Big Magic - part 3

I've left it a few weeks since my last post on Big Magic, to be honest because it made me feel quite vulnerable to share some of the personal worries that I did. But I am so grateful for all your lovely responses and comments, and it's given me plenty to think about over the last few weeks. 

Today will be the final part in this mini-series of reflections on the lessons I've found in Elizabeth Gilbert's bestselling book - if you've missed the first two posts you can catch up here and here.

Nobody's Thinking About You

While it may seem lonely and horrible at first to imagine that you aren’t anyone else’s first order of business, there is also a great release to be found in this idea. You are free...
Go be whomever you want to be, then.
Do whatever you want to do.
Pursue whatever fascinates you and brings you to life.
Create whatever you want to create - and let it be stupendously imperfect, because it’s exceedingly likely that nobody will even notice.
And that’s awesome.
— p.175

Isn't it awesome to think that? That there can be so much freedom to be had because everyone else is so caught up in their own stuff, you might as well just go for it? It's a heady thought. And often one that I find leads to paralysis, fear and the dreaded comparison-itis. If the possibilities are endless, where on earth do you start?! And if you do start, what if it's rubbish? What if somebody does notice and says it's not as good as so-and-so's?

The result can be yet another paradox - to simultaneously not give two hoots about anybody else's opinion, and yet be so scared of disappointing/offending/inviting ridicule/insert as appropriate.

Gilbert talks in the pages surrounding this passage about perfectionism, and how it is just fear masquerading as something 'better'; that primal fear we've talked about before of not being good enough, and how often it holds us back. However, if we can get to the place where fear of judgement is removed (because nobody's actually paying attention), then good enough isn't even an issue, so you might as well just DO SOMETHING!

Gilbert says that 'done is better than good' was a mantra of her mother's, and I reckon it's a good one. After all, generally we don't worry too much about presenting every meal we cook to Michelin star standard, or keeping our handwriting immaculate in every word we write, or ironing every last crease out of our clothes (well I don't, anyway), so why should we panic if we don't produce an award winning piece of work every single day?

Social media can be a tricky place for this - there is still a pervasive attitude of comparison, and idealism, and desperately striving to attain those impossible heights of the perfect life and multi-million followers. But there can be something so refreshing about posting a photo of a real moment, perhaps even a slightly out of focus one, and just saying, here I am, this is me right now, and this is something that's caught my eye. 

I've been inspired lately by Allison Sadler's movement to #freeupmyinsta - encouraging exactly this kind of freedom of expression and creativity without the pressures of a perfectly curated feed or colour scheme or whatever - because you know what? It really doesn't matter! Your Instagram feed is yours to do with exactly what you want, to share what you want, to create what you love. 

So here's my advice (feel free to take it or leave it!): Just Start. Do Something. Anything. Stop when it feels Done. Share it. And then forget about it.

Passion vs Curiosity

“All you need to do is follow your passion, and everything will be fine.” I think this can be an unhelpful and even cruel suggestion at times...a lot of people don’t know exactly what their passion is, or they may have multiple passions...which can leave them feeling confused and blocked and insecure...I believe that curiosity is the secret...Passion can seem intimidatingly out of reach...But curiosity is a milder, quieter, more welcoming, and more democratic entity...curiosity only ever asks one simple question: “Is there anything you’re interested in?” Anything? Even a tiny bit?
— p.236-8

I definitely fall in the 'may have multiple passions' category, and have done all my life, which frankly was a nightmare in our narrowing education system - how on earth was I supposed to choose just one subject to study to dictate the path of my career for the rest of my life?!

But curiosity? Yeah, I can get behind that. What am I interested in? Right now, this minute? It doesn't matter if it was something different yesterday, or will be something else entirely next week; whatever interests me now, I'll go with it. I'm one of life's knowledge seekers - I like to understand stuff, and sometimes the only use all that knowledge ever has is being able to answer obscure questions on TV quiz shows, but that's OK. Because when I found that stuff out, I was interested in it. I might not still be interested in it, but at the time I got what I needed from that curious urge. Of course some curiosity leads to bigger projects and longer-term mental or emotional investment in something, and that's fantastic too. 

Curiosity is one of my key 'Why's (as I discussed a couple of posts ago), and it's one that drives my passion for life, feeds my creativity, and offers me a whole range of different experiences - so perhaps curiosity itself is my passion?!

Combinatory Play

Find something to do - anything, even a different sort of creative work altogether...Einstein called this tactic “combinatory play” - the act of opening up one mental channel by dabbling in another...You might think it’s procrastination, but - with the right intention - it isn’t; it’s motion. And any motion whatsoever beats inertia, because inspiration will always be drawn to motion.
— p. 253-4

We probably do this more than we realise, except that we do often call it procrastination, or even giving up. Getting up and walking away from something when we feel a bit stuck, to go and make a cup of tea, go for a walk, scroll through social media, paint our toe nails...whatever it is, it can be really helpful in getting things unstuck. Most productivity advice says that we can't work effectively for long, uninterrupted spells anyway, so getting up, even just standing up out of your chair and doing a few stretches, can be enough of a break to reset and recharge, so that we can carry on again with fresh energy and inspiration.

I know I generally can't concentrate on something big and important for too long without needing a rest - in fact I've probably got up and walked away from the computer for various reasons at least a dozen times while writing this - and I like to have flexibility in my days to move between different tasks as and when I feel inspired to tackle them. However, there is also that magical phenomenon of 'flow' that happens every now and then - when the inspiration really strikes and we become engrossed in what we're doing without awareness of time or needing to eat or the world ending around us. That's the sweet spot we're all seeking in our creative work, but some days it'll take a lot of distractions and constructive procrastination, and playing with other things before we get there.

So try not to feel too guilty about your sixth cup of tea of the morning - the act of getting up to make it and probably the few moments daydreaming out of the window while you wait for the kettle to boil are just giving you the break you need to re-open those channels of inspiration!

I'll let Elizabeth Gilbert sum things up:

I hope you've enjoyed these posts and my thoughts on the key passages I've discussed. It's been an interesting exercise for me to go back through the book in detail and reflect on my own experiences of living a creative life, and I'd love to hear from you if anything I'd talked about has particularly resonated, or if you have a different opinion - either leave a comment below or drop me a message here.

Finally, if you're looking for a little inspiration to reignite your creative spark and help you find more focus in your creative work or passions, why not join me for two weeks of emails with ideas, anecdotes and encouragement. The Creative Focus Challenge starts on Monday 11th September - find out more and sign up by clicking the big button below!