Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic, is about fear. I thought it was supposed to be about creativity, but it is really about fear.
Fear is normal. We all experience it and depending on the circumstance, it is a prudent thing. Mostly, we seem to fear the unknown. I like many lines in the movie As Good as it Gets, staring Jack Nicholson as Melvin Udall. One of them is Udall to patients in a psychiatrist’s waiting room, “What if this is as good as it gets?” While things may get worse, what if they will not get better. Strange as that may seem, if true, the shrink will soon be out of business. Each patient’s fear may remain in that their problem may get worse, but now they could focus on dealing with life from a different (albeit less hopeful) situation.
In my opinion, what I, and I assume many others, fear most is the unknown lurking in the future. In her book, Gilbert approves of people using entitlement to help overcome fear and any hesitation to create. I would prefer confidence. Maybe I am being a wordsmith about this, but if a person has confidence (faked or not), the likelihood of success increases. I like this baseball analogy.
A child playing shortstop has a line-drive hit directly at them, they will likely duck and the ball may go into the outfield, thus the batter gets on base. This is true due to a justified fear of being hit with rock-hard baseball suddenly streaking like a rocket toward their head. An experienced shortstop may adjust body position slightly, but will watch the ball and attempt to catch it. The latter is the safest choice in most cases. Experience and confidence payoff successfully in this case. The batter is out!
As I understand it, what Elizabeth Gilbert is trying to say is that we should not allow fear to prevent us from creating something. She also suggests not letting drinking alcohol, feeling depressed, or other illness interfere with our creative adventures. She is right in that folks suffering those issues should seek professional treatment and not assume that such issues are creative muses.
In several places she treats alcoholism as a choice. I have serious doubts that many of us awaken one day, look in the mirror and say, “I need to drink more so that I can be more creative.” Take your pick: drug addiction, depression, suicidal thoughts, or just plain meanness are not choices real people make to enhance their creative juices. They are problems people have and Gilbert tries to explain this, but the whole discussion is too long, convoluted, and contrived.
Fear and worry about what others think of our work are justified, but as Liz says, that fear need not prevent us from doing things with our ideas. We will want feedback, especially if we ask for it (Beta or Arc readers). We want it both ways. An honest opinion and good critique. But what we also want to hear is, “That is so wonderful.” Or the response from the big publishing house that says, “Please send remainder of book immediately. We must publish this book of yours as quickly as possible. Fat advance check enclosed herewith.”
Where I agree most with Liz is that we need to do that work. We need to make the stuff that we want to make. We need to try. I need to write: my novel, my essays, my memoir, short stories, and (in spite of Gilbert says in her self-help book about not writing a self-help) my own self-help book. I want to write a few poems. I want to do the stuff writers do. As far as her suggestion to put my created ‘baby’ out there; that is my decision.
It is indeed true. Fear is there. It can be helpful or harmful. It depends on how we manage and deal with it.
My next blog coming on Friday will focus on another book that actually is about creativity and aligns much better with my point of view.
How do you deal with this topic of fear and creativity?
Does fear prevent you from doing things?