Attending a conservative high school that didn’t put enough value on literature and the arts to spark interest from its students, I was unable to discover and grow what would become my love for words. University was a complete turnaround, as I studied in an institution that greatly treasured the humanities. Those four years were my period of renaissance, as I enjoyed my literature and philosophy classes more than I did my business majors. I eventually decided to take a minor’s track in creative non-fiction, a far cry from my left-brain-dominant management classes. Standing between those two worlds was a strange yet interesting place to be. I’d walk away from crunching numbers to then begin deciphering semantics, both requiring the active participation of my ill-prepared mind.
Years later, after graduating with a business degree and a minor in creative writing, I still hold both interests, one as my chosen profession, and the other as my chosen pastime commitment. In the midst of an almost-quarter-life crisis, I tend to question where I stand in my journey of the latter, as my future as an author of any kind is quite unforeseeable, given that I don’t really have anything other than my blog (and my caption-heavy Instagram feed) to show for. It’s a tough spot, really, to pressure myself into thinking that I’d like my writing to be that which can bring forth my purpose in this world; and along with it to worry about how limited my vocabulary is and how slowly my mind is able to produce the right words.
Then comes Elizabeth Gilbert (as introduced by my wonderful friend Elisa), with her charm and passion and deeply beautiful understanding of the creative process, which swept me away as I read the first few sentences of her book. Simply put, Big Magic enlightened me on the pursuit I’ve signed up for, liberated me from common unquestioned ‘norms’ of understanding creativity, and encouraged me overall to just keep writing for a number of reasons. Allow me to introduce to you the major principles she highlighted throughout the book, subject to my own interpretation, along with a few personal anecdotes.
Courage starts from the acknowledgment of fear and its grasp on us. Its very essence is, quite simply, forbidding fear to make decisions when it comes to creative living. Because what do we get for living in fear? Nothing. What do we get from living in courage? A whole lot.
Let us try to get to the bottom of this principle by describing fear. I think, for one, it is aversion to uncertainty. For instance, as a rigid type-A personality, I am used to being in control. I thrive when I know I’ve got a hold on things, especially my future. Somehow, I know that my career as a business woman is set for life, but my future as a writer is another story. Somehow, if I allowed my pragmatic self to make a decision on whether I must pursue art, I wouldn’t be typing up this essay right now. Pretty much all the external signals point to the negative. I do not have a mentor, nor a writers’ support group I meet regularly with. I was not born into a household that embraced the arts, nor belong to a social circle that does. I am not gifted in any way (this paragraph alone has already taken up fifteen minutes to write). I am not equipped with a fine and flowery vocabulary, nor a keen sense of grammar, nor an experience of Shakespeare’s work (yes, shame on me). In simple economic terms, it just doesn’t add up, and the odds are greatly against me being a somebody in this field. But the thing is, that is not what I am after. If I constantly count my limited artistic resources and bank my creative future on my current state of inadequacy then I would be living in fear, and if experience and observation has taught me anything, it is that fear is not a dependable feeling. And I am not about to allow an underserving emotion to control my creativity.
So, I decide to channel my courage and write simply because I enjoy doing it. Sometimes, one needn’t count on reasons for doing something other than the utter joy of engaging in it. I love what I do so deeply that I know it is what I am called to do. It is both an internal demand and a struggle for me to write, like pushing open a titanium vault–a struggle at first, but rewarding at last, when the outcome is unlocking treasures of the mind and heart. Throughout the process, my soul is able to breathe. When I am stifled by everyday demands, it would invigorate me to be alone somewhere with my pen and paper (or my laptop), so my inner being can cultivate itself and recuperate, that it may rest and emerge stronger, equipped for the battles ahead. Such is what prose means to my spirit: it is light, and strength, and joy.
Inspiration comes and goes, and it lingers around those who welcome the ideas it brings forth.
The author characterizes inspiration and gives it life and meaning. In her eyes, it is a being which comes and goes as it pleases, who has authority over its agents: we, humans. As writers, we commonly encounter an idea which may come one day and leave the next, like a flash of lightning. We tend to either fully stick to it, or tinker with it a bit then drop it, or ignore it at once. At times, when we don’t spend enough time to nurture an interesting idea, it leaves us before we start to work on it. Because we are not in control of such moments of enlightenment (or lack thereof), we must adhere to this particular conduct: that we open our doors to the wonders of inspiration, and that we still humbly go about our work when it is not around.
A sense of divine inspiration dwells in me during moments of ethereal fluidity in my writing, as if I were a glorified messenger of that which I was writing about. In my own heart I feel it is more a discovery of God’s glorious wonder, of walking more closely beside Him by plunging deep down into my being. My best writing moments are almost always transcendent, for I would be in a state of eloquence that is unusual for me on a regular basis. The Divine had assigned me to communicate something. Knowing that my most powerful moments as a writer are outside of my control brings a humbling understanding of inspiration, along with a profound sense of the Being behind it.
