Big Magic and Living a Creative Life (and a #GC)

What? What does that mean? That means, my friends, that for the next few weeks, you are my guinea pigs. Aren’t you excited? I thought so.

First, however, if you haven’t had a chance to read the awesome post by KIM HARRISON that ran yesterday, please do. It’s really pretty cool and, for me, really summed up how authors come up with ideas for novels and why the question–where’d you get the idea for that book?–is so very hard to answer. Because the answer is, invariably, a muddle of a dozen different things our subconscious finally formed into a big “what if….”

big magicAs for me, I’ll be reviewing Kim’s new novella, WAYLAID, next week, but today I want to talk about Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I’ve just begun to read it after listening to her Udemy lecture on Living a Creative Life. I’ll talk about the guinea pig part later, because I’m trying to keep my posts shorter…after today.

I believe that we’re all creative in our own ways. Some of us write or draw or play music. Some of us have green thumbs and grow beautiful things. Some of us have the art of making others feel better, or building machines, or creating computer programs, or healing. We all have creative gifts. At some point–maybe when we were small–we used them and they made us happy. But the creativity gets beaten out of many of us as we go through the school systems and their insistence that we focus on whatever will earn us a living and make us a “productive member of society.”

Do you know where your creativity lies? What makes you truly happy? What makes you think, “I’ll do X for ten or fifteen minutes,” and next thing you know, an hour has passed? Chances are, that thing has to do with your creative passion.

Why aren’t we doing it more often? Elizabeth Gilbert says it comes down to one thing: fear. I had an interesting talk with my mom recently about the piano. One of my nephews is turning into quite a wonderful pianist, and I’m just waiting for his parents to come over from South Carolina to get the beautiful piano my parents bought me when I was five years old so he can take it and love it as I have. I took piano lessons for ten years, and love music passionately.

But I haven’t played since 2004, which was the last time I lived alone. That fact became significant after my conversation with my mom.

“I think the piano was my dream, not yours,” she told me, and I had to think about that. It wasn’t true. I was so excited about music lessons that I used to practice the scales and fingering on the steps before I got my piano. Once the piano arrived, I would play and play and play, mostly when I was alone after school, before my parents got home from work.

So I had to think about why I didn’t play anymore. “I don’t like playing in front of anyone,” I finally told her. “It scares me. When I was taking lessons, I’d get physically ill and throw up before recitals because I was so scared.” Of what? Of making a mistake where people would hear. Of being judged. Of being bad. Of making a fool of myself. Fear.

That probably sounds strange from someone who’s made a career of writing things that get sent out into the world for everyone to read and critique. Words fall into my comfort zone of creative passion (at least most of the time), but until a couple of years ago I had abandoned my first great love of drawing. I’m not a great artist but I have fun. I lose time in it in the same way I lose time when I write.

Maybe what made you lose track of time as a kid doesn’t do it for you anymore, as I don’t think the piano would fill my hours as it once did. In that case, how do you live a creative life (which, in turn, makes you live a happier life, a more fulfilled life)? For a writer, who already has a creative life in a sense, there’s a lot of pressure to keep producing creatively in different ways. Different stories. Different characters. Where do those come from? When I’m between projects I become almost paralyzed and don’t know what to do next. What will get the creativity flowing again?

Gilbert’s answer surprised me: By following your curiosity. She talks about herself, her creativity, and her fear as an inseparable threesome–always together, always with the fear challenging the creative spark.

Her challenge: find something every day that sparks some degree of curiosity and see where it takes you. Write it down in a creativity notebook. It might inspire a story. It might inspire a hobby. It might simply engage your brain in a daydream or a thought that brings a spark of light to your day.

So, my guinea pigs, I’ll be devoting some blog days to following the spark of curiosity. I don’t know what it will be. It might be a new author or book. It might be an old map, or a piece of trivia or a memory or..who knows? Don’t worry–we’ll still talk books, but we’ll also find out what makes us curious.

So….where does your creativity lie? Throw aside your fear and share with us where you think it might be. What you’d do if you weren’t afraid. Or, alternately, what was the last thing that sparked your curiosity enough to do a Google search? Mine, sadly, was research on melanoma because I have a strange little thing going on with my arm and will spend part of my birthday soon having a dermatologist I only half-jokingly called Doogie dig a hole in my arm. I hope your most recent spark of curiosity was more interesting!

