I’ve been reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. It’s not the type of book I usually read. In fact, truth be told, I started reading it once before several months ago and couldn’t get into it. But the timing seemed better when I picked up the book again recently. I had lost enthusiasm with my writing and needed some inspiration. So, I went back to my copy of Big Magic and started at the beginning again. This time it was just what I needed.
Gilbert got my attention early with the section “Enchantment” about the magic of ideas. She says ideas come to us from the universe. When it happens, we have two choices – saying yes or no. If we say no, Gilbert believes the idea moves on to someone else until it finds the right person, someone who is eager to work on it.
Unfortunately, something that happens to me more often than I care to admit is that I begin work on an idea and then lose interest. The result is my collection of half-finished manuscripts. Gilbert has a philosophical approach to that. “If a project doesn’t work out, you can always think of it as having been a worthwhile and constructive experiment,” she wrote. I’m more into feeling guilty.
Unfinished manuscripts nag at my conscience because it seems like such a waste of time to put so much effort into a project and then let it go. So now and then, I pull out one of those manuscripts determined to finish it this time around. But it’s hard to get back into a project that has sat in a drawer too long. I usually end up stuffing it back into a drawer a few days later.
Big Magic got me thinking about those half-finished manuscripts in a different way. Instead of feeling guilty about not finishing, I tried to figure out why I lose enthusiasm for some projects. I’ve decided it’s because I start them for the wrong reasons. Most often the reason is that I thought the idea was marketable. That’s not enough. It takes a lot of work to research and write a nonfiction book. It’s hard to put that much effort into anything if you don’t love what you’re doing.
After reading Gilbert’s thoughts on the magic of ideas, I’ve started getting rid of some of those old projects. The process is very freeing. Worrying and feeling guilty about unfinished manuscripts wastes a lot of energy. So, I’m letting go of projects I feel I should do to make time for those I’m meant to do. If Gilbert is right, maybe the ideas I’m letting go are moving on to people who are enthusiastic about them and will see them through to the end. I like imagining that possibility.