I was listening to NPR’s Here & Now when I heard Elizabeth Gilbert–the woman who wrote Eat Pray Love–talking about how someone wrote the exact novel she was planning to write. As a writer/creative nothing cuts deeper than seeing someone else produce the work you believe you were supposed to. But instead of sharing that anguish, envy, rage, Gilbert did the exact opposite. Instead of believing she owned that idea for her the novel, she believed
“Ideas are these disembodied life-forms; they don’t have a form but they have a will and all they want is to be made manifest, and they circle the world looking for human collaborators to work with” – Elizabeth Gilbert
In summation, Gilbert believed that creativity, or inspiration, had left her and found its true home in the other writer, who she holds no ill-will toward and is even friends with. As she discussed this strange situation she began to talk about creativity and what it means to live a creative life beyond fear. Of course I did exactly what Gilbert wanted listeners of that show to do–go out and read her latest novel, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear–and I learned quite a bit, but here are three key things:
1. Don’t ask permission
“You do not need anyone’s permission to live a creative life” – Elizabeth Gilbert
Fortunately, creativity is not something you need a special license to practice. There is no specific amount of training, there is no ordaining ceremony, there is no piece of paper necessary to permit you to create. According to Gilbert, creative living is “a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than fear.” Fear is that voice giving you every reason why you shouldn’t follow your curiosity, it’s that feeling that you can’t because you don’t have a fancy degree, or someone already wrote that, or you’ll never be as great as so-and-so. Creativity takes courage to register your fear and persist beyond it. You don’t need any priest, teacher, etc. giving you permission, but if you feel you need some sort of written permission, Gilbert is happy to give you one, scribbled “on the back of an old shopping list.”
2. Be entitled
No, not the self-absorbed, arrogant entitled, but rather the unwavering belief in the value of your voice and your life as a creative.
“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” – Elizabeth Gilbert
It is this belief that is essential to creating anything worth-while. You will never be able to take creative risks, to soar new heights, to unlock the hidden treasures of your own capability if you do not first believe that your existence and your work have value.
3. Success is not the point
Oftentimes the one thing that stops us from creating is this fear that we won’t be “successful.” Success, like Life, is a concept whose meaning causes constant debate. If success, to you, is excessive monetary gain and notoriety then no, you may never achieve that, but it should never affect your willingness, your need to create.
“You will keep making your work, regardless of the outcome. You will keep sharing your work, regardless of the outcome.You were born to create, regardless of the outcome. You will never lose trust in the creative process, even when you don’t understand the outcome” – Elizabeth Gilbert
I often thought of Frida Kahlo as this point of “success” began to come up in Big Magic. Frida Kahlo was an artist who created with an intensity so desperate it appeared as if painting was second to oxygen for her. She created because it was natural, because it was her way of exploring her curiosity. She did not die a wildly famous artist, though her work was certainly known and revered, but she did not create for that reason. Success in the sense of notoriety and fortune did not directly affect her need to create. It is that trust, that love, need, and curiosity with which you must persist to create.
In a perfect world our creative passions would be able to sustain our rent/mortgages, utilities, and shopping expenses; our own responsibility would be to follow our curiosity and create from there. Gilbert isn’t giving you advice on how to pursue your creativity in a perfect world. She is giving you tools on how to persist with your creativity in an imperfect world with the existence of fear and adult responsibilities:
“this is a world, not a womb. You can look after yourself in this world while looking after your creativity at the same time” – Elizabeth Gilbert
While there is a magic to creativity, ideas, and inspiration Gilbert continues to remind her readers that creativity does not exist to support you; it is a collaborative effort between you and the genius who visits you. Now go make stuff!