I just finished reading Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert.
At 264 pages, it’s not a short read, but it’s an easy one. I finished it in two days (which was handy, because I grabbed it off my library’s 7-day checkout shelf last week).
I thoroughly enjoyed it, and think the State of Wonder story alone makes it worth the cover price. (Read it: you’ll see what I mean.)
I had been warned by several fellow readers that Big Magic was equal parts tough talk and woo-woo. I’m an INFP who’s generally pretty comfortable with mystery and crazy talk, but I think I enjoyed the book more because I knew this going in. This bit of foreknowledge seriously minimized any subsequent eye-rolling.
I finished the book a few days ago, and my mind keeps circling back to one specific passage.
In one of the tough talk, butt-in-chair portions of the book, Gilbert tells of how she wrote every single day through her twenties—long before it was clear if she’d “make it” as a writer—even when the work was going badly, even when she felt no inspiration at all.
She says this:
“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, no matter what else was going on or how badly I believed the work was going.”
Intellectually, I believe that there is exactly enough time for everything I need to accomplish, and everything you do, too. But I have a hard time trusting that belief in busy seasons, when there are so many things I would dearly love to do and so little available time to do them in.
I am a fervent believer in chipping away at big tasks, one little bit at a time, but sometimes it feels as if I’ll be chipping forever, with little to show for it.
I wonder if that method works, and if it’s really worth it. How much can one really accomplish in thirty minutes?
According to Gilbert (and Updike), the answer is: plenty.
“It’s a simple and generous rule of life,” Gilbert writes, “that whatever you practice, you will improve at.” We don’t all want to learn to write, and that’s fine. Maybe you want to bake bread, or play the guitar, or speak Portugese.
As for me, I want to write—and hearing that some of the best novels I’ve ever read were written in one hour a day makes me want to do just that.
Sometimes I need a little woo-woo magic talk, but sometimes I need someone to tell me to put my butt in the chair, and to tell me why it’s worth it.
Books mentioned in this post: