Create Better Art by Following the Lessons from Elizabeth Gilbert
Eat, Create, Love. Five lessons from the book Big Magic.
Coincidentally it happened to me last night. Inspiration paid me a visit. It’s such a wonderful experience when this happens. Transcendental even.
It guided me through a new short story. I had to type fast and keep up for the ideas came down on me like a cloud suddenly bursting with rain. About half an hour later, I had written more than half of the story and determined the remaining course of it.
I solved some issues I was facing with my novel too.
I updated my writing routine with sudden insight.
Then I went to bed. Still, inspiration kept talking to me and I grabbed my phone every once in a while to write down an idea, phrase or thought.
Enter Elizabeth Gilbert
What’s this got to do with Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful book ‘Big Magic’, you ask? Everything.
Two years ago, when I visited Bali, I decided to read her memoir Eat, Pray, Love. Ostensibly a book for ‘women’, but I detest those tags people put on books. Her memoir is about finding oneself. To me, finding oneself knows no gender and searching for purpose knows no age.
When I heard a podcast interview with her about her book on creativity I immediately bought it, only to read it now two years later.
I’m a believer of stories finding you at the exact right moment in your life if you let them.
The audacious, funny and wise Gilbert shares some profound lessons about creativity. Let’s dive in.
“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels — that’s creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place — that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one. The often surprising result of that hunt — that’s what I call Big Magic.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
#1: Have the Courage to be Creative
Gilbert: “Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?”
In order to conjure up the courage to be creative, you must realize that living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than fear is a great one. In an earlier post, I wrote why being curious is our greatest way to grow.
Start analyzing the things you’re afraid of in pursuing your creative endeavors
List ways in which you might be afraid to live a more creative life. For me this was:
- Afraid to be rejected/criticized/ridiculed/misunderstood/ignored
- Afraid somebody else already did it better
- Afraid my work isn’t politically, emotionally or artistically important enough to change anyone’s life
- Afraid I didn’t have the right training or degree (I studied business no less!)
- Afraid of being exposed as a hack/fool/narcissist
But there is a saying: “argue for your limitations and you get to keep them”. So please don’t.
I wrote a whole piece about conquering your resistance and fear in writing based on Steven Pressfield’s great book ‘The War of Art’.
Don’t demand too much of the outcome of your creative endeavors
Fear will always show up, especially when you create because with creativity you enter the realms of an uncertain outcome, which fear hates. Know that it doesn’t go away. The less you fight it, the less it fights back, according to Elizabeth Gilbert.
Gilbert: “The results of my work don’t have much to do with me. […] Recognizing that reality — that the reaction doesn’t belong to you — is the only sane way to create.
Maybe I won’t always be successful at my creativity, but the world won’t end because of that.”
The best way for me to ignore my fears is to write for myself first. And it’s true, the more you expose your work to other, the more confident you become. The only problem is we’d like to experience that before we even begin. Alas, that’s not possible.
If you love doing it, find the courage.
If you’re still afraid, start with approaching someone you trust first to read your story, listen to your jokes, hear you sing or anything else done with your creativity.
#2: Be Enchanted by Inspiration
Gilbert: “Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner.”
The intro at the top of this post describes the enchanting encounter I had with inspiration last night. It’s such a great feeling, that when you read back your work, listen to your song, watch your drawing or review your design, that you can’t help but feel: where did that come from? It’s such a joyous feeling.
Gilbert: “I write like I’m not quite myself. I lose track of time and space and self.”
I experience this as well, but this type of inspiration doesn’t come knocking every day. You have to keep going at it yourself too. It’s what I do too. In order to pursue something creative, you must also work at it unassisted by inspiration. How? It helps to build a solid writing routine. I strive to write 1,000 words first thing every morning. If you do something like this consistently, your work quickly adds up. It doesn’t have to be perfect either. As long as you create.
