–quote: Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic–
Most writers, at some point — no matter what kind of writing they do — toy with the idea of writing a book.
What “book” means to different writers, is of course different, but the innate drive to see one’s work in book form seems to be real for almost every writer I’ve ever known.
Now, well into my mid-life adulthood, I think I am finally ready to embark on that journey in a real way. I have known this for about a year now. And, knowing that I want to see this become a reality for myself (no matter the outcome of what this book does in the world after it is created) has been a catalyst for a lot of the decisions I have made in the past six months. I have pulled away from food and cocktail writing very deliberately. I have started flexing my confessional writer’s muscle again, making time to write about things that are important to me and give me that sense of creation when completed. I’ve talked a lot about this here on In The Way, and it has been really helpful getting me back into the swing of things.
But, do you want to know my biggest roadblock has been when it comes to writing my book?
The actual question of “what in the goddamn hell IS IT?”
WHAT IS IT?
What IS it?
This question has been brewing in my brain and heart for nearly a year and part of my commitment to putting myself ‘in the way of beauty’ is to try to pin this question down with a direct and definitive answer.
I am not, and have never been, a fiction writer. So creating characters and stories from scratch never seemed on the table for me. I think it is a craft I could work on and become good at, but for my first attempt at a book–it doesn’t feel right. And, I don’t want to create a new story — I want to get what is inside of me, out.
I want to write my story.
But a memoir doesn’t seem right either for some reason. Maybe it’s premature or too soon; maybe I am not ready to get real about everything that has happened in my life, or I am not ready for the people in my life to get real about how I have experienced them. When you write your truth, others can feel strangely about that.
That seems like a lot to ask of everyone, including myself. But I am working on getting to that ultimate goal someday.
At my core, I am a confessionalist; a memorist; a poet.
When my stories are most powerful, they come out of me in short, sharp pieces that cling to a page tooth and nail, and don’t let go. They are up for interpretation; they are pieces of me that sometimes need translation. They reveal truth to myself in a new way, and also always stay true to the feeling of what I intended for myself to feel when I read them again––even years later.
At times, they are secret messages that only few can decode.
They are cocktails of simple moments that have forever left me drunk.
A little over a year ago, I was on a plane reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.
(It should be noted, like many others — my creativity usually peaks in airports and on planes).
I had just seen her speak at a conference and she floored me with her advice on living a creative life. I purchased Big Magic in the airport on my way home because I was still feeling so inspired––and also I could tell that my creativity was getting ready to explode, because it had been cooped up in kitchens and bars for so long, literally.
[Side note: I read Eat, Pray, Love years before and I enjoyed it — but I hadn’t read anything else of hers and was still recovering from my years of ‘I only read obscure writers, or writers from the literary canon. NYT best sellers? No. That wasn’t for me. I only read Eat, Pray, Love because someone I trusted recommended it after my divorce. My life’s timing made sense for the narrative. But, I am proud to say I am not that cynical anymore.]
After hearing Liz speak about creativity and fear, I let those ideas sit with me for a few days––and so when I started the book, it was the perfect night cap to the creative energy that was asking for me to pay attention.
On that plane, I knew I had to write a book. And I knew that it had to be my story and my world, and I knew it wouldn’t be traditional, whatever that means.
I got out a pen and paper and outlined 10 chapters. 10 chapters of my life. On the other side of the page, I started listing spirits. Yes, booze spirits. One spirit for each chapter that for me, correlated in some way with the ‘feeling’ of that part of my life. I didn’t know if the chapters would be essays, or poems, or short non-fiction stories, but I had AN OUTLINE of…something.
I put it away, but excited at the possibility. I got half way through Big Magic on the plane.
Then, I didn’t pick up the book, or the outline, for 6 months.
And for that entire 6 months, in the back of my head was Elizabeth Gilbert’s voice––
“ideas are alive, that ideas do seek the most available human collaborator, that ideas do have a conscious will, that ideas do move from soul to soul, that ideas will always try to seek the swiftest and most efficient conduit to the earth (just as lightning does).” She goes on, “I believe that inspiration will always try its best to work with you—but if you are not ready or available, it may indeed choose to leave you and to search for a different human collaborator.”
My idea was going to die, or move onto the next soul. That was for sure.
As a conduit to my creativity, I was the worst and most unavailable partner. The idea came, and I basically told it that it wasn’t good enough.
I’m an asshole.
For the last 6 months, I have been trying to make my book everything but this idea. I’d left cocktails somewhat behind, after-all, hadn’t I? Maybe this idea was just a preparatory idea for the REAL BIG idea that was coming. I didn’t want to write about cocktails anymore, I wanted to write something more “meaningful”.
And so the question persisted:
WHAT IS IT? WHAT IS IT?
Que birds chirping. Pins dropping. Breezes blowing. Oh look, here comes a tumble weed.
Nothing. I couldn’t get clear on ANYTHING. I couldn’t outline one word because the second I tried, my mind circled back to those 10 chapters, as if that idea was saying “hey, I’m still here, we can still try to do this thing”. My life distilled, metaphorically and literally.
But I was still pushing it away like a jerk.
And then, something happened.
I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s master class on the Calm app.
I took notes. I went through the actual assignments that she suggested, including writing a letter to my fear––and answering that letter.
I wrote my permission slip.
I finished Big Magic.
I found clarity.
I found permission.
I saw my idea differently: a spark of madness that might REALLY be something interesting. Something more.
I made a new outline. A better one––a bigger, and longer one.
I KNOW WHAT THE HELL IT IS!
(Que fireworks and champagne!)
It is still birthed from the same idea I had on that plane all those many many months ago, but now that I have given it attention and dare I say––love––it has turned into more than what I thought it could be. It is my story. It is chapters and spirits and poems and essays and words and…me.
And, now I have committed myself to the BIG MAGIC and my creativity to make this one beautiful thing––for myself. I feel lucky that this idea didn’t move on and find another set of fingers to do the typing. It is a forgiving lover.
Oh yeah, and I still have to write the thing.
I’ll be using In The Way as I go, for feedback, for insights, to work through stumbling blocks and stay accountable. I’ll be sharing my letter to fear, and my response (which was an amazing exercise that could be used for so many things), and other ideas I take on as I try to make a little imprint on this magical world.
“Do you have the courage? Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.” –Elizabeth Gilbert
HELL YES I DO, LIZ.