Let’s talk about creativity! More specifically, the book that kind of changed my whole perspective on it.

This book itself is magic. It takes many of the ideas long associated with creativity and making art and offers a new way of seeing them — a lighter, more pleasurable, achievable way.

Throughout my life, I’ve always struggled with self-expression. I’ve always been a shy, introverted person for whom communication was ever so difficult (still is, most times). Writing has always been my way out. I like the time writing allows me to collect my thoughts, put it into words and form coherent sentences. I like how writing makes me feel like I’m emptying my brain — I like the relief it provides. I also like that I can dream through writing. I can create worlds and people and situations and basically live several other lives through it.

Yet, although always present, creativity wasn’t always manifest in my life. And I think that’s because of those old ideas we associate with it.

In recent years, as I slowly stopped fighting with it and let it be part of my life, I’ve been learning how to make space and time for my creativity. How to work with it. And how much I need it. I’ve already been feeling a kind of shift inside of me in regards to what I want out of a creative life and, then, this book happened. It came to me at the perfect time. I can’t help but think that as its title correctly states — it was big magic.

One of the things I mostly struggle with is self-doubt.

I’ve always loved writing — always. I’ve mentioned before that I created my first fiction series when I was seven years old. The roads that led me to where I am now included writing poems and even songs. I also kept a journal for most of my teenage years. Writing has always been my favorite form of expression — yet, I never felt I had a right to it.

I never studied writing. I never took classes to understand structure, themes, style, plot, character development. I never learned how to write. Also, English is not even my first language! So, what right do I have to write and publish novels in a foreign language? Well, as it turns out, I don’t need anyone’s permission!

Human beings are makers by design. In the book, Elizabeth asks us to look back at our ancestors and we’ll surely find someone that was making something — maybe not for a living, not as a job or career, maybe just for their own amusement. Still, they were makers. They were creative beings. We all are!

She introduces the idea of ‘creative entitlement’ — we are here and, therefore, we’re allowed to have a voice and vision of our own. It’s our birthright to take space in this world and make things. It’s what makes us humans.

This is another thing. I’ve always questioned the value of what I make based on the impact it may cause on the world. A lot of creative people I know do that.

I love reading and I love literature, but, in my head, what I create is not as good as what I like to consume. I thought that unless my art didn’t meet the standards I put up for the artists I love, it wasn’t worth it. I abandoned so many of my early writings (and even drawings) because I simply decided they weren’t worthy of living in the same world as my idols’.

I also mentioned before that when I started writing Welcome to New York I had no plans for it. I had no idea it would become a novel, let alone that I’d get to publish it. Yet, throughout the process (and as I move forward writing other things, including this blog), I’ve learned that the only person that needs to be impacted by my work is myself. I have to do it for me. I have to. If I’m not creative in some way — mostly the way of writing —, I think I might burst. This is actually why I started writing WtNY — I had spent so many years denying my creativity that I was bursting at the seams.

Is it a book that will change the world? Absolutely not. Is it a story that will help people in some way? I don’t think so. But it doesn’t matter — that’s the thing! It doesn’t matter how many grammatical errors I made, or how unrealistic some of the situations are, or how long it ended up being. What matters is that I loved making it! I loved what it did for me. Yes, it’s far from perfect, but also — perfect doesn’t exist. And done is better than good.

I’m so glad that somewhere along the way I was able to ignore the voices in my head that were screaming my work was never going to be good enough and finished it! And shared it with you!

Now, this part — the sharing part — wasn’t easy. I still remember when I first showed the book to my friends and how scared I was that they were going to hate it. And how exposed I felt.

Letting anyone read what I write feels like letting them have a peek inside my head. It’s a physical, bizarre feeling that fills me with so much dread, every time. But, as Elizabeth says, fear is boring — it’s the same thing every day.

Isn’t it true? The only thing fear does is stop us from doing something. Of course, if the something it prevents is that you wander out alone into the woods, then it’s completely useful. But if the something it prevents is you sharing your art with others, then not so much.

Do you know that saying ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’? I think it’s perfect for creative people. One of the things I learned in life that Elizabeth also mentions in the book is that fear doesn’t go away. Just because you acknowledge it and do realize it’s boring, it doesn’t mean it will disappear. It’s still there. I just sent the first draft of my second novel to my friends to read and I’m scared shitless that they’re going to hate it.

That’s what I’m trying to do right now. I’m embracing my fear. I’m letting it tell me all the horrible things it has to tell me, but I’m not going to let it stop me anymore. I’ve seen what a life without creativity looks like and I’m not looking forward to bursting anytime soon!

But, of course, creativity is nothing without hard work. If I don’t sit down and actually type in the words on a blank page, nothing will happen. And this is one of the major things this book really changed inside me.

I already believed writing is more than just waiting for inspiration. I had already realized that my characters are always there, just waiting for me to give them five minutes of my day so they can tell me their story. The thing that, for some reason, I still struggle with is finding those daily five minutes to give them. What the book helped me realize is that, if I do, if I sit down and work even on days it seems impossible, I’ll be rewarded. Yes, most days it will feel like just work. But some days… some days, there will be magic.

Did you know that ancient Greeks and Romans believed in the idea of an external daemon of creativity? They didn’t believe a gifted person was a genius — they believed they had one. That changed around the Renaissance, with the rise of a more human-centered view of life, and then people — flawed, fragile, confused beings — became geniuses themselves.

I don’t know about you, but I much prefer the ‘ancient’ version of that.

I made a thing that didn’t work out? Well, don’t look at me, my genius didn’t show up today! I made a thing that the whole world loved? Well, you know, I didn’t make it on my own, I had this magical force helping me out.

Doesn’t that seem to make everything easier? It takes so much pressure out of our shoulders, in both failure and success.

Ah, success. Such a basic starting point for many of our projects, yet such a difficult concept to define. What is success? Or, rather, what does success mean to you? The answer to this question was what made me take the first step into this new path of what Elizabeth calls creative living.

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a video from Hank Green on YouTube where he discussed the idea of success versus fame and what really ‘being successful’ means in our collective minds. I’ll put the link to it below and let him explain it himself but, basically, the thing is — success is made up. It doesn’t exist. Not in the way we, as a society, understand it, anyway.

Success means setting a goal and achieving it. That’s it. That’s all.

I set out to write a book. I did it. So, success! Then, I set out to edit and make it the best it could be with the knowledge and resources I had at the time. I did it again. So, success again! Then, I set out to publish it. And I did it.

See how many times I achieved success already? Also, can you see how success is only in the things I can control myself? I can’t measure how successful I am by external factors, by things that are out of my control. That has a different name and is not important to my life right now.

The other thing is failure. We are allowed to fail. In fact, we will, many, many times. Not everything we make will work out, not everything we make will be liked — sometimes not even by ourselves. It’s okay!

I talked before about the fact that for an entire year after WtNY was published, I kept tweaking it. I kept revising, and cutting, and rewriting, and that almost drove me insane. I learned so much about publishing after I had published my first book. I learned so much about the things I did wrong or the things I did that didn’t work after they were done. Most importantly, though, I learned that all of that is part of the process. I learned to let go. Yes, after a long time, but I’d like to think I did learn how to do it! We’ll see how the second book goes but, for now, I think I’m at a place where I can accept my own shortcomings and move on.

The answer to that, for me, is writing.

Another interesting idea the book introduced to me is to see these things I just called shortcomings as, well, interesting outcomes. For that to happen, we need to give it time — that’s what makes things interesting. Persistence, hard work, and time.

Probably my favorite concept Elizabeth has introduced with this book is about how ideas work.

I’m sure you’ve heard authors talking about their characters as if they were real people before. I do that often. I start out a story with a vague idea of where I want it to go only to see it dramatically change halfway through — because of characters. They have their own minds and wills and I’m the one who ends up needing to bend to their wishes otherwise they won’t collaborate with me. If you think of ideas in the way Elizabeth explains them, this makes total sense. It also makes me sound a lot less insane.

Now, she says that most of the time we won’t even notice an idea approaching us (we might be too distracted by our dramas, anxieties, or duties) but, on the rare occasion we do acknowledge them, we have two choices: work with them or don’t.

As I said at the beginning of the post, I’m guilty of saying no to ideas before, many times. I’ve heard them, I considered their proposal, and I refused. So, they went away to find someone else more willing to bring them to life. And, on the risk of sounding a bit of a lunatic, I have found some of them succeeded!

Elizabeth mentions in the book a phenomenon known in the scientific community (see? I’m not crazy!) as ‘multiple discovery’. That is when more than one scientist in different parts of the world come up with the same idea at the same time. There’s a lot of evidence to back this up — it is a thing that exists. And, as it seems, it happens outside the scientific world, too.

She exemplifies this with a story that happened to her — an idea she abandoned that found someone else to bring it to life. It happened to me, too. I bet it happened to you, as well. Now, there are also two ways of reacting to that when it happens: feeling sorry for yourself and betrayed by creativity; OR, being happy that the idea found its way into our world. I certainly chose the first option more than once. But, after reading this book, I’m actively going to try to choose the second. The idea is not the one to blame for my lack of interest in it! All it wanted was to exist, and I’m the one who failed it. I should be happy it went somewhere else and found what it was looking for.

Also, guess what? There’s space for everyone! How many books out there are basically the same story told over and over again?

Choosing a positive outlook over a negative one is the main theme of Big Magic. One of the things that really stood out for me, that I had not quite paid attention to before, is the language we use to describe creative production — it’s deeply steeped in pain.

She also mentions the notion of the Tormented Artist and how we’re taught that art comes from a place of suffering. How many artists do we know believe that? How many artists do we know lost their lives to that belief?

That got me thinking about how we learn that unhappiness and discontent have more depth than pleasure and joy, how, in order to be an artist, we have to put our faith in the struggle alone. And how we do it!

I’ve only ever talked about my creative process under a negative light — how much of a nightmare writing a book is, how stressed out it makes me, how hard it is to reach that word count goal. As something I have to do so I don’t burst (see? I did it in this very post). I rarely talk about the satisfaction it brings me or the magic I experience every once in a while. Most of us do that, I guess, right? Yes — everything is horrible and the world is ending, but, also, not everything is horrible and the world will actually not end (our world might, but Earth will outlive us all).

Elizabeth offers a new way of looking into it, a way that doesn’t fetishize mental illness and doesn’t glorify self-sacrifice.

You can choose to trust your creativity loves you and would never want to harm you. You can choose a healthier approach and work alongside it as a partner. You can enjoy your own process!

Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that it will be difficult, and stressful, and tiresome. But you can recognize these patterns and learn to not fear or despise them. You can learn to work with them.

In the end, I think the biggest lesson to me was to not take this seriously. Art is a paradox — it matters and it doesn’t matter. It’s hard but also not hard at all. I can be terrified but I also have to be brave. I can feel the pain but I can’t build up my castle on it. It demands work and discipline, but, some times, it’s pure magic.

It’s complicated. But, also, the simplest thing I’ve ever done. And as Elizabeth said so well herself…

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