Creating, Reading

Big Magic: Persistence

October 29, 2015


Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process. ~Elizabeth Gilbert

What struck me about this chapter was the on-going story that Gilbert sees her writing as devotion, and not as a paying career. Interestingly, she titles this chapter “Persistence” and not “Dedication”, I think because persistence embodies action.

Gilbert writes of her commitment to writing in action:

On bad days, when I felt no inspiration at all, I would set the kitchen timer for thirty minutes and make myself sit there and scribble something, anything. I had read an interview with John Updike where he said that some of the best novels you’ve ever read were written in an hour a day; I figured I could always carve out at least thirty minutes somewhere to dedicate myself to my work…”

She assures us that we should in no way expect to be immediately good at any of our creative endeavors. Also, that it’s never too late to start.

Mostly, I love how straight forward she is about day jobs, that the healthiest route seems to be the separation of bill paying and creative work, and that the work is worth doing even if it doesn’t cover the rent (possibly even more so). “Financial demands can put so much pressure on the delicacies and vagaries of inspiration. You must be smart about providing for yourself. To claim that you are too creative to think about financial questions is to infantilize yourself.” She advocates for us to own our place in the world and be responsible. “This is a world, not a womb. You can look after yourself in this world while looking after your creativity at the same time.”

As I’m writing this, I completed the tasks for my day job, took a nap to gain some energy back, had a snack, and now I’m typing away while H walks the dog, before we go out to dinner for the rest of the night with his parents. I could easily break my commitment to getting this post up, sit on the couch watching the hockey game, feeling annoyed that I blew whatever swathes of time I had yesterday to write this draft or bemoan the fact that sitting at a computer all day for my day job makes it extra tiring to sit at my computer again to write. But when I get over those road blocks (and by “get over” I mean, basically ignore them, put my butt in the chair, and just get down to the business of writing) I find that doing the creative work is not only not tiring, it’s energizing. “By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are.”

“The vast majority of people have made their art in stolen moments, using scenarios of borrowed time – and often using pilfered and discarded materials too,” Gilbert writes. As someone who probably has long days of open time to write, she continually comes back to the idea that creating within the folds of our lives is the romantic notion, and goes as far as to suggest that we have an affair with our creativity. How juicy! “What else are you willing to give up in order to be alone with your beloved? Don’t think of it all as burdensome, think of it all as sexy.” And let me tell you, the idea of waking pre-dawn, so sit with a notebook and hot tea and wild write my heart out for 45min sounds pretty damn hot indeed.

And then she brings up my favorite part of the chapter, which is “you must learn how to become a deeply disciplined half-ass.” I chatted with Jill earlier today and she said she loved this so much more than “lazy perfectionist” and I agree. I don’t know about you, but to a Type-A, recovering perfectionist myself, the word “lazy” is hard to feel good about, but “discipline” rings true to my vernacular. “Discipline” falls right in line with “persistence”, which is to say that this all is work, but maybe, just maybe we can go lightly enough to enjoy the process. “Perfectionism stops people form completing their work, yes – but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work.” This is something I definitely experience, and I want to overcome – as Gilbert quotes from General George Patton: “A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

Or, ask Nike says, just do it.

Yes, because as Gilbert wrote at the start of her book, “the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small”.


  • Think about what it would mean for you to take vows for your creative life. What ceremony could you invent? What promises would you make?
  • What small, sustaining action can you take daily to show your devotion to your creative life? It doesn’t even have to be the same action every day, though rituals are always a lovely way to ground our fears, to call to inspiration and let them know we’re showing up, shining the homing beacon.
  • What things are you so curious about, enjoy so thoroughly, are so interested in that you are willing to eat the shit sandwich that comes along with it? When if you life did you turn away from a pursuit because you just couldn’t stomach the shit sandwich?
  • Have an affair with your creativity. What kind of actions can you take to present yourself as sexy to inspiration, to grab stolen bits of time to create, so fib and maneuver your schedule so that you can get that precious time alone, for you?
  • Practice being a “deeply disciplined half-ass”. What does that term bring up for you? How can you change your approach to your work? What plan can you “violently execute” this week?

Catch-up on all of the posts here.

Thanks for reading!

All quotes are from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, chapter 4 – published 2015.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Big Magic Read-a-Long: Persistence | A Thousand Shades of Gray October 31, 2015 at 9:04 am

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