I just finished listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, for the second time. It’s been a few months since I first listened to it and when I started it again, I thought: Why did I wait so long to listen to this book again?
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear has now joined the ranks of craft books I will read and recommend over and over again. It’s right up there with Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott.
One of the topics covered in Big Magic is the idea of personal entitlement. Ms. Gilbert speaks of this as a positive attribute, rather than a negative attribute. She says we need to know we have the right to at least try to be creative.
Ms. Gilbert goes on to talk about “the arrogance of belonging,” a phrase she borrowed from the poet David Whyte, who claims that it “is an absolutely vital privilege to cultivate if you wish to interact more vividly with life.”
Ms. Gilbert states the arrogance of belonging is not about egotism or self-absorption, but it’s opposite; “it is a divine force that will actually take you out of yourself.” She states the arrogance of belonging takes us out of our self-doubt and self-protection. It is only when we are not so self-involved that we can begin to be creative.
After reading this part of Big Magic, I realized I was most creative with the people I love the most, the ones with whom I know I belong. These days I’m always making up stories and performing little scenes for my son with his Lego mini-figures or his morning Gummi vitamins. I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about how I look to him or if he thinks the scene I created is any good. All I’m thinking about is what would be fun to say or do next.
I once wrote a sonnet about cheese curls. That was for someone I didn’t worry about, either.
I also write some really funny emails, if I do say so myself. Usually to my twin sister—they are silly and often involve talking kitchenware, but I don’t worry what she’s going to think. I assume she’ll think they’re funny because I think they’re funny. There’s that arrogance of belonging Ms. Gilbert wrote about.
The trick, I think, is to try to expand that arrogance of belonging beyond our friends and family, to the audience we are trying to reach. I so often stifle myself as a writer because I’m so concerned I will come off sounding stupid or clichéd.
But writing nothing helps no one and I would like to help people with my writing. And if I can become a little less self-absorbed, a little less worried about what others might think of me, I might be able to create something really interesting—and helpful, too.
Do you have the arrogance of belonging you need to write creatively?
Diane MacKinnon: is a writer, blogger, family physician, and life coach.