Motives - Permission

Big magic: creative living beyond fear - Elizabeth Gilbert 2015


Oh, and here’s another thing: You are not required to save the world with your creativity.

Your art not only doesn’t have to be original, in other words; it also doesn’t have to be important.

For example: Whenever anybody tells me they want to write a book in order to help other people, I always think, Oh, please don’t.

Please don’t try to help me.

I mean, it is very kind of you to want to help people, but please don’t make it your sole creative motive, because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls. (It reminds me of this wonderful adage from the British columnist Katharine Whitehorn: “You can recognize the people who live for others by the haunted look on the faces of the others.”) I would so much rather that you wrote a book in order to entertain yourself than to help me. Or if your subject matter is darker and more serious, I would prefer that you made your art in order to save yourself, or to relieve yourself of some great psychic burden, rather than to save or relieve us.

I once wrote a book in order to save myself. I wrote a travel memoir in order to make sense of my own journey and my own emotional confusion. All I was trying to do with that book was figure myself out. In the process, though, I wrote a story that apparently helped a lot of other people figure themselves out—but that was never my intention. If I’d sat down to write Eat Pray Love with the sole aim of helping others, I would’ve produced an entirely different book. I might have even produced a book that was insufferably unreadable. (Okay, okay . . . Admittedly a lot of critics found Eat Pray Love insufferably unreadable as it was—but that’s not my point: My point is that I wrote that book for my own purposes, and maybe that’s why it felt genuine, and ultimately even helpful, to many readers.)

Consider this very book, for example, which you are right now holding in your hands. Big Magic is obviously a self-help guide, right? But with all due respect and affection, I did not write this book for you; I wrote it for me. I wrote this book for my own pleasure, because I truly enjoy thinking about the subject of creativity. It’s enjoyable and useful for me to meditate on this topic. If what I’ve written here ends up helping you, that’s great, and I will be glad. That would be a wonderful side effect. But at the end of the day, I do what I do because I like doing it.

I have a friend who’s a nun who has spent her entire life working to help the homeless of Philadelphia. She is something close to a living saint. She is a tireless advocate for the poor and the suffering and the lost and the abandoned. And do you know why her charitable outreach is so effective? Because she likes doing it. Because it’s enjoyable for her. Otherwise it wouldn’t work. Otherwise, it would just be hard duty and grim martyrdom. But Sister Mary Scullion is no martyr. She’s a cheerful soul who’s having a wonderful time living out the existence that best suits her nature and most brings her to life. It just so happens that she takes care of a lot of other people in the process—but everyone can sense her genuine enjoyment behind the mission, which is ultimately why her presence is so healing.

It’s okay if your work is fun for you, is what I’m saying. It’s also okay if your work is healing for you, or fascinating for you, or redemptive for you, or if it’s maybe just a hobby that keeps you from going crazy. It’s even okay if your work is totally frivolous. That’s allowed. It’s all allowed.

Your own reasons to create are reason enough. Merely by pursuing what you love, you may inadvertently end up helping us plenty. (“There is no love which does not become help,” taught the theologian Paul Tillich.) Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.

The rest of it will take care of itself.