What Happens When You Say Yes - Enchantment

Big magic: creative living beyond fear - Elizabeth Gilbert 2015

What Happens When You Say Yes

If you do say yes to an idea, now it’s showtime.

Now your job becomes both simple and difficult. You have officially entered into a contract with inspiration, and you must try to see it through, all the way to its impossible-to-predict outcome.

You may set the terms for this contract however you like. In contemporary Western civilization, the most common creative contract still seems to be one of suffering. This is the contract that says, I shall destroy myself and everyone around me in an effort to bring forth my inspiration, and my martyrdom shall be the badge of my creative legitimacy.

If you choose to enter into a contract of creative suffering, you should try to identify yourself as much as possible with the stereotype of the Tormented Artist. You will find no shortage of role models. To honor their example, follow these fundamental rules: Drink as much as you possibly can; sabotage all your relationships; wrestle so vehemently against yourself that you come up bloodied every time; express constant dissatisfaction with your work; jealously compete against your peers; begrudge anybody else’s victories; proclaim yourself cursed (not blessed) by your talents; attach your sense of self-worth to external rewards; be arrogant when you are successful and self-pitying when you fail; honor darkness above light; die young; blame creativity for having killed you.

Does it work, this method?

Yeah, sure. It works great. Till it kills you.

So you can do it this way if you really want to. (By all means, do not let me or anyone else ever take away your suffering, if you’re committed to it!) But I’m not sure this route is especially productive, or that it will bring you or your loved ones enduring satisfaction and peace. I will concede that this method of creative living can be extremely glamorous, and it can make for an excellent biopic after you die, so if you prefer a short life of tragic glamour to a long life of rich satisfaction (and many do), knock yourself out.

However, I’ve always had the sense that the muse of the tormented artist—while the artist himself is throwing temper tantrums—is sitting quietly in a corner of the studio, buffing its fingernails, patiently waiting for the guy to calm down and sober up so everyone can get back to work.

Because in the end, it’s all about the work, isn’t it? Or shouldn’t it be?

And maybe there’s a different way to approach it?

May I suggest one?