How ideas work according to Gilbert
Gilbert: “Sometimes — rarely, but magnificently — there comes a day when you’re open and relaxed enough to actually receive something. Your defenses might slacken and your anxieties might ease, and then magic can slip through.”
This is when you notice the signs and you’re being guided. You have to listen and catch the ideas. I started out with writing one short story every month. Then, a lantern lit up my path, softly and slowly hovering before me, guiding me. It brought me to new territories. Of podcasting, of writing blog posts about my writing journey, and to writing a fantasy novel, perhaps even a fantasy series.
#3: You Don’t Need Permission
Gilbert: “You don’t need anyone’s permission to lead a creative life.”
Gilbert: “Let inspiration lead you wherever it wants to lead you. Keep in mind that for most of history people just made things, and they didn’t make such a big freaking deal out of it.”
Make things because you like to, or even need to. Don’t wait for someone else’s approval.
Gilbert: “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.
Defending yourself as a creative person begins by defining yourself.”
Make it official, declare to yourself and the world that you’re a XXX. In my case: I AM A WRITER. Who do you want to be?
#4: Be Persistent
“What are you most passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?” — Mark Manson
Gilbert: “I didn’t put any conditions or restrictions on my path at all. My deadline was: never. 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.”
If your creative pursuit interests you profoundly, to the point that few other things interest you more, then, by all means keep, going at it. Start doing it for yourself (and always continue to do so by the way). When you feel ready to share it with someone please do. When you feel ready to share it with the world, please try.
However, please keep your day job. It’s not about the courage to quit your job, sell your home or leave your wife to go create in solitude and without income. It’s like Elizabeth Gilbert says: “don’t burden your creativity with the responsibility of paying for your life. Keep your creativity free and safe.”
This means you have to make sacrifices for it. If you really want it, you will do it, you will have to find the time. Get up a bit earlier, say no more often, watch less tv, or treat yourself to a long weekend in nature in a small cabin just to do creative work without distractions.
Gilbert: “In order to stay in the game, you must let go of your fantasy of perfectionism.”
Done is better than good. Write that shitty first draft. Make twenty sketches of that painting you envision. Compose that song as you hear it in your head. Polish later. Then you’re ahead of most people because you finished something. As Gilbert would say: “be a disciplined Half-Ass.”
“People persist in creating because they are hot for their vocation.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
Keep showing up. Don’t wait for inspiration to come. Perform your magic daily.
#5: Choose to Trust
Gilbert: “My desire to work — my desire to engage with my creativity as intimately and freely as possible — is my strongest personal incentive to fight back against pain […] but that’s only because I’ve chosen to trust, which is quite simply: love. Love over suffering, always.”
Many creators view the creative process as painful. In her book, Gilbert describes several writers who have an unhealthy relationship with their craft. They choose to suffer and to distrust pleasure in their craft. As she says: “too many artists still believe that anguish is the only truly authentic emotional experience”. But what if you choose to trust it, to love it?
Gilbert: “If the only thing an idea wants is to be made manifest, then why would that idea deliberately harm you, when you are the one who might be able to bring it forth?
Curiosity is the truth and way of creative living. Curiosity is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. Furthermore, curiosity is available to anyone.”
Commit yourself wholeheartedly to the craft. Lighten up. Operate from a state of curiosity.
There’s one great tip I found in the book when you do feel anxious about your work. When you’re stuck or suffer from your creative endeavor. Do something else, a different sort of creative endeavor that is. If you write, play music. If you paint, dance. If you act, sing. If you are a photographer, cook. Keep moving, keep going.
The most difficult part of creative trust, according to Gilbert, is to put your work out into the world once you’re finished. Then you are most vulnerable.
If it is something you love, if you can find the courage to act upon it, dare to interact with inspiration, permit yourself to work on it and persist in doing so, then please trust that you’re doing anything in your power to bring your creation a life. To me that’s enough on its own, no one can take that from you. It’s like a divine power.
Thank you for reading, and, by all means, read Gilbert’s wonderful book.