When I was 16, I read Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons. It tells the story of the martyr, Sir Thomas Moore.
That same year, I took a creative writing course. Now, I should say for the record, that I had always been a writer. My whole short life. I remember writing short stories at the age of 9, and I was an avid journaller throughout my teens. But that year was the first time I was giving some formal time and thought to my young inner writer.
I wrote a short story, because I was a young, impressionable teen, that was equal parts A Man for all Seasons and Romeo and Juliet, about a girl who falls in love with a boy, during the Lutheran uprising. The boy, even though he loves her, refuses to convert and ultimately dies for his choice.
It was called So Is a Man to His Own Self.
The title came directly from A Man For All Seasons–just before Moore is put to death, he says:
As a spaniel is to water so is a man to his own self. I will not give in because I oppose it—I do- not my pride, not my spleen, nor any of my appetites, but I do– I!
I submitted the piece and it won first prize in a Province-wide competition.
I have nothing of that short story. No copy of it, no rough drafts, not even the letter I was sent informing me I’d won.
But I do have a memory. It was late afternoon, after school was over, and I remember so clearly knocking on the staff room door and asking for my writing teacher. I showed him the letter, and thanked him profusely, over and over–I was unable to accept that this might have been a thing I did. It was, at that moment, I was sure, all about something that he had done.
I felt deeply unworthy.
A few months back, at the suggestion of my friend, Vicki, I bought a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, Creative Living Beyond Fear. I just need to say for the record, that I’m a big fan of Gilbert’s writing. You have likely read Eat, Pray, Love, but I think I may have liked Committed even better, and I loved The Signature of All Things.
Big Magic is something totally different. It’s not a novel. It’s about the creative process.
You see, I’m a grownup now, but that 16-year-old still lives deep inside me somewhere. And a few months ago, when I was offered a book contract, she answered with her characteristic fear and doubts.
“Who am I to write a vegan cookbook?” she asked. “I’m not even vegan. And Aquafaba?? Do I know enough about it to write 100 recipes? That’s so many. What if I fail?” Those were the thoughts that swam through my head as I was considering whether or not to take the gig.
But at a pot-luck lunch one day at Vicki’s (yep, all the good stuff happens through her, believe me), my friend Faye said something simple and profound to me: “If you don’t write it, someone else will. So why not you?”
Why not me, indeed??
I have been reading Big Magic over the last few months, and it has been a very helpful part of the process. I have a million fears, in all honesty. I’m afraid the book will be badly reviewed, and that I’m not thick-skinned enough to handle it. I’m afraid no one will want to work with me again. I’m afraid my book will only sell 12 copies.
And maybe all those things will come true. But I will not die.
In Big Magic, Gilbert debunks all the “starving artist” myths; that you need to suffer to create great art, that making a good living as an artist is “selling out.” That our work, as artists, is “precious.” That inspiration is a scarce commodity.
It’s not. Inspiration will always be there for you, as long as you do your part, as long as you do the work, you show up every day. Do the work. Then let it go. It doesn’t need to be perfect.
I don’t know what’s going to happen when my book comes out. I try not to think about it too much. And yes, I still have fears. But you know what? Success or failure, I did a thing. I wrote a book. And that, my friends, is still something.
If you are a creative, pick up a copy of Big Magic and give it a read. I think it will help. It will give you some perspective, as it has for me.
I’ll leave the last word to Liz:
Your own reasons to create are enough. Merely by pursuing what you live, you may inadvertently end up giving us plenty. Do whatever brings you 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.