And then there are the mundane, unintelligible moments. Although I know there is a God beside me at any given moment, He at times chooses to hold back His enchantment from view. A number of times, I find myself uninspired: there isn’t anything I could think to write about, or to add to this essay. It is painful for me to sit for minutes squeezing my mind for the right word, the right sentence structure, or the right transition, beginning and ending. Countless revising and cutting down and expanding paragraphs would take me hours just so I can convey my message the best way I could. I’d twist my brain so hard–so intensely to the point that I feel I can do it voluntarily–and still come up with inadequate output. And then, I wonder how different things would be if I released my new entry. I thought about how my words could impact even just one to think, and from thinking, change his behavior or understanding of the world. I imagine getting an idea out there, and having someone be inspired by it and take action from it. Most importantly, I realize how I emerge better in the process–that my vocabulary is slightly wider, my ideas brighter, my understanding more vast, my mind a little sharper, and my heart much fuller.
It’s funny, because what usually follows the hard parts are the ease and light of inspiration, like a constant interplay between the two. The best part is, because I stick to my writing, despite how excruciating it may be, I actually made the world a better place unintentionally, in the form of a peer or a random stranger telling me how my work is meaningful to them. I believe it’s God’s way of telling me to keep going.
There is no such thing as a rite of passage, only we have the authority to allow ourselves to make good art.
We tend to subject our art to external pressure: critics, doubts and fears, the very notion that creative pursuits are merely for the brilliant and elite, and because we (consciously or subconsciously) mold our work around these thoughts, trying to please each one, it loses the purity it once had when it was a beautiful, raw idea–the kind of value it would have had if we made art merely for the purpose we intended for it, without needing to feel validated by anything.
Although it warms the heart to receive praise about our work, we must not draw strength from it as artists, because the moment we rely on other people’s acknowledgment, we risk the enjoyment of the creative process, or might even give it up altogether. We must, instead, continue humbly, focusing on growing it, only allowing critical feedback for the purpose of improving our craft. We pick out the remarks we wish to entertain, the not-so-pleasing-yet-constructive ones, and fashion them into our writing.
One also need not the riches of ivy-league education, or any formal education, for the matter. Instead, riches of experience will suffice and allow one’s creativity to flourish as he enjoys the wonders and suffers the tragedies of this world. From such states, one is able to dig deeper within himself and unearth the treasures within.
For the longest time, I struggled to write because I was concerned about how the world will take it. My anxiety did not exist only in my prose, but also in my speech, my dress, my habits. My life as an art is frequently subject to self-dictations such as, ‘you make terrible choices,’ ‘you are not good enough,’ ‘you just can’t do this’. I had the wrong end in mind because I’d subscribe to an expectation, making it a point to adhere to a pleasant outcome as much as possible. Somehow, I gradually became more aware of this impossible criteria that left me discouraged and numbed out after things didn’t play out the way I wanted. So I decided to stop being sorry for anything I write, or say, or post, or wear, provided that I do not compromise on my values in the process. I mean, my creativity doesn’t need to be a constant game-changer. It can be funny, just plain weird, but if it’s something I enjoy writing about, asking for validation shouldn’t be a resolve because at the end of the day, it is for the creator to delight in, just like how God marveled over His creation when the world began. And for that, I’ve learned to simply appreciate the process behind the work, to value the positive internal change that comes about when I write a seemingly-dull caption, or wear a seemingly-ridiculous funky pair of trousers.
In the best way we could, as often as we could, make great art.
I find this to be a very interesting chapter, quite similar to the last book I wrote about. Liz says that steady discipline is an essential principle in her pursuit of art. She suggests that mapping out practical steps (i.e. diligently scribbling down absolutely anything for about 10 minutes each day) can help improve one’s writing. Finding time to nurture our skill may at times require painful sacrifice, but results in generous outcomes. Apart from engaging in it persistently, we must also do what we can not to demand so much of our work (i.e. relying on art as a means for survival, forcing us to spin our life around creative something of commercial value, marring our precious creative abilities in the process). We must not pressure ourselves to shape our own writing into a perfect circle just because it sells, when it was meant to be formless at the beginning.
From now on, I want to make it a point to write four hours each week, and I’m writing it down on this post for greater accountability (despite my non-existent readership). I’ve questioned myself countless times, trying to make sure if writing isn’t just a whim, or a fleeting hobby. Every time I do, the answer is always yes. I love to write, and I will do so for the rest of my life. I could not explain why, during the most inconspicuous moments, a spark ignites the soul, convulsively blazing out in the form of words. I could not explain how a beautiful day doesn’t exist until I write about it (at least for myself). Upon discovering a new, interesting thought or encountering divine wisdom, the greatest resolve would be for me to jot it all down on my online notepad, and process the thing into an essay. When I appreciate somebody, the best way I want to show them that is to express, through prose (in a letter), my appreciation of their existence. Writing somehow finds me, and not the other way around. It weaves itself into my life and stays a part of me. Through it, I learn and re-learn about myself, others, the world, and God. It is my gateway to understanding.