Share with us. Commenters will be entered for a $5 Amazon GC or Book Depo equivalent! Because curiosity should be rewarded (and not just by a Doogie with a scalpel).

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

33 thoughts on “Big Magic and Living a Creative Life (and a #GC)

  1. How interesting. My most recent creativity would be my Zentangle drawings. Woodworking would be next. I made my first bookcase in eighth grade. Still have it in my den. I’ve done a little jewelry making. Most of these become gifts for Christmas, birthdays, or just for the fun of it.

  2. I love doing counted cross-stitch as a hobby. I’m not an expert needlewoman by any stretch, but I enjoy doing it (at least until my eyes give out). I also read, read, read. A lot! I love music, but I can’t play anything, I just love listening to it.

    • Counted cross-stitch is so pretty! I’ve seen some amazing patterns. And reading is in itself a creative exercise, I think, because you’re able to get lost in other worlds.

  3. I fear that I have been mostly in survival mode with responsibilities at work taking over more of my time than normal since the beginning of the year. My creativity has mostly shown up in cooking recently. My son decided to be vegan and I have done much Google searching for information and inspiration.

    • Believe me, I know about being in survival mode, and it’s not the most conducive to creativity, but it sounds like cooking has become your new outlet! I went through a vegan phase (It didn’t last very long–LOL), so I know it can be challenging to adapt recipes!

  4. This is a difficult subject for me because I’m one of those people that really, truly does not have a creative bone in my body, at least as far as I can tell. The thing is, though, that I don’t feel a lack in my life in any way due to that “missing” creativity. After all, you can’t miss what you don’t have. I don’t feel any drive to create, and I don’t feel like I’m suppressing some natural urge and would feel so much better if I could just let it out. I’ve always been this way. It’s not like I felt creative as a child and then lost it.

    My hubs is very creative and he just cannot understand how I feel no drive to be the same so we’ve had many discussions on this subject. We’ve basically concluded that if I do have any creativity, it only comes out when I read and get so immersed in the story I’m reading that I totally ignore everything around me.

    • Well, I will channel Elizabeth Gilbert here. She says creativity doesn’t mean that you have a passion to CREATE something in the traditional sense of the word, but that to live a creative life you always choose curiosity over fear. Readers are curious; avid readers who can shut things out are even more so. Therefore, avid readers live creative lives. See, you ARE creative. 🙂

      • Okay, I can get behind that definition of creativity! I’m definitely a curious person – it’s one of the reasons I love to read so much.

  5. The last things I googled were how to make a compost bin from a trash can and how to make compost. I like to grow vegetables and decided to try making my own compost this year. I like to cook and I like to try new recipes or adapt recipes to our tastes so I guess that’s my creative streak these days.

    • Cooking is definitely a creative thing….and one I do not possess. I would never cook again if I could get away with it, but I don’t see a private chef anywhere in my future. LOL. And making your own compost is cool!

  6. Genealogy has always been a strong interest of mine. I can spend hours researching on line. I hated my piano recitals because I was afraid of making a mistake.

    • Another piano recital refugee! I also enjoy genealogy. I spent a lot of time on it about ten years ago and hope to get back to it one of these days–there are so many records available online now! Unfortunately, I have a lot of names like Johnson…and Smith…and Harris…and Williams. So once I get beyond the beginning of census records, I hit brick walls. Except the Sandlins, who I can trace back to about 11th century Scotland. One would think Jaco would be easy to trace, and I have….except that once I hit my gggg grandfather John Jaco, there are about five of them, all related, and I have no idea which one is mine. LOL.

  7. My creativity lies in quilting. I love playing with the beautiful fabrics and creating different patterns with various shapes.

    • Ah, fabric stashes! Even though I wasn’t quilting as much, when I moved from New Orleans I brought my entire stash with me. Humongous. I actually gave about half of it away last summer to a friend I knew would really use it in her sewing and quilting projects. The other half, however, is in a trunk, just waiting….

  8. I love my craft work. I knit, crochet, embroider & sew. Most times I just wing it without a pattern. A few failures, but lots of successes.

