About The Big Thing
Hardcover: 256 pages Publisher: Harper (August 9, 2016)
A New York Times business journalist explains why itís important for people to pursue big creative projects, and identifies both the obstacles and the productive habits that emerge on the path to completionóincluding her own experience writing this book.
Whether itís the Great American Novel or a groundbreaking new app, many people want to create a Big Thing, but finding the motivation to get started, let alone complete the work, can be daunting. In The Big Thing, New York Times business writer and editor Phyllis Korkki combines real-life stories, science, and insights from her own experience to illuminate the factors that drive people to complete big creative projectsóand the obstacles that threaten to derail success.
In the course of creating her own Big Thing – this book – Korkki explores the individual and collaborative projects of others: from memoirs, art installations, and musical works to theater productions, small businesses, and charities. She identifies the main aspects of a Big Thing, including meaningful goals, focus and effort, the difficulties posed by the demands of everyday life, and the high risk of failure and disappointment. Korkki also breaks down components of the creative process and the characteristics that define it, and offers her thoughts on avoiding procrastination, staying motivated, scheduling a routine, and overcoming self-doubt and the restrictions of a day job. Filled with inspiring stories, practical advice, and a refreshing dose of honesty, The Big Thing doesn’t minimize the negative side of such pursuits – including the fact that big projects are hard to complete and raise difficult questions about one’s self-worth.
Inspiring, wise, humorous, and good-natured, The Big Thing is a meditation on the importance of self-expression and purpose.
I don’t typically read a lot of books on or about writing, because I often find myself disagreeing with what I find in them. I often tell people that write every day is the worst writing advice I’ve ever heard, because I feel that it alienates creatives who don’t have that kind of drive (not to mention drive), and therefore feel like there’s no point in trying if they can’t write every day.
So when I saw the the title of this book above creativity included the words lazy, self-doubting and procrastinator, I thought. “Okay this one looks like it’s a little more my style.” While I’m definitely not lazy, I think just about any creative can relate to the other two terms.
Korkki does a wonderful job of addressing our modern society and how small, easily digestible bursts of creativity (think viral videos) are so quickly rewarded – but also so quickly die out and are forgotten, replaced by the next “small thing.” She addresses the long arc of our “big thing” – be it a novel, recording an album, or finally pulling that sculpture out of your mind and onto the marble – and how to incorporate that overall arc into your daily life in small doses that can add up.
Another chapter I enjoyed regarded the transformation of suffering – be it physical or mental illness, grief, or addiction – into creativity. She addressed how the dark moments in our life can be utilized as a spawning pool for our imagination, and hopefully the resulting creativity or project can bring some meaning to those moments beyond our pain.
However my absolute favorite part of the book was where she tackled the gaping possibility of giving up on your “big thing.” She asks hard questions about our motivations for whatever our “big thing” is, be they intrinsic or extrinsic, and whether or not, in the end, we believe we can succeed – and how we will define and measure that success.
It’s typical in the creative world to tell one another to never give up, that if you just keep going you will succeed. I think this does more harm than good – to the aspiring and to their relationships. Korkki takes a much more realistic view of asking – why are you doing this?
There were a few chapters I wasn’t as interested in, such as one about how to breathe properly and how posture can affect your creativity, but I can see how others might find it useful. Overall I think it’s a good read to consider for anyone who needs some reinforcement (or a reality dose) about their Big Thing.