When I Got Scared of Writing + Review of BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert

Posted by on Feb 26, 2016 | Leave a comment

I don’t usually write personal posts about my writing. But I’ve been thinking a lot about something recently and wanted to share, because I think the issue I’ve been having is one a lot of people run into.

I’ve reached an odd place in my writing. For the first time ever, I’ve finished a manuscript and don’t have a new one to move onto. This has never happened before; I’ve always had a new story brewing at the back of my mind, ready to grab my attention the moment I finish a current project.

It might not sound like a big deal, but I’ve been finding it scary. Bad thoughts have been leaking into the empty space where that new story ought to be. Thoughts like “Why do you even want to start a new book? Years of hard work, and what do you have to show for it? Glimpse didn’t set the world on fire. You spent five years on a second book that might never sell. If your third book doesn’t get published, you should think about quitting. Your life is busy enough. There are far easier ways to spend your free time.”

At the same time, the sensible part of me knows I literally just finished that third manuscript, and anything could yet happen with it. It’s not like I’ve spent years failing to come up with a new story idea. I do have ideas, in fact, just none that I’m passionate enough about right now. And it would be a tragedy to quit after all these years of effort.

But… *reloop bad thoughts*

Big Magic audio bookThen Susan Dennard’s newsletter pinged into my inbox (which you must subscribe to if you are a writer — find it here — Susan writes such useful stuff). I saw that Susan had just read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. That title alone was enough to make me go, “Hey, maybe my issue isn’t that I’m hopeless and need to quit writing. It’s that I’m scared of starting something new!”

It sounds so obvious now I’ve written it down. But when I think about it, this will be the first time I’ve needed to start a new novel since Glimpse was published. All my other books were planned, or even drafted, back when I was most excited about my writing and thought anything could happen. Since then my expectations have changed and I’ve let myself get scared.

This was a revelation to me. So I downloaded Big Magic on audio book to see what else it could teach me.  If you’ve ever had “what’s the point?” thoughts about writing or some other creative pursuit, Big Magic is a book I wholeheartedly recommend.

Perhaps the best way to explain is to share some of the points I took away from it.

  • What you write is not a consecrated relic. Finish it, then move on with no expectations. Liberate yourself.
  • You don’t need to suffer for writing. In fact, you shouldn’t.
  • Enjoy writing. Complaining only scares off inspiration.
  • You are not required to save the world with your writing. Write for you. What you write doesn’t have to be important. It’s being creative that’s important.
  • Don’t worry that all ideas have already been done. They have, but not by you. Authenticity is more important than originality.
  • Your only task is to create. You have no responsibility over how your writing is received, and that doesn’t matter anyway.
  • Being creative is not a big deal. Children create freely without worrying how good their stories are or what other people will think.
  • It’s natural to be scared when writing. Fear of the unknown is natural.
  • All good ideas are daunting at first.
  • Perfectionism is just the fear of not being good enough.
  • Don’t define success as public success. What becomes publicly successful is somewhat random. Hard work doesn’t have to equal fame.
  • What you practice, you inevitably improve at.


In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert also expresses a lot of spiritual thoughts about creativity, which didn’t always resonate with me as much. But I enjoyed hearing her ideas, and her book is such a goldmine of comforting advice that I’d recommend picking it up even if you’re a spiritual sceptic. After reading it, I’m feeling more relaxed about writing again, and know that I will write a fourth book. And that is huge for me right now.

Have you ever experienced something similar? Or have you read Big Magic? I’d love to know your thoughts!


Big Magic


Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work,  embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.



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