    • And how creative is that? I can’t imagine working without a pattern but I imagine you come up with really unique and beautiful work! (I also can’t write a book without doing an outline first, so the pattern thing is ingrained. LOL.)

  9. perhaps if i wasn’t afraid and i had time i would write but for now i enjoy cross stitiching and creating bookmarks ( all kind) and jewellery but i do that only for gift

    • Your work is so delicate and pretty! I know it’s hard to find time to spend on yourself right now, but creating (even in the form of reading) eases the soul. 🙂

  10. Like JenM I always said I don’t have a creative bone in my body. Everyone else in my family is very artistic. Sculpters, painters, knitters, crocheters etc. My brother actually works in the movie industry as a set designer. Skipped me completely and the gene popped up in my daughter. ….But I never felt left out either….I’m the reader! And my girl always tells me I have great ideas!

    • People who have ideas are curious and therefore creative! All creativity comes from ideas, after all. In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about ideas–she thinks they’re almost magical, tangible things that are floating all around us until they find the mind that is open to them. I’m not sure I’m quite there with her, but I rather like the idea…which is an idea. Okay, that’s making me dizzy–LOL.

  11. My creativity lies in a few things – making greeting cards on the computer – I like putting things together in a way the pleases me and hopefully the recipient as well. I also enjoy crochet, but don’t do it as much as I used to because it’s a bit hard on my hands. My sister and I took quilting classes together and I loved that, but haven’t felt confident enough to do it on my own since I moved away. I like to write, but I don’t think I’m imaginative enough – but I do very well editing the things my sister writes – we make a good team.

    • Ah, imagination is overrated, I think. Ninety-nine percent of “creativity,” however we define it, is a combination of work, play, and repetition! Check out paper-pieced quilting sometime. I am NOT a patient, precise kind of person–which most traditional quilters are–but paper piecing is so easy because there’s no measuring involved. You literally sew on the dotted line. it’s brilliant! Card-making is very creative; my BFF does wonderful cards. My hands probably wouldn’t do well with crochet either; i’m not even sure I could quilt anymore. Fortunately, I can type!

  12. I bake, and I make jewelry and doll clothes. Mostly, I read. I am so addicted to books that when my kids were little, I did not allow myself to read anything more than grocery ads. I had to, or the poor things would have had to raise themselves. I have always wanted to write. I wrote my first book when I was seven, about a squirrel named Henri. My next book was written at age 9, when I had a significant weight problem. It was 12 chapters about people on Jupiter (the heaviest planet) who considered chubby to be beautiful, and skinny people were the ones who were teased and called ugly. My teacher recommended counseling Lol. My mother made me stop writing and made many futile attempts at getting me into sports. I gave it up for decades, until my adult daughter handed me a copy of Twilight that restarted my literary addiction. I started a couple of stories after that, but never finished them.. I managed to finish one around 2012, a very bad contemporary romance. My male leads are not hero enough, I was told. He was too much like a real man, I suppose. I came up with a pretty good premise around 2014, about a mailman who has PTSD from his time in Afghanistan. I was working and caring for my husband who has congestive heart failure; I barely had time to shower and do laundry. I must have pissed off my muse by telling her to shut up because I had to sleep sometime. Now that I am retired and have the time, the characters don’t talk to me anymore. So I read other people’s stories. That’s my creativity story. The last thing I googled was ‘What does the Scottish beverage Irn Bru taste like?” (The best answer I got was something like Dr. Pepper.)

    • Well, we have established that reading is creative. You should write if you enjoy it. Just say you’re gonna write 500 words every day, on whatever. Or 200 words–that’s not very much. Maybe a few lines of a story. Maybe what happened the day before. Before you know it, your “muse” will be back. If you enjoy it, that’s what matters from a creative standpoint. if you aspire to make it a business, well, that’s a whole different kettle of fish, as the saying goes. I’m still trying to figure that one out, I think because “business acumen” and “writing” don’t always go together very well.

  13. I like crafting – making candles, sewing, refurbishing/repurposing, decorating, etc. I adore gardening and canning. I love singing, but not in front of people because although I am passionate about singing, I sound horrible!! Sometimes I sing in the church choir and visibly shake the entire song. And reading keeps me sane!