What does John Denver, creativity, and Elizabeth Gilbert have anything to do with me? Last month, I saw Liz live in Portland, Oregon, presenting her newest book Big Magic to an auditorium full of Eat, Pray, Love advocates, creatives, and entrepreneurs.
Liz wove her curiosity and sense of humor into every part of her talk, even when telling us a heartfelt moment with her dad while climbing the Alps recently. (Here’s proof of their adventure, after a long day of hiking.) There’s a charm, a wit, and a grace about Gilbert: you can tell she’s the real deal. And, she wants you to create. She doesn’t care what the critics or what fear has to say.
She wants you to move forward your ideas, stop asking for permission to live a creative life, and remember that done is better than perfect. And, as all good lectures end, Liz invited us to share a vulnerable moment with her by singing her favorite karaoke song with her:
What Liz brought to that room of humans, interested in learning about creativity from the woman who’s published a handful of books, written for GQ, and determined at a young age that she would be a writer, was this: How can I be more creative in my own life? How can bring forth the things that only I can create with my own magic? Liz answered lots of these questions during her talk and also disclosed lots of valuable lessons on creativity in her newest book, Big Magic.
Whether you consider yourself a creative person, an entrepreneur, or an artist, Liz would say you most certainly are creative simply because you’re human. We inherently need to create. Her newest book, Big Magic, was written with this in mind. So, whether you’re running your own business, watercoloring on the side of your 9-5, or writing short stories after your kids go to bed, there’s a lesson here for every one of us.
The 13 Most Valuable Big Magic Lessons for Creatives
1) Ideas search for available partners.
Ideas are all around you and only stick with you if you’re ready to bring them into the world. Otherwise, they move on to a more suitable partner. Are you paying attention to your ideas?
“When an idea thinks it’s found somebody—say, you—who might be able to bring it into the world, the idea will pay you a visit. It will try to get your attention. Mostly, you will not notice. This is likely because you’re so consumed by your own dramas, anxieties, distractions, insecurities, and duties that you aren’t receptive to inspiration. You might miss the signal because you’re watching TV, or shopping, or brooding over how angry you are at somebody, or pondering your failures and mistakes, or just generally really busy.”
2) Make space for fear in every single creative venture.
Liz calls this ‘The Road Trip’: She’s driving, with creativity in the front seat. Fear is in the backseat. Whenever she’s embarking on a new creative endeavor, she’ll tell fear that it is welcome to come along for the ride. That we’re all going to be doing our job here.
“There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activity—but still—your suggestions will never be followed.”
She ends her talk with Fear by saying, “But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.”
3) Critics are part of the process.
You might as well prepare yourself for people hating what you do than allowing your confidence be smashed by their opinions. Accept that people not liking your stuff is part of being making things:
“Let people have their opinions. More than that—let people be in love with their opinions, just as you and I are in love with ours. But never delude yourself into believing that you require someone else’s blessing (or even their comprehension) in order to make your own creative work. And always remember that people’s judgments about you are none of your business.”
4) You don’t need permission to live a creative life.
Do you think that the arts are only reserved for those who can get their paintings into a museum, or those who can pay to put those paintings on their wall? Not so. Liz says we are all inherently creative because even our ancestors made it:
“The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying. We are all the chosen few. We are all makers by design. Even if you grew up watching cartoons in a sugar stupor from dawn to dusk, creativity still lurks within you. Your creativity is way older than you are, way older than any of us.”
5) You are allowed to be here and you are allowed a creative life.
You are entitled to living a creative life just because you are here. There’s no reason to justify your creativity: we all get to be creative because we exist. It’s not an arrogant entitlement, but an understanding that we all deserve to make stuff:
“Creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here, and that—merely by being here—you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.”
6) Who cares if it’s already been done?
It’s not yet been done by you. So, go ahead. Start your business, open a workshop, or write a book. Who cares if it’s been done before. We want to hear it from you:
“Just say what you want to say and say it with all your heart.”
7) Don’t rely on your creativity to make you a living.
Take your art and creativity off the hook. Get a day job. Work nights. You can always work on your creativity on the side. Don’t put so much pressure on your creativity to perform:
“But don’t count on the payoff, I beg of you—only because such payoffs are exceedingly rare, and you might very well kill off your creativity by holding it to such a harsh ultimatum.”
8) Money doesn’t equate with ultimate creativity.
Instead, use what you’ve got even if you don’t have it all. Persist. Persist because you care about what you put into the world and remember that creativity exists among all of us, regardless of status:
“Money helps, to be sure. But if money were the only thing people needed in order to live creative lives, then the mega-rich would be the most imaginative, generative, and original thinkers among us, and they simply are not.”
9) Make room for creativity in the everyday.
Every artist dreams of a way they can write with no other responsibilities in sight. I know, I know. It sounds great to have a beautiful desk with a view of an open field and soft breeze. But, most creative people are creating while raising a family, working a second job, and going to school. Life stuff. There is a balancing act between the two and you must not not create simply because circumstances aren’t perfect:
“Even the most successful creative people I know complain that they never seem to get all the hours they need in order to engage in a dreamy, pressure-free, creative exploration. Reality’s demands are constantly pounding on the door and disturbing them.”
10) Done is better than perfect.
If you’re too busy comparing what you do with others, you’ll never get anything done. Remember that finishing something is better than leaving it unfinished, even if it’s not as good as you envisioned it in your head. Most people start things; not as many finish:
“So if you can 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.”
11) Follow your curiosity.
Liz writes about how a simple backyard garden led her to writing her book ‘The Signature of All Things‘. As she started planting more flowers, she researched where they originated from and took notes on everything she learned. She traveled around the country, and the world, to learn more about botanical exploration and ended up writing a new book. When you follow your curiosity, it leads you to unexpected places:
“Three years earlier, I had never even heard of nineteenth-century botanical exploration—all I’d wanted was a modest garden in my backyard!—but now I was writing a massive story about plants, and science, and evolution, and abolition, and love, and loss, and one woman’s journey into intellectual transcendence.”
12) Lighten up.
Don’t let your creativity kill you. Embrace the trickster mind instead of the martyr mind. The martyr is dark and the trickster is light. Your creativity is as important to you as my creativity is important to me. But, don’t let it turn you in the sad, angry, and broke creative. Instead, look at creativity with fresh eyes and don’t think so hard about it:
‘Martyr says: I will sacrifice everything to fight this unwinnable war, even if it means being crushed to death under a wheel of torment.’ Trickster says: “Okay, you enjoy that! As for me, I’ll be over here in this corner, running a successful little black market operation on the side of your unwinnable war.”
13) Your work is not your ‘baby’.
Don’t be disillusioned with what so many people say about creativity: that what you create is your baby. Instead, think of it like this:
“Your creative way is not your baby; if anything, you are its baby. Everything I have ever written has brought me into being. Every project has matured me in a different way. I am who I am today precisely because of what I have made and what it has made me into.”
Creativity is not reserved for the selected few: it’s for everyone, despite money, circumstances, and critics. It’s part of who we are as humans. Feels pretty good to know that you’re off the hook to create whatever you’re called to create, right? Remember: it’s OK for fear to stick around, just don’t let it drive and done is always better than perfect.
If you want more of Liz, check out her TED talks and her interview with Marie Forleo below: