Hello, and welcome back to Lady Gets Lit!
ICYMI, my good friend Erin @ Flappers and Philosophers and I decided to do another writing discussion series. Throughout the month of July, we’re going to be reading and discussing Elizabeth Gilbert’s creative manifesto, Big Magic. If you’re interested, here’s my first post in the series!
from “Your Permission Slip”
You do not need anybody’s permission to live a creative life.
This section of the book rocked me harder than I expected.
After all, I’ve just come off of Round 2 of The Artist’s Way. I’ve been writing—fiction—for over half my life at this point. I openly call myself a writer to pretty much anyone I meet.
And yet—in so many ways, I’m still waiting around for someone else to give me permission to live my creative dreams.
In the beginning of the section titled Permission, Gilbert begins by describing her parents. Despite being staunch Republicans, they decided what they wanted to do in life and did it, without asking permission. They raised Gilbert to see the world this way.
Here’s the thing: Gilbert acknowledges that a lot of us don’t have parents like hers. It’s pretty common, in creative circles, to bemoan parents who just don’t “get it,” who maybe want what’s best for us, but only when that looks the way they think it should.
I love my parents dearly. They love and support me in so many ways and are always available when I need advice. But that’s just the problem: I’m so good at asking for advice, asking for permission, that I don’t even notice when I’m taking power away from myself.
I completely understand this need for validation; it’s an insecure pursuit, to attempt to create. But if you’re working on your craft every day on your own, with steady discipline and love, then you are already for real as a creator, and you don’t need to pay anybody to affirm that for you.from “Schooling”
Up until this week, I’d been seriously considering applying to MFA programs in creative writing. Despite all the years I’ve spent denying that I need a creative education in any formal sense, I’d decided that I wanted the experience—even though my conservative estimate shows me I’d be taking out $40,000 in student loans.
Elizabeth Gilbert talked me out of this. And it’s not just because of the section she spends bemoaning how many young writers do just that—put themselves in mega debt to get a piece of paper that says they’re serious about their craft. I realized that, for the most part, I want an MFA for the wrong reasons.
I want to spend 2-3 years honing my craft in the occasional company of other writers. I want writing mentors (despite the fact that I’m terrified of other writers, especially published ones). But more than that, I want an MFA because it will be a sign that I’m a Real Writer, and that other people in my life have to take me seriously.
The hard truth: just as I’m always seeking permission from external sources, I’m also far too concerned about making sure that everyone else takes me seriously as an artist.
I feel like I’ve spent half my life trying to justify my writing to other people, whether it’s telling my parents I want a master’s degree to make it easier to teach, or whether it’s holding myself to a ridiculously high standard and expecting myself to write to a specific word count each week. I treat writing like a part-time job when what it’s really supposed to be is fun. But I do this because I’m afraid that if I don’t treat my art like it’s serious business, no one else will treat it like it’s important.
In reality, it doesn’t matter what I do, people will always have their opinions about me. There will be plenty of people throughout my life who think it’s ridiculous that I got a B.A. from the University of Tulsa just to work at Starbucks and write novels I won’t let anyone read (yet). There will be plenty of people who think I’m wasting my potential no matter what I decide to do next. If I ever do publish a book, there will be people who say it sucks, people who say I can only write what I know, people who think I should stick to writing what I know.
Let people have their opinions. More than that—let people be in love with their opinions, just as you and I are in love with ours. But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else’s blessing (or even their comprehension) in order to make your own creative work. And always remember that people’s judgements about you are none of your business.from “Pidegeonholing”
I’ll be the first to say that I have a long way to go on this journey toward living my best creative life.
This week has surfaced a lot of insecurities I didn’t even recognize that I had. I’m still not sure if I want to go back to school someday or if I’m dreaming the wrong kind of dream entirely. Hell, I don’t even know if I should just rough draft my entire WIP or if I should slow it down, do some re-writing as I go, and see if I can write something I don’t completely hate.
What I do know is this: creative expression through writing is the most important part of my existence…but it also doesn’t matter that much.
Nothing I do or don’t write will change the world. It may not even change my world. Maybe I will die having never published a novel. Maybe I’ll wind up teaching high school English like everyone in my life seems to think I should. Either way, I’m going to keep writing, because it brings me joy—and I can’t imagine my life without it.