When Big Magic Is a Long Time Coming

carrie rollwagen looks pensive

In her book Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert writes that you have to jump on creative ideas when you have them because you can’t recapture the original spark of your idea once it’s passed. I get what she’s trying to say — but I hope it’s not true. I can’t always make my ideas happen as soon as I have them, and I want to believe there’s hope for them anyway. My most recent example: my podcast. The Localist podcast is new (I launched on Thursday), but the idea is a long time coming.

When I first get an idea, of course I get excited about it. I want to make it happen immediately; I make lists and talk to my friends and family about it. There’s a great energy surrounding the whole thing. If I can also work on executing on the project at that point, it feels great and it’s easier to keep moving the whole way through.

But sometimes I just can’t make my project happen when I’m first thinking about it. I have a finite amount of energy and time, and the majority of that is devoted to my paying job, my family and my friends. Making a project happen means fighting for time and space, and that’s not a fight I can always win quickly. Sometimes it’s a struggle that takes a long time, and when I finally get to my project, I feel bruised and tired instead of fresh and excited.

That’s what happened with the Localist podcast. I wanted to launch a long time ago, but I had an eventful and emotionally draining year. Some things were good, some were bad, most a little of both, but all of them got in the way of starting the podcast (and some other writing projects, which are still on the backburner).

I was inching forward, though, and maybe that’s the best way to make Big Magic a reality … through Slow Magic, I guess. A year ago, when I was planning a wedding, I needed something that was separate from getting married — something that was mine, something that was work, something that grounded me as a person and a writer. That’s when I lay a lot of the foundation for the podcast: I had new pages created for my website. I paid a local designer to create a logo. I ordered promo stickers. And then we had the wedding and our honeymoon, and then things started to blow up personally and professionally, and I couldn’t launch the podcast like I’d wanted to.

I didn’t give up, though. I took an online course on podcasting. I made a list of the collateral I’d need to get the podcast off the ground — emails I’d need to send, podcast descriptions and categorizations, launch party ideas, blogs I’d want to write, etc. — and I worked on writing that whenever I could. And finally, in the past month, I was able to push my podcast over the starting line.

To be honest, those words from Big Magic were psyching me out, telling me that I’d waited too long and the time to leap had passed. But then I remembered that my Shop Small blog that started this whole localist thing for me kicked off the same way — I’d had the idea for years before I was actually able to start it. And I’m really happy with how that project turned out. (It led to this, after all.)

I’ll agree that part of magic is timing, but maybe it’s not always so immediate. Sometimes we can make sparks a simple spell, and sometimes we have to wait until the moon is full and the potion is fully brewed. In the meantime, I think there are ways to nurture an idea so it doesn’t wither before you can share it with the world: Make notes and lists. Research. Lay your foundation. And always be looking for the time to make your move — if my experience is any indication, the time to jump might always be obvious. But don’t let the fact that you haven’t moved forward yet keep you from moving forward at all.

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