Late to the Party

I want to write!

There, I said it.

I am four months away from graduating from an accredited institution of Higher Learning with a degree in English, but I still cannot accept the fact that I want to write.

“I don’t know, my high school English teachers always liked me so I just kind of took that as a cue to keep going with it.”

“I honestly just decided on the English major so I wouldn’t have to take another test.”

I have been making excuses and qualifying my decision to be an English major since before I even submitted the official form to the registrar’s office, and the crazy thing is, I never questioned why. Not until recently, that is.

I just finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s book (yes that eating, praying, loving Elizabeth Gilbert) Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. This was part of an it’s-winter-break-I-have-nothing-to-do book binge, combined with a new year-new me mentality that sent me straight to the Self-Help section of Amazon (and my local library for the first time since high school). It started with Eat, Pray, Love, which I pulled off of our living room bookshelf in a moment of particular boredom one snowy depressing day. I wasn’t sure what to read next, and EPL seemed like one of those books that everyone should read in their lifetime, if for no reason other than to have a voice in what was once an all-consuming cultural dialogue, should I ever be asked to give my opinion. For reference, Eat Pray Love was published in February 2006, when I was most likely reading the elementary school classic My Brother Sam is Dead in the reading corner of my 3rd grade classroom. Therefore, understandably, I missed the EPL phenomenon at its height.

In 2020, 14 years after its publication, I finally got around to discovering what all the fuss was about. Honestly, I wasn’t expecting much. At this point “eat, pray, love” sounds more like an annoying hashtag used by Instagram influencers, or the kind of reference you can use in relation to a friend’s mission trip without having ever actually read the book of that title. A tale of forbidden love is “so Romeo and Juliet,” a tale of radical self-discovery through travel is “so Eat, Pray, Love.”

Anyway, I got around to reading this phenomenon of a book and unexpectedly, I loved it. Parts of it were exactly as I’d imagined – the excessive pasta consumption, the culture shock of a New Yorker in a foreign country, the visits to gurus and ashrams – but others struck me profoundly as… less “basic” than I anticipated? I guess it makes sense, given the enormous success of the book (Oprah doesn’t just choose any book to be part of her book club), but it was truly a “don’t knock it till you try it” experience. I liked it! I liked the story! But what I liked most was Elizabeth Gilbert’s talent as a storyteller. Her sentences made me aware of the fact that I was reading writing, words that had been purposefully strung together to be as beautiful and meaningful as possible. Is that the point of all published creative writing? Possibly. But is it always reflected in the outcome? Nope. Sentences like “I want God to play in my bloodstream the way sunlight amuses itself on the water.” made me do a double take. They were the kind of sentences you want to circle and highlight and copy in large print to hang on your wall forever (I’m still seriously considering doing this).

My point in all of this is that Eat, Pray, Love didn’t make me want to drop everything, leave my (nonexistent) husband, and spend my life savings on a plane ticket to Italy, nor did it inspire me to dedicate my life to asceticism and hours of meditation. What reading Eat, Pray, Love did for me is make me want to read more Elizabeth Gilbert. Further, it made me want to read more things that made me feel like Elizabeth Gilbert’s words made me feel, and most importantly, it catalyzed the realization that I want to write words that make people feel this way. Now, I know this is not a new or original thought, but as ‘Liz’ explains in her book, there are really no original thoughts. What makes a thought exciting is its authenticity, which comes from the fact that it was created by you, and there is only one you.

Having made this realization (which was really something I already knew but couldn’t articulate), I made the short trek to my local library for the first time in years, and did a quick catalog search to find anything else written by Elizabeth Gilbert. This search brought me to the “Spirituality” section far in the back corner near the newspapers, and then to the pastel copy of Big Magic: Creative Living Without Fear. I checked it out hurriedly using my license (my library card is long-lost), and drove home to plant myself on the couch and get down to it.

I was alarmed and also slightly relieved to discover upon cracking the binding that it was in rather large print and split up into short sections. Usually, this can be a warning sign, but I came to realize it was actually pretty satisfying to be able to finish a section so quickly. Her points were concise and tidy, but they made so much sense. After every section I took a moment to acknowledge the lightning striking in my brain and just let the sparks bounce around and fizzle in there before starting the next one. To be fair, I am a sucker for self-help books (I blame this partially on genetics – thanks, Dad!). I’m the kind of person who devours a sickly-sweet motivational memoir in hours (see: Rachel Hollis’s Girl, Wash Your Face), and also usually the person who takes that “you got this, girl!” energy to go out and run her fastest mile ever, or chop 6 inches off her hair that very day. For 24 hours I am the confident, creative, best version of myself, and then the effects start to wear off and I’m back where I started, wondering why I’m not yet a New York Times bestselling author or on the cover of Forbes.

If I learned anything from that book (and I think I did), it’s that I already know I’m capable all of this, I just have to believe it. The idea that the secret to achieving your dream is literally just doing it radically changed my world. There was a full-0n electrical storm going on in my brain. The main idea of Gilbert’s book is that the inspiration you’ve been searching for to achieve creative success, whatever that looks like for you, is already out there and waiting for you to accept it. How crazy is that? The thought that the inspiration for your big novel or feature film or clothing line is literally already out in the universe and will give you a chance if you are open to it? That’s some wild stuff.

I could go on about this book for days, but I won’t, because this is a blog post and it’s already longer and more rambly than I intended. My rave reviews of these books are not intended to be publicity for Elizabeth Gilbert, they are not #sponsored content, they are simply my unfiltered reaction to reading something that lit a fire in my brain. Which leads me to the conclusion that you probably reached before I did, or that I reached years ago by filling notebooks, savoring creative assignments in my high school English classes, declaring a major dedicated to writing, and starting this blog.

I want to write! Who knew? The universe knew. You knew. I knew, not even that deep down.

I knew it and I chose to dismiss it, because I hadn’t produced anything to critical acclaim or even anything of which I was overly proud. What I realized after reading these books though, is that I haven’t written anything “successful” because a) I haven’t really taken the time to write anything and b) I haven’t shared it with anyone! In the past week or so since finishing these books, I’ve taken at least half an hour a day to open up a word document and just write whatever comes into my head. The more I take time to write, the more I produce things that feel like me and sound like me and give me confidence that my inspiration is out there waiting to be tied down to a page. This blog post is an example of that. I was just sitting in my kitchen drinking coffee and the first lines came to me so I started writing, and then all of this just spilled onto the page as if it were waiting inside yelling “let me out!”

So there you have it. Some takeaways, if this was too long to read and you want the short summary:

I want to write.

I read some good books recently.

Eat, Pray, Love is actually worth the hype (I know, I’m a decade late.)

I am inspired!

That’s all for now. Talk soon.