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Lessons learned from ‘Big Magic’ and thoughts on creativity

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I have just finished reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. It shares insights on the subject of creativity, covering general thoughts and personal stories from her life and others. What I liked about it was that it drew from her own individual experience as an aspiring writer. The book feels like she is talking to other aspiring writers or artists. I enjoyed her narrative which was both informal and direct. Completing it felt like reading 10 pages rather than its 200 or so pages- I simply could not put it down!


Here are a few lessons I learnt from reading it and other insights on creativity I have found helpful. I’ll share some quotes from the book and my own interpretations from them:

1.Don’t expect anything, just appreciate
Your art doesn’t owe you a thing. You may have a calling to live a creative life but it doesn’t have to make a living for you. All you did was agree to be an artist.
When you stop caring/worrying about success and failure, you are just left to make things, to lose track of time having fun, to learn things. To be thankful for everything you have.
The reward is in the creative act itself.
There are people who create art and expect nothing from it and there are people who create art and who then ‘need’ to have reassurance from others/the world. The latter like having their cake and eating it and then want to eat another cake after that.

2. Fear of the unknown
Our barriers to creating in the first place fall on a basic level, back to fear. I like to think about it like this: ‘You already know more than you think you know.’ So take a risk and go do something small which takes you outside of your comfort zone.  The hunger for wanting to create never ends so you might as well make the most of your time here on Earth.

3. The results of my work don’t have much to do with me
‘Recognising this reality – that the reaction doesn’t belong to you- is the only sane way to create.’

4. Quit complaining
Anyone and everyone can complain- it’s boring, no one wants to hear it. It would be more original to be the one who doesn’t.
Also, don’t blame your teacher for the lack of your ability.
‘No matter how great your teachers may be, no matter how esteemed your academy’s reputation, eventually you will have to do the work by yourself.’ 

5. The two worst traits to have at the same time: perfectionism and laziness
Perfectionists never start things and the lazy never finish. By finishing, you are already ahead of most people. There are so many ideas out there which have never been completed or born.

6. Find your purpose quickly so you can start working on it as soon as possible
This point came from Oprah Winfrey’s Top 10 rules for success. Because if you don’t make an active choice for your life purpose, life chooses for you and you may not like what it offers.

7. Practicing and copying to learn is OK
‘Everybody imitates before they can create’
We research what we like, copy it and then put our own spin on it. Nothing wrong with doing that in terms of just practice and skill building.

8. Just finish it!
‘At some point you really just have to finish your work and release it as it is.’
Some projects can feel stale after hanging around unfinished for too long a time. Not every piece you make is going to be ground-breaking. Just finish so you can get to the next project.

9. A point about university/institutional ‘education’
‘You must labor and suffer for years in solitude to produce work that four people will ever read’. Ponder this. Point closed.

10. Don’t put pressure on your creativity to make a living for you
‘Debt will always be the abattoir of creative dreams.’
It can be tiring to sustain a life and have other responsibilities, but know this is common for many if not all artists and having a job unrelated to your art is nothing to feel ashamed about. The worst thing you could do is get discouraged from creativity by not being ‘successful’ in the eyes of the world and stopping creating altogether.

11. Prioritise what’s the most important for you (not for others) with your time, and do something every day that pushes you in that direction
‘What is sacred is the time you spend working on a project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life.’
When you get excited about a new project and then get bored or find something difficult you stop. This is where most give up. However, if you carry on and learn the difficult thing without thinking of failure (who cares about failure!) or the other things which make you feel insecure- if you can get past all those distractions, it’s after that which is the most interesting transformative part of the process of living a creative life.

12. Your creativity is not serious. Take it lightly. Play around, have fun with it
‘My creative expression must be the most important thing in the world to me, and it also must not matter at all.’

13. Do small steps, consistently
Keep making things!

14. You don’t always know why
I sometimes wonder why do we want what we want? Why do others want different or similar things? Why are we drawn to certain lines of work over others?

‘A desire to be creative was encoded in my DNA for reasons I will never know…Every molecule of my being has always pointed toward this line of work’

‘If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.’

15. There are good reasons to having an ego
A lot of spiritual/self-help teachings mention the important role the ego plays in our lives. Some books suggest we must become egoless to be truly ‘free’. Gilbert’s following quote has taught me that the ego also has some necessary aspects to it, that it wouldn’t be entirely a good thing to be ‘ego-less’:

‘[The ego will] provide you with fundamental outlines of selfhood- to help you proclaim your individuality, define your desires, understand your preferences, and defend your borders. Your ego, simply put, is what makes you who you are.’

As long as the ego doesn’t completely take over, then it’s all good. Balance!

16. Do other forms of art alongside your main one
Gilbert describes doing other forms of expression is useful for your main practice. If writing is your main thing for example, go off once in a while and join a painting class, do gardening, learn an instrument at an amateur level. You don’t have to be good at them either, just exercise your creativity in a different way to expand your mind, and do something away from your main art form, it will take the pressure off.

‘”Combinatory play”- the act of opening up one mental channel by dabbling in another.’

17. Some factors are out of our control
3 keys to success (depending on your definition of success): Talent, luck and discipline. The only one you can control out of those is discipline. Keep working.

18. Being criticised/people hating on what you’ve created? Perfect response:
‘Just smile sweetly and suggest- as politely as you possibly can- that they can go make their own fucking art.’

Interesting interview with Elizabeth Gilbert and Marie Forleo on Big Magic:

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