I’ve written a few posts about inspiration on this blog, and recently I read Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love, a New York Times Best Seller for over 200 weeks: a memoir of her journey of self-discovery, set in Italy, India and Bali; and a film with Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem. If you’ve visited this blog before, you’re likely to know that I’m a big Italy fan (and yoga fan too), and so of course I bought Eat Pray Love as soon as I heard about it, and went to see the film when it came out at the cinema. Elizabeth Gilbert writes in a particularly engaging way, somehow provoking those thoughts that you brush away when going about daily life.
I like to read how-to-write books, my favourite being On Writing by Stephen King (mentioned here in previous post, How Do You Get Past Writer’s Block?), and these books live on the same shelf as my favourite novels, and eighteenth century research books. Big Magic is one of those books you might want to flick through when you can’t bring yourself to write, when you’re ready to give up, and when the idea of being a writer is driving you nuts; but because you’ve started you feel that you can’t go back to not being a writer. Elizabeth Gilbert is like a gentle mother reassuring a small child, with the message don’t worry, it’s all OK, you can have a break from it if it’s too much, you’re good enough to be a writer. And all that work you’ve done so far-even if it’s a load of old rubbish and you’ll never use it-has been worthwhile because it’s helped you develop as a writer. Think of Big Magic as a mother’s advice tailored to your writing life.
A favourite part of Big Magic is about ‘combinatory play’. Elizabeth talks about how, if you’re stuck to get involved with another kind of creative activity:
‘Once, when I was struggling with a book, I signed up for a drawing class, just to open up some other kind of creative channel within my mind.’
She goes on to say:
'Einstein called this tactic “combinatory play”-the act of opening up one mental channel by dabbling in another.......Part of the trick of combinatory play, I think, is that it quiets your ego and your fears by lowering the stakes.’
When I get stuck, I visit potential scenes from my work in progress and take photos, go for scenic walks and take photos, up the yoga classes, do research, read bits of novels which I consider to be the best ever written, read novels set in the same time period as my work in progress, read how-to-write books, make a cake or a big roast lunch for my family. I write blog posts like this one.
There are lots of thoughts and ideas to ponder upon in Big Magic, and when you find yourself pausing the writing because life gets in the way, and can’t seem to unpause: I’d recommend keeping a copy of Big Magic on standby.
Since last month’s post, Taking the #amwriting seriously, I have been doing as the title suggests (apart from a half term pause), but I’ll keep Big Magic within my reach next to On Writing, just in case.
And here’s a YouTube clip from Eat Pray Love. When I went to see this film at the cinema, the friend sitting next to me started to fall asleep as it’s quite a long film, and you either ‘get’ the middle ‘Pray’ part in India where Elizabeth Gilbert does a lot of meditating and soul-searching, or you don’t. But when the ‘Love’ part of the film began in Bali with Javier Bardem, she sat up in her chair and said, ‘Who is that?’
Some reviews of Eat Pray Love say the book is self-indulgent, but both book and film resonated with me; perhaps because I like the way Elizabeth Gilbert writes, or because of the Italy part, the yoga part, or due to Javier’s appearance in the film. Who knows?