Elizabeth Gilbert knows a lot about creativity. She makes a living as a writer so it’s something that she grapples with daily but she’s also given Ted Talks on the subject, discussed it in plenty of interviews and on her Facebook page, and now she’s written a book about it. Like me, my mom is a big fan of Gilbert so when I told her that the book Big Magic was coming out on a certain day, she went out after work on that day, bought two copies, came straight to my place and gave me one of them. It made my week.
I’ve now read the book twice, the second time going through with pink, blue, and yellow highlighters (because they match the cover of the book) to pick out what I think are the juiciest bits of wisdom. And I would like to share just a little taste of that wisdom with you (it was so hard to narrow it down!). You’ll have to read the book to get the full effect, or you can listen to Gilbert herself talking about some important points on this episode of her podcast, or this MarieTV episode.
- You can’t get rid of fear, you can only learn to co-exist with it. “I’ve noticed that when people try to kill off their fear, they often end up inadvertently murdering their creativity in the process.” Accept that you will have fear, just don’t let it make any decisions.
- Stop fighting your creativity and try working with it. Try enjoying it rather than complaining about it. When things get hard, remind yourself that what you’re doing is a good thing. You chose to do it, you like doing it. “I work steadily and I always thank the process. Whether I am touched by grace or not, I thank creativity for allowing me to engage with it at all.”
- Inspiration will always be there for you when you need it. There is no shortage of ideas. “Ideas of every kind are constantly galloping toward us, constantly passing through us, constantly trying to get out attention. Let them know you’re available.”
- With creativity, there is no top to reach. There is no winning. There is only the “quiet glory of merely making things, and then sharing those things with an open heart and no expectations.”
- Art is older than agriculture. “The earliest evidence of recognizable human art is forty thousand years old. The earliest evidence of human agriculture, by contrast is only ten thousand years old. Which means that somewhere in our collective evolutionary story, we decided it was way more important to make attractive, superfluous items than it was to learn how to regularly feed ourselves.”
- You need to feel entitled to your creativity. That doesn’t mean you need to be an arrogant jerk, it just means that you need to believe that you belong here, that you have just as much right to participate as anyone else. “…you will never be able to create anything interesting out of your life if you don’t believe that you’re entitled to at least try.”
- You can study with the best teachers and learn all the things, but eventually you will have to do the work yourself. Also, you don’t need a teacher to bless you with legitimacy: “If you’re working on your craft on your own, with steady discipline and love, then you are already for real as a creator, and you don’t need to pay anybody to affirm that for you.”
- If you do creative work solely for the purpose of getting recognition, you will never stick with it. To build a lasting relationship with creativity, you must do it for it’s own sake. The outcome can’t matter. The work is the reward, and the product that you are left with at the end is a souvenir of how far you’ve travelled and what you’ve learned.
- Once your work leaves your hands, it is not yours any more. Don’t get attached. “I can only be in charge of producing the work itself. That’s a hard enough job. I refuse to take on additional jobs, such as trying to police what anybody thinks about my work once it leaves my desk.”
- Make a promise to yourself and to creativity to do the work. Not to do it well, or to succeed at it. Just to do it. “I simply vowed to the universe that I would write forever, regardless of the result. I promised that I would try to be brave about it, and grateful, and as uncomplaining as I could possibly be. I just wanted to spend my life as near to writing as possible-forever close to that source of all my curiosity and contentment.”
- Don’t make creativity responsible for supporting you. “I have watched so many people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills.”
- Hard work guarantees nothing. “I knew that conventional success would depend upon three factors–talent, luck, and discipline–and I knew that two of those three things would never be under my control.
- What you make is not precious. “What you produce is not necessarily always sacred, I realized, just because you think it’s sacred. What is sacred, is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life. The more lightly you can pass that time, the brighter your existence becomes.”
Basically, it all boils down to this: love the work and it will love you back. Do the work and you will reap the rewards, even if the rewards are nothing more than the satisfaction of making something. And just keep doing it. Let go of expectations, and perfectionism, and desire for fame, and just give your heart over to it, whatever ‘it’ is. Easier said than done, I know, but if it was easy, everyone would do it.
What do you think? Does any of this advice hit home for you? Leave a comment below!