Creativity is mystical and the dominant discourse on the subject makes it more so. We have to regularly invoke the souls of Edison, Einstein, Picasso, and Steve Jobs to stir us into thinking creatively and we must refer to the deeds of Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Jack Ma to inspire others to think differently.
It somehow seems that the creative types are cut from a different cloth and one must strive really hard, in most unnatural ways, to invoke creativity. And even then it’s not guaranteed. But alas that’s not true and so writes Elizabeth Gilbert in this profoundly relatable and readable book, Big Magic. The central premise of the book is that creativity is well within reach of each one of us and it calls for far more discipline and perseverance than what is commonly perceived.
Though the book is written keeping in view artistic creativity, the insights are widely amicable to all forms of creative work, ranging from homemaking to rocket science. Before you go about reading this book, watch this TED Talk by Elizabeth.
What stands out in this book is humor, vulnerability, and warmth, and while being inspiring the text also keeps one grounded on the pursuit of creation. To begin with, Elizabeth defines creativity as “the relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration.” By doing so she lays out the foundation of creativity as always accessible but occasionally achieved. It’s an attempt in bravery where one stubbornly seeks gladness in the face of life’s uncertainties and challenges.
One of the key tenets of the book, Big Magic is curiosity — where the excitement of the unknown is more empowering than the fear of the uncertain. Calling out that “a creative life is an amplified life” and that “creative living is a part for the brave,” Elizabeth clarifies that bravery doesn’t mean being fearless. In fact, fear and creativity are like conjoined twins, that, “your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome.”
The ideas, says Elizabeth, are disembodied, energetic life-forms, and it's through the collaboration with a human being that the ideas get manifested. In a way, ideas are always looking at collaborators, and if you aren’t paying attention, it would move on to somebody else! A stubborn idea keeps looking for a stubborn collaborator, and till such time they are floating around.
One doesn’t have to become too serious or drag oneself into painful events to invoke creativity, for humans have always been making stuff and that’s creativity right there. The whole idea of tormenting yourself to bring about creativity is not only wrong but also bad, for a whole lot of creativity can come by being happy, and being a ‘good trickster’.
However, to be creative one must learn to endure frustrations, take on criticism and keep going in the face of uncertainty. It calls for way more intrinsic motivation than external rewards, of any kind. Getting started is the key, as Elizabeth notes, “Perfectionism stops people from completing their work yes — but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work.”
One very valuable piece of advice the author offers is to continue with your day job while you are in your creative pursuit. It would relieve your creative work from the burden of supporting your livelihood and would get time to blossom. Elizabeth didn’t quit her day job till her fourth book Eat Pray Love became a sensational hit then she decided to become a full-time writer.
She writes, “I held on to my day jobs for so long because I wanted to keep my creativity free and safe. I maintained alternative streams of income so that, when my inspiration wasn’t flowing, I could say it reassuringly, ‘No worries, mate. Just take your time. I’m here whenever you’re ready.’”
Leaving you with some remarkable passages from the book:
I decided that I would need to build an expansive enough interior life that my fear and my creativity could peacefully coexist, since it appeared that they would always be together. In fact, it seems to me that my fear and my creativity are basically conjoined twins-as evidenced by the fact that creativity cannot take a single step forward without fear marching right alongside it. Fear and creativity shared a womb, they were born at the same time. and they still share some vital organs. This is why we have to be careful of how we handle our fear because I’ve noticed that when people try to kill off their fear, they often end up inadvertently murdering their creativity in the process. (pp.24)
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. (pp.121)
Learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is part of the job of a creative person. If you want to be an artist of any sort, it seemed to me, then handling your frustration is a fundamental aspect of the work perhaps the single most fundamental aspect of the work. Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process. (pp.149)
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 have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual. (pp.34–35)
Are you considering becoming a creative person? Too late, you already are one. To even call somebody “a creative person” is almost laughably redundant; creativity is the hallmark of our species. We have the senses for it; we have the curiosity for it; we have the opposable thumbs for it, we have the rhythm for it; we have the language and the excitement and the innate connection to divinity for it. (pp.89)
You might spend your whole life following your curiosity and have absolutely nothing to show for it at the end — except one thing. You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you passed your entire existence in devotion to the noble human virtue of inquisitiveness. (pp.239)
The essential ingredients for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust — and those elements are universally accessible. Which does not mean that creative living is always easy; it merely means that creative living is always possible. (pp.158)
A timely book for those who are waiting for an idea to strike them.