8 Insights for Creative Living Inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic

I recently read the blockbuster memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. I know, I know, I’m kind of a decade late (and I never even saw the movie starring Julia Roberts). Overall, I enjoyed following Gilbert’s journey through the three “I”s – Italy, India, and Indonesia – after finalizing her divorce and experiencing a failed rebound relationship, all of which left her emotionally fragile and in need of balance and spirituality. And a LOT of pizza, pasta, and gelato. Mostly, however, I was intrigued by Gilbert’s voice and writing style. Honest, conversational, and uniquely descriptive. So although I didn’t quite fall in love with Eat, Pray, Love, when a good friend and fellow writer told me about Gilbert’s latest book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, I was curious enough to dive in.

Cup-of-coffee-and-a-book-on-a-wooden-table

In Big Magic, Gilbert’s voice is even more colourful and refreshing as she shares insights into living creatively, packaged neatly under the headings: Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, and Divinity. Sure, some of her notions are a bit out there (she insists Ideas inhabit our planet and float around searching for humans to execute them – and as per the title, I suspect she would be a Houdini fan); but she believes what she believes, she’s unapologetic, and a bit of a potty mouth. Which is why I like her.

And who’s to say we don’t share this planet of ours with Ideas? I kind of buy her argument: “I heard a respected neurologist say in an interview, The creative process may seem magical, but it is not magic. With all due respect, I disagree. I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas….ideas spend eternity swirling around us, searching for available and willing human partners.”

You’ve got to have some serious guts to respectfully disagree with a neurologist, right? Well, these are substantiated guts. She personally experienced Magic when a very specific idea for a novel she started but paused for two years, wondrously transferred from her to another writer she had never met before or shared the story with. Freaky, yes. Impossible, I guess not.  

When Gilbert refers to creative living she’s “talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” She’s not suggesting we all quit our day jobs, follow our passions (more on this later) and trust that life will work itself out. In fact, she cringes when she hears hopeful souls declare they are leaving their jobs, and therefore putting all the pressure on their “art” to pay the bills; this, she says, is a sure way to kill creativity. Not every time. But often enough. 

I can’t personally relate to all of Big Magic’s insights. For example, this one about the tortured artist: “In contemporary Western civilization, the most common creative contract still seems to be one of suffering. This is the contract that says, I shall destroy myself and everyone around me in an effort to bring forth my inspiration, and my martyrdom shall be the badge of my creative legitimacy.” I understand  and believe this phenomenon (how sad!), but I don’t personally feel this way because I, like Gilbert, actually enjoy the process of writing. You hear that Liz Gilbert? I thought that would make you proud! No martyr here!

But I did find many parts of Big Magic particularly valuable, inspiring, and quite entertaining. For my fellow writers and all the artists, jewelry makers, musicians, designers, dancers, chefs, entrepreneurs, and other creative souls I share this earth with…I hope you enjoy these passages as much as I did. If you don’t, well, just read to the end and you’ll know how Liz feels about that.

  1. Hidden treasures are inside all of us 

“You have treasures hidden within you – extraordinary treasures – and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.”

I have a few hidden – or not so hidden – treasures. Writing, photography, making iMovie videos (if that one counts). Interestingly though, my writing has been dormant for years and only came out of hibernation in the last 10 months after blogging during a women’s trip to Israel.  Today, I can’t imagine not having writing a part of my life. And in her sixties, my mom (who taught me long ago that Mark Twain was as good as he was because he sweated out every word!) recently launched her own blog, The Blogging Bubby. The praise she has received is proof enough that her writing talents should definitely not stay in hiding one more day. 

2. We’ll never be perfect, so let’s stop trying 

“Now, I cannot imagine where women ever got the idea that they must be perfect in order to be loved or successful. (Ha ha ha! Just kidding! I can totally imagine: We got it from every single message society has ever sent us! Thanks, all of human history!) But we women must break this habit in ourselves – and we are the only ones who can break it…No matter how many hours you spend attempting to render something flawless, somebody will always be able to find fault with it. (There are people out there who still consider Beethoven’s symphonies a little bit too, you know, loud.)”

See what I mean by entertaining?

3. Nobody is thinking of me (well, maybe you are while you’re reading this blog, but when you’re done, you’ll move on)

 “Long ago, when I was in my insecure twenties, I met a clever, independent, creative, and powerful woman in her mid-seventies, who offered me a superb piece of wisdom. She said: “We all spend our twenties and thirties trying so hard to be perfect, because we’re so worried about what people will think of us. Then we get into our forties and fifties, and we finally start to be free, because we decide that we don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of us. But you won’t be completely free until you reach your sixties and seventies, when you finally realize this liberating truth – nobody was ever thinking about you, anyhow.”

Okay, so just a couple more years of trying to be perfect for me. Ha ha! Maybe this is the only good reason to want to speed up the aging process.

4. Just get it done!

“…mere completion is a rather honourable achievement in its own right. What’s more, it’s a rare one. Because the truth of the matter is, most people don’t finish things! Look around you, the evidence is everywhere: People don’t finish. They begin ambitious projects with the best of intentions, but then they get stuck in a mire of insecurity and doubt and hairsplitting…and they stop. So if you can just complete something – merely complete it! – you’re already miles ahead of the pack, right there. You may want your work to be perfect, in other words; I just want mine to be finished.”

I especially love this one! And I’m proud that I took the leap to start this blog, and continue to put myself out there, vulnerable and all, through my personal pieces. (P.S. In the spirit of this nugget of wisdom, I almost ended my blog right here. But my perfectionism won out…I didn’t feel the piece was quite complete yet. Go figure.) Of course, in some ways, I’m sure we’re all those non-finishers Gilbert is referring to, with projects that didn’t quite make it to the finish line. But, hey, you can’t win ’em all. And as long as we keep going (see #7), it’s all good. 

5. Yes, every idea has been done before

“Aspiring writers will often tell me, I have an idea, but I’m afraid it’s already been done. Well, yes, it probably has already been done. Most things have already been done- they have not yet been done by you.  By the time Shakespeare was finished with his run on life, he’d pretty much covered every story line there is, but that hasn’t stopped nearly five centuries of writers from exploring the same story lines all over again. (And remember, many of those stories were already clichés long before Shakespeare got his hands on them.)”

Case in point, there are probably hundreds if not thousands of blogs and articles covering Elizabeth Gilbert’s books and writing. Hell, Hollywood got its hands on her years ago. But that didn’t stop me from writing this piece.

6. Embrace curiosity, don’t stress about passion

“Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living…Curiosity is accessible to everyone. Passion can seem intimidatingly out of reach at times…The stakes of curiosity are also far lower than the stakes of passion. Passion makes you shave your head and move to Nepal. Curiosity doesn’t ask nearly so much of you.”

Not shaving my head. Not moving to Nepal. I’ll stick with curiosity, thanks. 

7. Just keep on creating…

“So how do you shake off failure and shame in order to keep living a creative life? First of all, forgive yourself. If you made something and it didn’t work out, let it go. You don’t need to conduct autopsies on your disasters. Forget about the last project, and go searching with an open heart for the next one.”

In other words, if this blog post or any other creative endeavour I pursue falls flat, I’ll survive. And I’ll find my next idea. Well actually, according to Gilbert, it will find me. Whether I see it or not will depend on whether my eyes and heart are open for it.  

8. …and smile sweetly 

“If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people…drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest – as politely as you possibly can – that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.”

Enough said. 

So call it magic, call it passion, call it curiosity, or call it freaky… the point is, creativity is within all of us. And if you dare to believe it, ideas (kind of like Pokémon!) are all around, waiting for us to grab hold of them and give them life.

Now, let’s go make something.

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