I recently finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s incredible book Big Magic, after waiting far too long to get around to it. It’s a book that I wish I’d have read a lot sooner, as it put a lot of the things I already knew innately into plain English; it kind of threw it all up in my face. It’s impossible to ignore the truth when it’s so far up in your business that you need to take a moment to let your pupils uncross in your poor, dizzied head.
“Big Magic” is exactly what you would think it is, in terms of creativity. It’s the BIG MAGIC that sweeps you off your feet, inspiring you to leap forward and take charge of that which is moving you to express said creativity, or even (should the time not be right), the magic you can allow yourself to be left awe-struck by while respectfully telling Inspiration, “Thank you for considering me, but I think it’s probably best if you found another person to take you on. Someone who is ready to give you their full, undivided love and attention”. I can easily admit all the times that I’ve had to let Inspiration slip through my fingers — sometimes calmly and collectedly, other times kicking and screaming.
Sometimes though, I let inspiration settle into my mind and soul to make itself at home. I let it work me like a master puppeteer, and I danced along to whatever it told me to do until its work was done and I was left thinking excitedly, “Whoa, I was able to take part in this?” Of course, seeing something so amazing that you were able to (assist) produce can quite quickly get to your head. As one example, when I had my first novel published and people asked me how I did it, I would outwardly say things like, “I don’t know, I guess I just got lucky enough to have a publisher like it”. Meanwhile, in my head I was thinking, It’s because I’m a literary genius, of course. Funnily enough, I once wrote a personal essay that I thought was by far one of the most moving pieces I have ever written in my entire existence (to be honest, I still think it’s one of my best works). In fact, I told myself that I would never just post it on my blog, because it’s so perfect that I need to be paid for it by some big-shot anthology where millions of people can be touched by my story. However, having written it two summers ago and it being rejected by every single anthology and non-fiction writing contest I have submitted it to since that time, I couldn’t help but think, What the hell, Emily? Are you blind, thinking this was so good when every professional company clearly thinks otherwise? I blamed myself and I doubted my work.
But as Liz Gilbert points out, the ancient Romans once said that they were inspired by Genius, not that they themselves were geniuses. That is, Genius was a god of sorts who graced them with his/her/its presence. This way, Genius could take some of the blame when they failed, but would also be credited for their successes in a way too, so that it wouldn’t all go to their heads. Like Gilbert, I really loved this notion because it allows for me as a writer to stay sane — to not blame myself for my failures, or ride off into the sunset on my high horse, never to write another story after a single triumph. I like to think of Genius as my personal assistant and I too, the assistant of Genius. We’re good friends, partners who have a give and take relationship while helping one another to get the important stuff done.
With this in mind, the final thing I want to touch on from Big Magic is that of Inspiration coming and going as it pleases. As mentioned in the book, sometimes we let Inspiration slip through our fingers because we’re not paying enough attention to it, not devoting the right amount of time, getting lazy, etc. Sometimes Inspiration sticks around for a couple of minutes, other times for years on end, devotedly staying true to one single person.
Ready to hear something pretty exciting?
When I was fifteen, I don’t know through what series of events, but I was led to be captivated by the legend of King Arthur and Queen Guinevere. I read a bunch of fictional, creative stories based around the plot line, did days’ worth of research, and finally sat down and pounded out an entire novel. I’m talking nearly 100,000 words here, in the matter of three or four months (as my novels often come to me, when they decide to stick around). I thought it was a great piece and had fallen in love with my characters and their backstories, had improved drastically on my creative writing, and knew that one day (with a bit of TLC and thorough editing), it would be publishing-worthy.
But I was in high school back then, distracted by my classes and my social life, and left that save file sitting in a folder somewhere in the abyss of that old 19″ shiny laptop for years and years until it finally gave up on me. That laptop, that is. I forgot about my novel, because I was now in university and who in their right mind has time for creative writing while trying to get through a degree? I sure didn’t for the vast majority of my post-secondary education.
But toward the end of my fourth year (out of five), while in Buffalo doing some shopping with my dad in Barnes & Noble, I saw a giant display of books on the original story of King Arthur and the Round Table. “I have to get it,” I told my dad. “I’m going to start my novel from scratch again. I need to research.” So of course, I bought it and kept it on my bedside table because in my head, I was going to get this done, and get this done soon. Every night I would think, Wow, I can’t wait to start reading that book and to begin the rewrite of my novel. It’s going to be so good. Way better than last time. This is it. This is going to be my next published novel. Yet day after day would pass and eventually, I had to move the book from my nightstand to the floor, until it got kicked under my bed and I was back to square one, thinking about anything and everything but The Almighty Novel.
A year later, I began to think about this story once again, in the middle of a work day. I opened up a Word document while at my old summer job in a telecommunications office, and start writing it out again. I figure that I don’t really need to research anything. I don’t really want to research anything, to be honest. I just want to write. However, it turns out that I did need to research some more and after two pages, I saved the document, emailed it to myself, and forgot about it.
A little over two years from that date, I remember the story again. I caem across the document while going through old work emails one afternoon a few weeks ago. Just like when I first started writing it back in 2010, I can’t stop thinking about it. I think about it while I’m walking downtown, while I’m having lunch, while I’m trying to fall asleep at night. I turn the story and the characters I once knew so well over and over in my mind, trying to reacquaint myself with them — awkwardly though, because they were friends I totally ditched when I was sixteen, because I all of a sudden became too good for them. They kind of hated me a bit. I didn’t blame them, to be honest. I had to re-earn their trust.
I began scouring every external hard drive I own, searching for that old laptop (which I’ve yet to find), shuffled through box after cardboard box looking for my pages upon pages of meticulously handwritten research notes. Hours were stressfully poured into trying to do this thing without having to completely start from scratch, but I finally realized that it is what it is. So I walked down into the cellar where my office supplies sit on a shelf, grabbed a stack of paper and a pen, and went up to the kitchen table to start the process over again. The best part is that after allowing myself to just start doing it — without hating myself for having to do so, for losing the old stuff — I started to enjoy the starting up process.
Now here I am, over six years after writing my last novel, finally dedicating myself to something longterm and, well, a lot lengthier than the flash fiction I’ve become very comfortable writing. It was like Inspiration was quietly following alongside me as I made my through nearly a decade of school, waiting for the right moment to pounce again. A few times it kinda gave me that awkward wave you exchange with someone you had a class with back in freshman year of high school, except I did that rude thing where you turn around and pretended that you didn’t see them after holding eye contact for a second too long. They know you saw them, and you know they know, too. Not that this is from experience or anything.
Yet here I am. Inspired, and finally calling back my friend and partner in crime: Genius. You ready to take on another creative endeavour together, friend?
How do you usually react when visited by Big Magic? What’s your most incredible success story? I’d love to know — write me in the comments!