I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s BIG MAGIC when it was a new release in fall of 2015. I connected with her mystical concept of creativity - that ideas exist outside of ourselves, and we just act as doorways for them to enter the world. That is often how the creative process feels. I also loved Gilbert’s vision for a sustainable, happy, creative life, focused on the work itself rather than external rewards or criticism.
Inspired by the book, I set out to notice the creative nudges of Big Magic in my own life. At the time, I had been participating in several online critique groups, but I was feeling a need for a deeper critique of both words and images. I felt I needed not just any group, but a group of people who were all at about the same point in their writing/illustrating journey as I was. I wrote down “find or create a critique group” as a to-do item in my journal.
One day I saw a post on a national illustration group from someone who was re-entering illustration after a few years away, and who looking for a critique group. I realized I had met her in a class, and that she lived near me. I sent her an email. I sent an email to another former classmate who I sometimes swapped critiques with.
Suddenly, there were three of us. We were a critique group! We met a few times, and we all started to create more work than we had been. We all tried out new techniques and ideas. I felt that each time we met, my work got better.
One day I woke up with the thought: “Doesn’t that school fundraising sale happen around this time of year?” I looked it up, and the sale was that day. I dropped my kid off at preschool and drove 45 minutes out of my way with this burning sense of urgency that I needed to be at the sale when the doors opened. I waited in a line that stretched around the block, wondering why I was there. I hate shopping, why was I in this crowd of intense shoppers?
Once inside the school gym, I picked up a pair of kid’s rain boots and a couple of dresses, but I really didn’t see anything that would have compelled this feeling of needing to be in that particular place. Then I bumped into someone straightening the racks - a parent volunteer who turned out to be another illustrator I had taken classes with. She was looking for a critique group… and suddenly I knew why I was there.
Over the last couple of years, our group has produced a lot of new work. Two of us have debut books coming out in 2018. One has a book on submission, and is selling a line of greeting cards. Another won a prestigious award and has started showing her fine art. All of that external success, though, grew out of each of us having a commitment to our own creative practice, and to supporting each other’s creative lives.
I have an agent and an editor that I feel incredibly lucky to be working with. I think Big Magic played a role in connecting me with just the right people for my book to shine, although the story of how I met them is not nearly as dramatic. (I queried.)
I leave you with my doodle musings on external success vs. maintaining a creative practice. Work is its own reward, and so is connecting with other creatives.