A Cautionary Tale - Trust

Big magic: creative living beyond fear - Elizabeth Gilbert 2015

A Cautionary Tale

One of the most interesting up-and-coming novelists I know these days is a clever young woman named Katie Arnold-Ratliff. Katie writes like a dream. But she told me that she’d gotten blocked from her work for several years because of something a writing professor had said to her: “Unless you are emotionally uncomfortable while you are writing, you will never produce anything of value.”

Now, there’s a level at which I understand what Katie’s writing professor might have been trying to say. Perhaps the intended message was “Don’t be afraid of reaching for your creative edge,” or “Never back away from the discomfort that can sometimes arise while you’re working.” These seem like perfectly legitimate notions to me. But to suggest that nobody ever made valuable art unless they were in active emotional distress is not only untrue, it’s also kind of sick.

But Katie believed it.

Out of respect and deference to her professor, Katie took those words to heart and came to embrace the notion that if her creative process wasn’t bringing her anguish, then she wasn’t doing it right.

No blood, no glory, right?

The problem was, Katie had an idea for a novel that actually made her feel excited. The book she wanted to write seemed so cool, so twisted, and so strange that she thought it might genuinely be fun to do it. In fact, it seemed like so much fun, it made her feel guilty. Because if something was a pleasure to write, then it couldn’t possibly have any artistic value, could it?

So she put off writing that cool and twisted novel of hers for years and years, because she didn’t trust in the legitimacy of her own anticipated pleasure. Eventually, I am happy to report, she broke through that mental obstacle and finally wrote her book. And, no, it was not necessarily easy to write, but she did have a great time writing it. And yes, it is brilliant.

What a pity, though, to have lost all those years of inspired creativity—and only because she didn’t believe her work was making her miserable enough!


Heaven forbid anyone should enjoy their chosen vocation.