Tag: Elizabeth Gilbert

Inside a Writer’s Brain

I thought the Professional Author’s Brain (PAB) would be different. Back when I started down this road to become a published author, I accepted that disparate ideas and motivation would war against my love of story writing. I was an amateur after all, and that creative writing/professional writing degree didn’t really prepare me for reality.
Four years into the real deal, I’m not sure anything could have given me a heads-up about being a professional author. Or what really went on behind the forehead inside a PAB.
True, continual writing and seeking feedback from more skilled writers could equip me with the TOOLS I needed. But there isn’t a book or course that can tame the beast inside my brain.
I know this because I’ve read an endless stream of writing craft and career books from successful authors, and I’m still scratching my head over some aspects of the whole “author gig.” I’ve also taken multiple courses offered online and at conferences from published authors who are also competent teachers (and as an educator, I can tell the difference).
What did I get? More knowledge. More tools.

Nothing to discipline the genius inside my heart, soul and mind.

The part some people call “The Muse,” but I’m inclined to agree with Elizabeth Gilbert’s assessment that we all have a genius at our disposal, and it isn’t subject to the spurious whims of the gods.

What? You didn’t know Muse is actually a Greek goddess, patron of artists everywhere.

Now you do. And that explains her fickle game plans and unpredictable work schedule.

What I’ve learned as a professional author is that you can NOT wait for the Muse to show up before you work. You have to sit your rear in the chair and do the work.
But, the truth is: Muse work reads like poetry and my work affects me like a C-level college essay. So why write the words are going to sound so…average?
Why didn’t my brain shift into a different gear once I decided to go “pro”? Surely professional authors with a string of best sellers and a backlist that fills five Amazon screens don’t have problems tricking their brains into work mode. And their Muse must show up for eighty percent of their writing sessions.
You’d be surprised what best-selling authors do to trick their brain to do its best work. But, I can’t rely on the bag of tricks they share as “writer’s gold” in their blogs, memoirs and books on writing best sellers.
Because most of it is nothing more than fool’s gold to my brain.

My Creative Brain

I come up with ideas for stories quite easily. Too bad that’s NOT the hard part.

I might be standing in the grocery line and here are some things that would grab my creative genius:

  • The cover of a gossip rag in the magazine stand
  • A snippet of overheard conversation
  • The set of the cashier’s shoulders
  • The look a stranger gives as he passes by
  • The contents scrolling across the belt about to be purchased by the person in front of me

There’s no shortage of ideas in the world. Anyone with a spark of imagination can come up with hundreds of ideas during a one-hour brainstorming session.
In fact, I never need to brainstorm story ideas. What I need to learn is how to multiply plot points that will compel readers to turn the pages.
Because while the idea pool is deeper than the Mariana Trench and wider than the Pacific Ocean, the number of ideas which will generate an entire, interesting story or novella (forget the gargantuan required for a novel) fit in an espresso cup.

The Other Half of my Brain

And that little puddle is where the other half of my brain refuses to play. It likes the splash of plenty in the ocean of ideas.

Why narrow things down? Won’t it be more fun to play with all the interesting water puppies?
No, Brain, it only leads to frustration.

Except for when it causes plot holes. Or there’s an off chance it will peter out in the dreaded middle of the story. Maybe it locks itself in a tower and conveniently misplaces the key.

The left brain has lots of fun, but at some point the right brain (PAB) must approve all the fantasy-babble. It has to contain enough truth to suspend the reader’s disbelief. And this half of the brain is like a wet blanket on the fiery creative half.
So why can’t I convince this half of my brain to “create” like a professional author?
Because it doesn’t tends to cage the fluttering explosion of ideas and the Muse doesn’t survive behind bars.
In other words, professional authors learn to write IN SPITE of the flibbertigibbet whiff of inspiration and genius.
Me? I’m still trying to escape the beast with all my limbs intact.
What sort of things do you imagine go through a PAB? Any questions for this full-time author that might light a fire beneath the Muse?

BIG MAGIC for Creatives

At the suggestion of an author I follow, I checked the audiobook of BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR written by Elizabeth Gilbert. After all, I needed something to listen to while I cleaned the house and logged miles on the pavement.

In case you’re not familiar with authors, Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of EAT, PRAY, LOVE, so she had a little authority in the are of creativity. As a bonus, she narrated the audiobook.

What’s the Magic?

Inspiration is the magic behind creativity. There’s tons of noise about listening to your muse and being inspired by certain things.

Gilbert has an interesting view on inspiration. She proposes that ideas are the offspring of inspiration. Ideas float freely through the air around us, buzzing into the hearts and minds of various people, looking for a receptive venue.

When they find an artist that pauses to consider them, they stay awhile. They plant their seedling concept into a ready mind where the willing artist considers it.

If the artist, waters and feeds and otherwise tends the idea, it happily grows and flourishes, until finally it becomes the premise for a novel, theme of a painting or thought behind a symphony. Then it goes fully formed into the wider world to be viewed and appreciated by everyone.

Should the artist give up on the idea, it won’t wait around forever. This is why sometimes when we set aside a project for awhile, when we come back to it, the magic is gone. We can’t get into the flow again. It suddenly feels stale and unimaginative.

Gilbert has proof for her hypothesis regarding ideas. It’s a real eyebrow-raiser, and involves an exchange of ideas with Ann Patchett through nothing more than a touch. That’s all I’ll say about that. Read (or listen to ) the book if you want to know the whole score.

Gilbert’s advice: consider art as a vocation rather than a career. Even if you do it full-time. Once you call it a career, the weight of responsibility (to pay the bills and feed the artist’s family) presses against ideas, stifling them.

She names many fears and addresses her own methods for counteracting them. She debunks the idea of a “suffering artist” and proposes creatives fill their well with love for their art. The art will reciprocate with kindness.

My Takeaway

I enjoyed the various anecdotes and personal experiences shared by Gilbert. This will be the only book of hers I have ever read (although I did see the film version of the best-seller mentioned above, but we all know it was NOWHERE as amazing as the book).

Although I’m not entirely convinced of her theory regarding ideas, I can see how she would have made the conclusion she did.

Ideas are inanimate. However, the Creator of all things could very well send them on the air and into the hearts and minds of people He wants to develop them.

I have said, “Inspiration struck. The words poured out of me.” However, this isn’t inspiration in the sense of “God-breathed” scriptures.

Instead, I mean an idea bloomed and was ready for harvest. It responded to my watering with introspection and my feeding through brainstorming or research. It’s growth can no longer be contained in my heart and mind,

Idea explosion makes me adore writing a first draft. Sure, some parts of it might be a struggle, but I’ve learned to skip to the part the muse want to expel. The other parts will fall in line–eventually. Or maybe they will end up being summarized, nothing more than connective tissue for the brain child birthed with a minimum of labor.

A few lines jumped out at me, and I scrawled them down. They’ll be fodder for reflection in the quiet corners of my mind.

It’s true fear dampens creativity, can destroy it altogether. This is why I chose “dauntless” for my word this year. And why I’ve embraced the unexpected opportunities that have flowed my way this year.

BIG MAGIC isn’t an especially long book, so I recommend it if fear is stifling your creativity. It can’t possibly hurt anything, right? And it might invite the Big Magic of Inspiration to drop an idea (or ten) in the fertile soil of your imagination.

If you’ve read this book, what was your takeaway? What fear stifles your creativity?

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