My favorite section of the book is this: we must trust that our art is good enough.
Let us not confine our creativity within four walls; make the effort to be a trickster–to be flexible with the elements of our creative endeavors. Our art is as beautiful as it is authentic, hence we needn’t worry about taking inspiration from others (we don’t have to be original all the time) or be concerned with following a certain standard (that’s what’s enchanting about art, it is boundless and it stretches to the extent of one’s imagination). There is no formula in perfecting an artwork, only an open heart; so instead of worrying about the outcome, we must pour ourselves out in the process. At the end of the day, our better selves will thank us for sticking through.
We must also not succumb to the rules of the highbrow, wherein art is mostly melancholic or somber, for it gives us the false idea that one must be in bad shape to make good art. Not at all. In fact, why not bring it with us, whatever state of life we’re in? Whether we’re in a low, or a high, or an apathetic condition, there is always something to share about each season. We mustn’t forget that our work is not our baby, rather, we are its baby. We are changed, revived, and restored by what we do, hence we must allow ourselves to be in the moment and see where our words take us.
The notion of passion may be overrated and wildly misused in today’s world. I am admittedly secure of my vision, but I know a great number of those who aren’t. If their future resembles a painting, others only have the first layer, others have a fully-covered half-page, while some have a blank space on their canvas. Curiosity, however, requires less of us. It only asks us to entertain our wonder, only, at times we must go out of our way to do so. After the seed has been planted, we enjoyingly grow our knowledge, along with our fondness of it, and allow it to bloom into a commitment, or, alternatively decide we need a new interest to cultivate. The journey is one of discovery, rather than extreme pressure to choose a life path early on.
In conclusion, yes, yes, YES. That part about being a trickster and not having to submit to a set of rules we’ve sort of imposed upon ourselves because of culture or some impression we got from sophisticates is so, so true. We must hack life in a way that we believe is healthy for the soul. It is the norm of the millenial; it is what business people call being ‘disruptive’. We can be this with our art, and it is perfectly fine–even better, at times. Society is ever-evolving and this is our generation’s way of adapting, for we have grown to be more open-minded and full of ideas than we’ve ever been. Therefore, I pledge to be more playful with my work, to be less conforming to unwritten rules nobody really cares about, to be more carefree when I feel my work needs to be out there, to allow the spark inside me to grow into colorful flames in the form of my work, sprinkling bits of inspiration to anyone who wishes to engage with it. If anything, the feeling of uncertainty should excite me rather than make me fearful, so dare I.
This section is dedicated entirely to my experience of the Holy.
I write because when there is something I want to tell, a story, an advice, a different perspective, newfound wisdom. There is a particular topic I want to explore, and writing is my way of doing it; it is me dealing with the subject, interacting with it, stimulating my mind with it, toying with it, appreciating it, saying grace for it, and much more. It is, to me, a transcendent encounter with a thing, a person, an event, that changes me completely. And for that, I am grateful for God’s blessing of experience with His light and creation through the gift of this desire: the desire for me to divulge my thoughts about any thing, not particularly with a purpose to inspire, but to simply share my encounter and experience with His creation. Though He has blessed me more than that. He uses my desire to touch hearts, or to make people reflect; and because of that, I am also able to glorify Him through my words–a form of worship and praise, apart from tradition on Sundays.
Engaging in creativity is a passage to one’s soul, and because my heart, at its purest state (though mostly difficult to attain), is filled with God’s grace, wonder and power, my writing allows me to unearth His beauty from introspection. How wonderful it is for Him to meet me in my passions, to reveal Himself through my creativity. One reason I could never quit this endeavor is because the tough times I rack my brains out for the words to express myself are paired with the glorious moments I encounter His Spirit the most. Writing is a pain, yes, but so much more a soulful pleasure.
The Lord does not merely reveal His presence to me when I write; He also communicates. In my writing, He rebukes me. In my writing, He lifts me up. In my writing, He brings to light the things I have neglected and forgotten. In my writing, He illuminates His valuable creation and his intentions for them. In my writing, I journey to know Him deeply. In my writing, I fall further in love with His being. In my writing, His wisdom opens itself up to me. It is remarkable how something so mundane can be tinged with holiness, in moments His Holy Spirit wishes to touch. I think it is because we are made in His image, that a part of us connects to Him in a glorious way, that in the most profound pleasures of this world we find a trace of Him.
That, to me, is Big Magic.