The book Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is a must read for anyone with any kind of creative interest. Every person, even those who don’t describe themselves as creative, can learn SO much from this book! Today I give you ten takeaways from this amazing text.
Creativity is full of conflicting truths
Art and creativity can be many things to many people. For example: Art isn’t important/ Art is very important. We need to accept that sometimes our art is very important and other times, it’s not important at all.
Sometimes we put so much pressure on ourselves “because this art should be important” that it’s hard to create anything. We need to remind ourselves that by creating we don’t solve world hunger, we aren’t saving lives. All it is is putting paint to canvas or pencil to paper. Really, no big deal.
There are also days where we set aside our creative interests. Tell ourselves making time for something as trivial as art is silly and unimportant. That is when art is MOST important!
When we hide our creativity or hold back our creative voice, we are small. We feel small. We have less room for love of ourselves, love of others… we could even be resentful of the time we give to family.
If we care for ourselves by making our art an important, prioritized part of our lives we are happier and healthier. We also have more room to give to others. That sounds pretty important to me!
Build a contract with creativity; Give fear ground rules
Write out a contract with your creativity. What do you expect of your creativity? What will you give creativity in return? For example, Gilbert created a contract that explicitly stated she would always take care of her creativity. She did not place the pressure of financial gain on her art, she chose to make art whether it made her money, or not.
It is important to her that she honor her creativity no matter the circumstance. She also gives fear ground rules. We shouldn’t hide from fear or ignore it, it only makes fear worse. Instead, she told fear it could take a back seat in the car. It wasn’t allowed to drive, or give directions. But it was welcome for the ride.
What are your expectations for creativity?
Don’t wait for inspiration
Too many people tell me they can only draw or write when they are in the mood. Pish! It’s an excuse. As Stephen King said, “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
Give yourself permission
Sometimes we sit around waiting for someone to tell us, “it’s okay, go for it!”
Why?! Why do we do this? We hope that our loved ones will encourage or approve of our choice. We hope that some teacher, or someone we look up to, will tell us we should pursue our art.
Is your desire to create not enough reason to make?
Don’t aim for originality, aim for you
More than once I’ve felt I’ve come up with an amazing new idea for an artwork. Then I’ve gone on Pinterest or The Jealous Curator only to find someone else is already doing it. I feel crestfallen, like I’ve missed out, or I even feel a bit of shame: “Why did you think you were the only one with this idea?!” I often drop the idea after that and move on to the next “big” idea.
I’ve skipped an important part here, and so might you: our unique individuality is what makes something original. The idea itself is not original, one could argue there are no new ideas out there! But we can develop new ideas or perspectives by building on other ideas. It’s why people like Austin Kleon have argued we Steal Like an Artist (affiliate link). We need to grow, discover and develop our ideas, EVEN if someone else has done something like it. That’s when the magic can happen!
Gilbert says she admires work that is heartfelt and “unoriginal” more than work striving only to be original. Reflect on this yourself: what kind of art resonates most with you? Are the works unique? Or uniquely individual?
Can you taste your sh*t sandwich?
Not every single part of the creative process is fun. In fact, everything we do has some element that isn’t pleasant or fun. The question is, do you still think it’s worth doing DESPITE those negative elements?
Perhaps you hate getting out the first draft of the novel, or you feel so uncomfortable knowing you have 12 paintings in progress and not a single one close to finished. Perhaps you make no money from your work yet but you want to… are you willing to work through these tough or uncomfortable parts of the process?
As Gilbert asks, “Are you willing to eat your sh*t sandwich?”
Seduce your creativity
Gilbert says sometimes we need to spice things up for our creativity to join us. On days that feel particularly challenging to show up, she dresses for her creativity. It means, dress, makeup, the works. It works every time.
Perhaps it feels not so practical to put on your favorite cocktail dress to throw around paint, but you could wear your favorite paint covered jeans and put on some makeup! How can you dress up for your creativity? How can you spice up your creative life?
Perfectionism is Poison
Perfectionism is a creativity killer. Period. There are no ifs, ands, or buts here. Perfectionism tells you your work is never good enough, you always have more to fix, that essentially YOU will never measure up. Who wants to keep working at anything when they feel like they are a constant failure?! That’s how perfectionism poisons you.
Take steps to care for yourself and to take care of your injured inner critic using perfectionism as a safety mechanism. Your art will be better for it.
Have you ever had a hunch or random interest develop in something completely unrelated to your art? What happened when you followed the rabbit down the rabbit hole?
Following the ideas that make us curious, even slightly curious, can lead to amazing new insights in our art.
Gilbert shares that she felt her creative well was a bit dried out. She wasn’t sure what to write next. She did have a mild curiosity about gardening. It wasn’t something she felt super passionate about, it was just this quiet voice full of questions. So she created a small garden in her backyard. And as she decided what to plant she began to research where the plants originated from. Before she knew it, she was obsessively researching the history of plants, which led to her more recent novel The Signature of All Things.
Convinced yet? If you have yet to purchase this amazing book I encourage you to buy it right now —> Here. (affiliate link)
I bought Big Magic on the day it came out and read it in two days. Then I read it again with my community via a book club. Each read brought new insight. And I’m confident it will be that way for me each time I choose to return to its magic.
BE COURAGEOUSLY CREATIVE: What is your biggest takeaway from Big Magic? I want to know! Let’s talk about it in the comments below.
Free Art Challenge: Create an Original Artwork in 10 Days
Play with me in the Soulbrush Sessions: ten days of creative prompts that guide you to your unique artist voice.
It's an experience that shows you something deep down you already know: you’ve always been an artist. Unleash your inner artist --> get stARTed today!
(Enjoy this free bonus when you sign up for Artist Strong's weekly newsletter.)
We honor your privacy - read more here.