An Idea Grows - Enchantment

Big magic: creative living beyond fear - Elizabeth Gilbert 2015

An Idea Grows

Anyhow, back to my story of magic.

Thanks to Felipe’s tale about the Amazon, I had been visited by a big idea: to wit, that I should write a novel about Brazil in the 1960s. Specifically, I felt inspired to write a novel about the efforts to build that ill-fated highway across the jungle.

This idea seemed epic and thrilling to me. It was also daunting—what the hell did I know about the Brazilian Amazon, or road construction in the 1960s?—but all the good ideas feel daunting at first, so I proceeded. I agreed to enter into a contract with the idea. We would work together. We shook hands on it, so to speak. I promised the idea that I would never fight against it and never abandon it, but would only cooperate with it to the utmost of my ability, until our work together was done.

I then did what you do when you get serious about a project or a pursuit: I cleared space for it. I cleaned off my desk, literally and figuratively. I committed myself to several hours of research every morning. I made myself go to bed early so I could get up at dawn and be ready for work. I said no to alluring distractions and social invitations so I could focus on my job. I ordered books about Brazil and I placed calls to experts. I started studying Portuguese. I bought index cards—my preferred method of keeping track of notes—and I allowed myself to begin dreaming of this new world. And in that space, more ideas began to arrive, and the outlines of the story started to take shape.

I decided that the heroine of my novel would be a middle-aged American woman named Evelyn. It is the late 1960s—a time of great political and cultural upheaval—but Evelyn is living a quiet life, as she always has done, in central Minnesota. She’s a spinster who has spent twenty-five years working capably as an executive secretary at a large Midwestern highway construction firm. During that entire time, Evelyn has been quietly and hopelessly in love with her married boss—a kind, hardworking man who never sees Evelyn as anything but an efficient assistant. The boss has a son—a shady fellow, with big ambitions. The son hears about this giant highway project going on down in Brazil and persuades his father to put in a bid. The son uses his charm and coercion to convince the father to throw the family’s entire fortune behind this enterprise. Soon enough, the son heads down to Brazil with a great deal of money and wild dreams of glory. Quickly, both the son and the money vanish. Bereft, the father dispatches Evelyn, his most trusted ambassador, to go to the Amazon to try to recover the missing young man and the missing cash. Out of a sense of duty and love, Evelyn heads to Brazil—at which point her orderly and unremarkable life is overturned as she enters into a world of chaos, lies, and violence. Drama and epiphanies follow. Also, it’s a love story.

I decided I would call the novel Evelyn of the Amazon.

I wrote a proposal for the book and sent it to my publishing company. They liked it and they bought it. Now I entered into a second contract with the idea—a formal contract this time, with notarized signatures and deadlines and everything. Now I was fully invested. I got to work in earnest.