence again.' OR: 'This is the part where I beat myself up for being a lazy loser'....Or, once the project was finished: 'This is the part where I panic that I'll never be able to make anything again.'" (pgs. 146-147, Big Magic)
On creativity and not focusing on the outcome:
"'Why should I go through all this trouble to make something if the outcome might be nothing?' ...'Because it's fun, isn't it?' Anyhow, what else are you going to do with your time here on earth--not make things? Not do interesting stuff? Not follow your love and curiosity?" (pg. 259, Big Magic)
I could go on, but you should just grab a copy for yourself if these quotes resonate with you.
Has anyone else read this? Have you ever had a book come along just exactly when you needed it?