I used to repeatedly ponder what writing for yourself exactly entails. It feels true and yet too vague to be of practical use to someone who likes specific directions, like me.
Luckily for me, Liz Gilbert describes in detail how she writes for herself in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Thanks to her, I now think I get it!
I used to want to write a book to prove myself to prove to my family and friends that I was worthy even though I no longer worked in investment banking. I’ve since discovered that living my life to earn anyone’s approval including that of my parents is not how I want to live my hopefully four thousand weeks on earth. Looking back, all those hours I spent working at Lehman Brothers so that my parents could say, “my daughter has a prestigious job,” to their friends was a colossal waste of my time.
I also tried writing a book as a form of therapeutic emotional catharsis. In 2017 when I wrote Phoenix Empress, I could not see how dysfunctional the relationships in Phoenix Empress were. Later on, when I saw it, I was on my 7th rewrite and I still had many rewrites to go if I didn’t want my book to portray dysfunctional relationship dynamics. I shelved it.
I then started a new book, The Red Demoness is Not Evil (alternate title Soaring Phoenix Su Ruyi). It was written as a protest against archaic gender roles and inequality. I wanted to challenge the patriarchy and help people who were in abusive relationships leave their relationships. Except now I realize that was covert narcissism disguised as altruism. Who do I think I am to be possibly able to do that when I haven’t devoted enough time to gender studies and abusive relationships? How incredibly narcissistic of me!
These days, I realized the time I spent writing Phoenix Empress and The Red Demoness is Not Evil, was a sunk cost. If I were to invest more years in rewriting them, that would be the real tragedy!
That’s why I decided to start writing for myself. I can’t put it into words better than Liz Gilbert does in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, so I’m going to quote her.
I told the universe (and anyone who would listen) that I was committed to living a creative life not in order to save the world, not as an act of protest, not to become famous, not to gain entrance to the cannon, not to challenge the system, not to show the bastards, not to prove to my family that I was worthy, not as a form of deep therapeutic emotional catharsis…but simply because I liked it.Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Currently, I’m on Day 22 of writing my third book, Nine Provinces: The Divine Lotus Amulet, set in a fantasy world inspired by Taoism and Chinese mythology. It’s the first time I wrote a book after reading and embracing Liz Gilbert’s way of creative living. Thanks to Liz Gilbert, I feel wonder, joy, and enchantment when I write now.
These days, I write because other fun activities do not give me the rush of euphoria that I feel many times while writing. Even better than the euphoria is the contentment afterward knowing my actions now match my words, “I love writing.” This is so unlike the 10 previous years when writing felt like I was rolling a boulder up a small hill and watching it fall back and nearly crushing me in the process.
Thank you, Liz Gilbert so so much for writing Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear!