I recently finished reading "Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear" by Elizabeth Gilbert and before I return it to the library, I want to say some words about this wonderful, inspiring book and the topic of creativity. I believe this is a book everyone who is interested in creative living should read. The beginning of the book discusses creativity as every human's birthright, that we all have treasures hidden within us if only we had the courage to bring them forth. Gilbert begins the book with an invitation to the reader, to begin on the journey of creativity despite fear. She discusses the barriers we build within us against creativity. Below are a few ideas from the book with my own reflections mixed in:
- Fear. Gilbert acknowledges and honors fear. Fear accompanies all uncertainty, all new endeavors, all experiences in which you make yourself vulnerable by putting yourself out there. She goes on to list many of the fears associated with living a creative life such as the fear you won't be any good, the fear others won't like your art, the fear you'll embarrass yourself, others will view you as self-indulgent or narcissistic. The list goes on and on. I do know this. Screw it all. If you want to feed your fear then by all means, let it deter you. I try never to make any decisions motivated by fear, and despite my best efforts, I'm sure I do, but anyhow, fear is never a good reason to hold you back from anything. Expect fear. Welcome it. Fear is great evidence that you're trying something new, pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and growing.
- Pressure. Gilbert urges the reader not to place pressure on your creativity to pay the bills. Although a best selling author, Gilbert didn't quit her full-time job until her third book was published. The pressure to make your creativity pay your bills runs the risk of scaring ideas away. Creating should be something you do because you are compelled to, not because you see it as a means to fame, power, or fortune. Pressure doesn't make for an environment in which creativity can flourish, and also runs the risk of tainting your feelings towards your art, ruining the joy it brought you in the first place. By taking up a part-time or full-time job that sustains your material needs, you allow creating to remain wild and free and you know what they say about all good things (they're wild and free) ; ) Of course, she's not saying don't be open to the idea of allowing your creativity to pay the bills, just don't demand it.
- Time. Fall in love with your creativity. Gilbert uses the metaphor of lovers, having an affair. She explains that lovers always find time to sneak away to be with one another, even if it's only to meet in a stairwell for a quick make-out sesh. Why? Because it's sexy. Look at your creativity as sexy, and find time to sneak away to be with it. Set aside time regularly to create. Ideas are floating around waiting to find humans to bring them forth so the more time you sit down to create, the more likely you are to be found by an idea. Treat creativity like you would a significant other, during the glorious time when you are falling in love rather than a ball and chain you are forced to spend time with and put up with their nagging. You're much more likely to seduce an idea into picking you as its partner if you treat it like something you can't wait to spend your time with rather than an obligation.
- Suffering. Gilbert shoots down the idea that in order to create art, one must suffer. Instead she poses the idea that art, or creativity, in order to be sustainable, should be playful. So many artists have died, due to their demons, due to their pain and suffering. This suffering may have provided them with creative material and it may be effective in the short-term for creativity, but in the long-term it depletes the individual. Life is better when you're having fun. Art is better when you're having fun. Great work can come from pleasure as much as it can come from pain, but pleasure is so much better in my opinion.
- Perfection. There are pros and cons to everything but I count my blessings that I am not a perfectionist. I don't need my work to be perfect in order to put it out there, and that's a good thing, because there's simply no such thing as perfection. Perfectionism, while it may push some to create great things, can also be a barrier to even getting started, or at the very least, for sharing your work. Creative work doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't even have to be good. It just needs to be something you enjoy doing to serve its purpose.
This book is so much more than what I can sum up here. But basically it made me realize how important creativity is in our lives. How creativity doesn't necessarily mean art in the traditional sense, and that people can be creative in so many ways through their cooking, fashion, lesson teaching in a classroom, floral arrangements, photographs, calligraphy, dancing, sandcastles. If it involves creating, it can involve creativity. It is our birthright to create, and if you feel compelled to create something, then it is also your right to do so (so long as it's not destructive to others but art rarely is). I loved the idea that we are in a relationship with ideas, and that ideas need us as much as we need them. I loved the idea that our work doesn't even have to be any good, we just have to enjoy creating it. Creativity can seem so serious sometimes, like we don't deserve to create if we can't create something great by others' standards. If you have been putting it off, just get started in whatever it is you want to do. Don't worry about the long list of fears. Don't worry if you'll be any good. Don't worry if others will like what you create. The point is not the result. The point is the journey, the act of creating, what's changed and opened within us through the act of creating. You will get better if you continue doing it. This I promise. And if you find yourself at a place where you no longer enjoy the creating, then stop. Find another creative outlet, something you do enjoy. I'll leave you with an ending quote from the book.