I just finished reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s a book about creativity that details some of Gilbert’s tips for leading a creative life—everything from keeping your day job to not worrying about creating something that isn’t perfect—sprinkled with fun anecdotes from Gilbert's writing life. It feels like a self-help book at times, but she makes the point that she’s not writing it for anyone else as a self-help book; she’s writing it so she can sort through these ideas and challenges in her own brain. Because writing is about exploration. Even though many of the ideas in this book are ideas I’ve already had—things I’ve already considered as I face my own challenges with regard to my writing—it is still refreshing and inspiring to see them written down and to consider my own methods of overcoming certain challenges. It is, I would say, helpful.
One of my biggest challenges is the fact that I am a perfectionist. Gilbert says, on page 166, that laziness and perfectionism are “the essential ingredients for torpor and misery." She continues:
"If you want to live a contented creative life, you do not want to cultivate either one of those traits, trust me. What you want is to cultivate quite the opposite: You must learn how to become a deeply disciplined half-ass.”
Being a deeply disciplined half-ass sounds terrifying to me—which leads me to the topic of the first section of Big Magic: Courage.
I am very much a lazy perfectionist. I’m lazy because I make excuses. Everything needs to be perfect in order for me to create something, and I intend for the thing I create to be perfect. I don’t sit down to write if everything doesn’t line up. Under the subsection “Scary, Scary, Scary,” Gilbert lists “the many ways in which you might be afraid to live a more creative life.” The one that stands out to me is
“You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of work space, or financial freedom, or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration.”
I have made a list of excuses surrounding this fear for years, but especially within the last year or two. Here are some of my poor excuses:
- I need a large, table-like space to write. All of the surrounding conditions need to be conducive to my productivity: a certain amount of either quiet or white noise, the perfect temperature and lighting, and preferably someone being quietly productive next to me.
- I am too tired of looking at a computer screen by the time I get home from work to look at my computer screen. And no, I don’t want to write by hand. I compose better when I am typing.
- If I could just quit my job and focus on my writing, I would have the brain energy and inspiration to create so many wonderful things.
- I need to read at least half a million more books before I’m ready to write a book. I still have so much to learn.
- I haven’t written in my blog in nine months, so my first post after that gap has to be really great. It has to be perfect.
- No one reads my blog anyway. Does it matter if I’m posting content regularly or not? Does it matter if I'm writing anything regularly, if no one reads it?
Obviously, the only person who suffers from making these excuses is me. And the point is that because of these excuses, I’m not writing, even though writing is supposedly the thing I love doing. So, in my first fearful attempt to be a deeply disciplined half-ass, here is my far-from-perfect blog post after a nine-month hiatus—one very small step toward making writing a part of my daily existence. It’s scary, scary, scary.
Also, this is my life.