Emerging from creative silence

Elizabeth Gilbert on creative living

Over a month ago I vowed to update this blog every week, as a way of honouring my own creativity and clearing time in my schedule for personal projects. I had every intention of sticking to this goal but then – well, life. I got busy. More changes appeared on the horizon. Other projects captured my attention. And I did what I often do during times of big change – I chose silence.

For a few weeks, I barely wrote a word in my journal – whereas normally I’d write pages every morning. I didn’t read, even though this is one of my favourite forms of relaxation. And I definitely didn’t write for pleasure – my work was taking up most of my energy.

Only this time something was different: I didn’t give in to guilt. Normally during times like this I’d become overwhelmed with a sense of I should be doing more – which is not too far removed from I’m not doing enough – which, when I’m feeling particularly melancholic, can quickly morph into I am not enough. And so the downward spiral continues.

This time, not so. Sure, I had moments where I began to go down that thought path, but something in the back of my mind stopped me. For the first time in a long time, a sense of calm and self-care prevailed over all the shoulds and coulds.

What changed?

I honestly think reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – a book about creativity, that I read in the hope of increasing my productivity – had the surprising effect of helping me chill out and catch my breath.

I read Big Magic in one sitting on the plane on the way to Sydney a few weeks ago. With a title like that, I was expecting to finish the book feeling energised and emboldened. Instead, I felt more relaxed about my creative process than I have in a long while. I have this habit of taking things really seriously, and it was as if Elizabeth Gilbert gave me permission to care a little less and enjoy the process more.

This is a little contradictory, because a key point of Big Magic is to inspire people to tap into their inner creativity, and after reading the book I tapped out and went on a little creative holiday. But I think it’s because Elizabeth Gilbert has this wonderful way of focusing on what really matters: authenticity and enjoyment. Yes, she talks about perseverance and hard work and determination. But most of all she talks about trust and faith. Trust in oneself – in one’s ideas and one’s creativity. Creativity is not something you will lose overnight. Driven by curiosity, it’s one of life’s constants. And this simple reminder made me relax about going through a dry spell – because I knew I’d be ready for when inspiration struck next.

The below passage in particular resonated with me, as someone who is often racked by anxiety about the world. I also feel it is relevant given the recent current events – not read too literally, but instead as a general philosophy for those of us who want to help and contribute but don’t know how. To keep creating and caring, to keep spreading love, even when it all feels too big. To trust that when we do good work, we are making a positive contribution – no matter how small.

“Your own reasons to create are reason enough. Merely by pursuing what you love, you may inadvertently end up helping us plenty. (‘There is no love which does not become help’, taught the theologian Paul Tillich.) Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart. The rest will take care of itself.”

Or, in other words:

“Do what you love to do, and do it with both seriousness and lightness. At least then you will know that you have tried and that – whatever the outcome – you have travelled a noble path.”

For anyone struggling with their own creative process, Big Magic might be the gentle reassurance you need to keep on keeping on. And to create space for more lightness in your work.

Jess x

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