If you are a creator of any kind, Elizabeth’s Gilbert’s Big Magic is a must-read.
I’m kicking myself that I had not read this book earlier, way earlier when it first came out in 2015. It could have saved me so much time, anguish, and tears, ah, so many tears, but anyway, water under the bridge. Moving on.
Here are some of the golden nuggets that I got from this gem of a book:
#1. Writing is a gamble
Writing is not an exact science, and every time you are shipping something, you are at a casino, playing a one-arm bandit, hoping, and praying to win big. Gilbert, of course, is better with words than me, so here is how she eloquently described the creators’ gamble:
“Artists, by nature, are gamblers. Gambling is a dangerous habit. But whenever you make art, you’re always gambling. You’re rolling the dice on the slim odds that your investment of time, energy, and resources now might pay off later in a big way—that somebody might buy your work, and that you might become successful.”.
#2. Dealing with negative feedback
I’m someone who struggles with negative feedback. Although my skin gets thicker as I get older (literally and figuratively), I still get heart palpitations when someone trashes my writing. Here is what Gilbert says about that:
“What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest—as politely as you possibly can—that they go make their own fucking art.”
#3. Dealing with frustration
Being a writer is not for the faint-hearted. Do you know how many times I wanted to shred my manuscripts into one million pieces and toss them in the Potomac river?
“I remember thinking that learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is part of the job of a creative person. If you want to be an artist of any sort, it seemed to me, then handling your frustration is a fundamental aspect of the work—perhaps the single most fundamental aspect of the work. Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process.”
#4 Having a creative mind is like caring for a dog
Yes, if you ignore your dog and don’t take it for a walk, it will trash your house.
“Possessing a creative mind, after all, is something like having a border collie for a pet: It needs to work, or else it will cause you an outrageous amount of trouble. Give your mind a job to do, or else it will find a job to do, and you might not like the job it invents (eating the couch, digging a hole through the living room floor, biting the mailman, etc.).
It has taken me years to learn this, but it does seem to be the case that if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind).”
#5 Dealing with failure
I’m someone who keeps picking at the stab. Analyze, rethink, revisit. What if, what if, what it. I should not have. I should have. I could have. I would have. Vicious circle. Gilbert addresses this corundum:
“Whatever you do, try not to dwell too long on your failures. You don’t need to conduct autopsies on your disasters. You don’t need to know what anything means. Remember: The gods of creativity are not obliged to explain anything to us.”
Do yourself a favor and get Big Magic by Elizabeth’s Gilbert.
You would think that after writing in English for over twenty years and publishing a novel, short stories, and articles in prestigious publications such as The Washington Post, Elle, and Esquire, I would overcome my imposter syndrome, but the answer is no. I still feel like a fraud for writing in a language that is not mine.
If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, here are my tips that will push you to keep creating, even if you mistakenly think that the odds are against you.
- Remind yourself of the greats: Nabokov was Russian. Joseph Conrad was Polish, and Kazuo Ishiguro is Japanese. They did it and did it brilliantly.
- Invest in some copyediting tools to ease your mind. My favorite is Grammarly.
- Use your native language to your advantage. I throw in Arabic words in my writing and readers love that.
- Remind yourself that many of your readers speak fewer languages than you do.
- Ask for a peer review from a native speaker.
- If you are self-publishing, invest in an editor so that you can focus on the structure and not drive yourself crazy over typos and grammar.
- Remember that “everything is figureoutable” to quote Marie Forleo. If you are in doubt, Google. Everything is there. The use of propositions, grammar, sentence structure, you name it.
- Joke about your accent. Greek-American media entrepreneur Ariana Huffington often starts her public talks with “I have an accent” which is usually followed by laughs.
We all have self-doubt. Sometimes, simple mind tricks will give you the confidence you need. Give yourself a pat on the back and say, I got this.
Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash
I have been part of a writing group for over ten years now, and during this time, I have published a novel, dozens of articles, and several short stories. My writing group has been instrumental in honing my skills and improving my writing by providing valid critiques and even line edits.
Through this process, I learned how to critique other people’s work, especially fiction. I made a lot of mistakes, and I haven’t always been a good feedback giver.
Here are some of my tips on how to gracefully critique other writers’ work:
- Always start with the positive. Mention the things that you enjoyed the most about the work. If it’s a chapter from a novel in progress, say things along the line of “I enjoyed the humor” or “This chapter read very quickly.”
- Dive slowly into the critique. Writers put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into their work, so measure your words. You can start your review by mentioning the things that didn’t work for you. Make it more about you and how you absorbed the art, rather than the writer and what they did and didn’t do.
- Don’t make generic, broad statements like “You have cartoonish characters” or “Your language is too flowery.”
- Don’t nitpick and go on a rant about grammar and spacing.
- Write down your critique and Email it to them. You will do them a favor as they would want to go back to your notes when they are revising.
Remember that no writer is an island. You need other writers as much as they need you. Critique with kindness, and do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Photo by Michael Burrows from Pexels
If you have always wanted to write the next great American novel, or a best-selling memoir, or even a marketing blog a la Seth Godin, then stop talking about “wanting” and start doing. “Someday” is right now.
Here are my quick tips to get you started:
- Pick a specific time everyday to write and stick with it. Morning is ideal.
- Inspiration is a myth. Start writing and ideas with follow.
- “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.” – Stephen King.
- Create a system to capture your ideas like Apple Notes, Notion or Google Keep.
“Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.” – David Allen, author of Getting Things Done.
- Read, Read, Read.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” – Stephen King.
- Find an editor: A friend, a colleague a fellow author. Two pairs of eyes are better than one.
What are yo you waiting for? Get to work.
*Photo credit: Lukas Blazek