About this time last year I read Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I was just starting to go to yoga and as cliché as it was, I decided it was time to read the book that got millions of women on yoga mats. I really enjoyed that book, in fact I often reread sections of it when I can’t sleep or I don’t want to start a new novel, but need something to read. I loved the descriptions of Italy and Bali and I enjoyed Gilbert’s voice and her easy honesty. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but I really enjoyed Eat Pray Love.
Since then, Gilbert released a new book, Big Magic in which she discusses her process as a writer and some of the wider myths that surround being an artist. I’ve talked a little about this on here before, but I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much of our real lives we should put into our work as writers. Recently, as part of my MA there have been members of the group who want to use their writing as a form of social activism, others I know want to use their writing as a form of therapy, working through their real life problems on the page.
Now I have to be honest here. There is nothing that I would hate more.
I don’t write about real life. It’s a rule I’ve always had. Literally. I started writing when I was in primary school, I made up stories when I was very small but I was nine when I told my teacher that one day I wanted to write novels. And since then I have refused to write about real life. I just don’t get the appeal. My writing has always been as escape. Not because I’m trying to escape my life, but in the same way that we enjoy reading a good book to get away from life for an hour or two, I write to drift away into someone else’s life and experiences.
So what does this have to do with Big Magic? Well, in Big Magic Gilbert does away with the idea that we have to be tortured souls working through some terrible experience to be good writers. She says that creativity is a good thing, that we can use good experiences just as much as we can use the negative ones. Some of the ideas she has are a little bit out there but the overall message is a brilliant one – we are all creative, that is there within us and there doesn’t need to be some terrible experience to drive this creativity out. We do not need to harm ourselves, to focus on the bad things that have happened or that might happen. We can write, create, make music, paint, without suffering for our art. The whole idea of suffering for your art, beyond the pain that comes from sitting at a computer for hours, is a myth. An unnecessary myth.
I like to dip in and out of Big Magic whenever I’m worried that my writing isn’t coming as easily as it used to. It is filled with some pretty flowery ideas, but if you can get past that the overall advice is good. It’s also a great alternative if you can’t get to a writing workshop in the next few weeks. If you want something less hippy-ish, then turn to something like The Writers and Artists book, Novel Writing by Romesh Gunesekera and A L Kennedy. This is a really great book that works through the stages of writing without a single suggestion that you need to go out there and suffer for your art. Remember – if you’re suffering, your not writing and if you find writing painful then why are you doing it? If writing feels like banging your head against a brick wall then stop, don’t do it! You should enjoy writing.
Anyway, if you have wandered down the internet rabbit hole in an attempt to avoid writing, then here are a few writing activities to help you remember just how fun writing can be.
- Your first line:
‘I have been here before, I know this place. I dreamt about this very street last night…’
- Hera writes a letter to Zeus regarding the time he has not been spending around the house.
- Write about the perfect murder, from the perspective of the victim.
- You wake up to find yourself attached to a lie detector, being interviewed by the FBI. What is your crime? Are you guilty? How will you get out?