Elizabeth Gilbert: How To Be Creative – Even When You Really Don’t Feel Like It

I’m going to admit this now: I have never read Eat, Pray, Love…though I have seen the movie. So when I picked up Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, I had only vague notions of the type of writer she was, which—looking back now—were based almost solely on Julia Robert’s performance. I expected Big Magic to be fluffy and unrealistic and hippy-dippy—but it was anything but. If you are looking to live a creative life, I find this book to be an essential companion. Gilbert writes with honesty and humor and a necessary compassion—compassion for yourself and for your creativity. If you are feeling uninspired or don’t know how to make the most of your creative drive (which Gilbert argues dwells inside all of us), read this book. Or at the very least, let yourself be inspired by what I consider to be the most life-affirming—and life-changing—points of her creative exploration.
1.) You are already a creative person. Creativity, Gilbert tells us, is not a resource that needs to be earned and it is not a unique power that gifts itself only to those ‘special’ enough to deserve it. “If you’re alive, you’re a creative person”, she says. What matters is the form that your creativity will ultimately take.
2.) Bad behavior is not a prerequisite for a creative life. If you believe that you need to shun people and ignore your responsibilities and all of the practical aspects of daily life, Gilbert informs us that you’re wrong. We are all familiar with the image of the creative genius whose dedication to his/her (usually his) work turns him into a raving, narcissistic asshole. Gilbert, on the other hand, argues that creativity can only make you a better person; “An abiding stereotype of creativity is that it turns people crazy. I disagree: Not expressing creativity turns people crazy.” We have a natural instinct to create and our expression of that instinct will in turn mean the expression of our best and happiest selves.
3.) Ideas are separate beings with their own life force and purpose; as Gilbert states: “I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us—albeit strangely.” Ideas want only to be made manifest and it is through us, and our own drive for creation, that they can be realized. And as ideas possess their own particular will and life-force, they can also leave us if they are not being made manifest; this may mean the loss of a particular idea, if the time is not right or you are not ready for it—but ideas are infinite and everywhere around us, Gilbert argues, and the loss of one idea will inevitably mean the gaining of another.
4.) “It’s already been done” is not a reason to not do it. Most of the works that we consider radical and amazing today —whether they be written or composed or sculpted, etc—are actually in imitation of something else, or borrowed from another idea. All of Shakespeare’s plays were inspired either by writing that came before or by historical events. Nothing is created in a vacuum, so stop demanding that your creativity be completely original and separate from the rest of the world.
5.) If you can’t be creative in one way—be creative in another. Gilbert advises that if you hit a creative roadblock in your chosen field—look outside of that field. She gives an example from her own life, when a passing interest in gardening became an idea for a story, which blossomed (sorry) into her next novel. Creativity is like a web: where one thread leads to another and another, feeding each other, and will lead you to exactly where you need to be. If you are curious about something, pursue that feeling: “Do whatever brings you to life… Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them.”
6.) Fear kills creative impulse. I know that for myself, in order to write, fear first needs to be dissolved. Why is fear so destructive to creative impulse? Because, as Gilbert elucidates, the fear of creation too often merges with a fear of our selves, or the selves that we wish to avoid. Fear takes many forms; “you’re afraid you have no talent. You’re afraid of being rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or—worst of all—ignored…You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of discipline. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of work space, or financial freedom, or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of training or degree.” The list goes on. In order to bloom into your full creative potential, you must first disentangle creativity from fear: if your story is rejected, you are not rejected. Your world will not dissolve into chaos—if anything, as Gilbert argues, you should view rejection as a rare opportunity to learn and develop your craft.
7.) And while we’re at it, you can never control other people’s reactions to your work. Gilbert states, “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.” We all have movies that we find completely underrated, and there are ones that have been universally acclaimed and have won all of the awards, and we still hate them. There are so many factors that inform someone’s understanding and appreciation of a work that have absolutely nothing to do with your actual work. You never know what people are going to like and what they’re going to dislike…so you might as well just do what you love.
8.) “Done is better than good.” Your art does not need to save the polar bears or bring peace to the Middle East or make your readers/audience cry or laugh or both at once. As stated in the fourth point, your art does not need to be original. It does not need to important. It can be fluffy and ridiculous and derivative: but just let it be out there. To become good, art needs to first become. As she says, “A good-enough novel violently written now is better than a perfect novel meticulously written never.”
9.) What you produce doesn’t tell the measure of you as an artist or as a person. Don’t let the world tell you the value of your work, or the value of your self: only you can determine your satisfaction with your creative life. As Gilbert advises, “You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.” Take joy in the creative process, and find your self there—don’t look for happiness in the product or in the world’s opinion.

So go out there and create! Relieve any pressure that you might put on your creativity—whether it be for a certain product, or a certain sense of self. Follow your joy and it will lead you exactly where you need to be.

Author: Theresa Faulder

Theresa Faulder is a recent graduate student of the Masters English program at the University of Victoria. She was born and raised in Edmonton, Alberta, but currently lives in Vancouver, BC. She is a personal trainer, an illustrator, and magazine editor and writer. She enjoys baking, drawing, writing, and adventuring with friends, old and new. If you are interested in contacting Theresa, she would love to hear from you! You can reach her at her email address, tfaulder@dal.ca

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