Hello friends! It’s time for me to disclose another embarrassing and rather private truth about me for all of you to read: I used to think I wasn’t good enough to express myself creatively. I desperately wanted to express myself my whole life and I tried dozens of new projects hoping that I would stumble upon my thing. The one thing that I was automatically extraordinary at and passionate about. I tried writing, pottery, acrylic painting, flower pressing, decoupage, collages, poetry, drawing, watercolor, photography and many more. But the same thing would always happen. After one day of trying out my new project, I would get in my own head, and it would go something like this…
I would suddenly feel inspired to begin painting (or some other artistic endeavor), but I told myself that I couldn’t do it. After painting for all of ten minutes I realized that I’m not talented enough to be “a painter.” I don’t have some sort of natural, God-given ability to paint incredible works of art without struggle. And if I was going to be “a painter” I’d have to incredible at it and be taken seriously as an artist. I’d have to be talented and get my paintings in museums. I would have to be known by friends and family as Heather “the painter.” I couldn’t do that.
There’s no way I could paint or model, or take photos, or blog, or do pottery unless I was known for it. Unless I was acknowledged and recognized for it. My mindset was like this throughout every single creative idea I’ve ever had. A simple idea that I would have to take a photo, or create a painting, or write an article, or do poetry, meant that I had to be really good at it. I couldn’t possibly do it for fun, just because I felt like it.
Until I came across the book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert. I bought it and loved it so much that I finished it in one day. I couldn’t put the book down for a second. Not only did I absolutely adore Gilbert and her voice, but the message of this beautiful book inspired such a change in my life that I view it as my bible.
Gilbert’s book gave me the courage to try several new pursuits over the last few years. It inspired me to follow my creativity just because I wanted to. To be creative for me and no one else. To create a blog because it made me happy, to create a decoration because I wanted to, and to model just because I felt like it.
Without Big Magic, I would have never gathered the courage to launch Lost Online in the first place. For anyone who hasn’t read Big Magic, I highly suggest it! So in honor of my blog’s one year anniversary (as of this past Thanksgiving), and in honor of my recent relaunch… I decided to talk about the book that inspired it and the lessons that I learned from Elizabeth Gilbert’s, Big Magic.
“I think a creative life is the most marvelous life there is.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert
1. Being Fearful Kills Creativity
The first truth about creative living and the one that I think is important for everyone to hear is that fear can kill creativity. Fear causes people to get in their heads and think about all the reasons why they shouldn’t do something, which prevents their wonderful ideas to take shape. One of my favorite parts of Big Magic is when Gilbert lists off dozens of different reasons about why we’re fearful of living a creative life. Reasons like having no talent, getting embarrassed, and upsetting family. Something struck a cord when I read this list.
Gilbert shared these fears because they’re nothing new. These are the same fears that millions of other people experience that paralyze them when they try to create. Think of all the people who have decided to not create artwork out of the fear of judgment. And for what? Just out of their own anxieties. We prevent ourselves from living a creative life because we’re scared of the reactions or the outcome, but it only leaves ourselves disappointed. So why bother getting so worked up about our fears? Why let them keep you from pursuing a dream? If everyone lived in fear of sharing their own creations, life would be so boring and so bland. There would be no movies, music, paintings, or books because everyone would be too scared to put themselves out there.
2. We Are All Creative Beings
I don’t know about you, but there are many days when I believe that I don’t deserve to be a creative person. As if it was a right that only a few are born with. Big Magic helped me to get over that ridiculous idea I had made up in my own mind, by making me realize that everyone in the world is creative. It’s not reserved for only a certain kind of person. It’s not reserved for the “emo” kids that used to go to my high school, it’s not reserved for the famous, it’s not reserved for the people who have their work hanging in museums. We are all innovative, gifted, original, quirky, unique individuals who have been born to express ourselves creatively however we please.
Gilbert shares that human beings have been creative for a very, very long time. It’s a natural impulse for us. So much so that the earliest form of recognizable human art is over 40,000 years old. On page 87, Gilbert shares one of my favorite lines, “Which means that somewhere in our collective evolutionary story, we decided it was way more important to make attractive, superfluous items than it was to learn how to regularly feed ourselves.” And we’ve been making artwork and pursuing our creative interests ever since. There’s no need to consider whether or not we can or deserve to become a creative person because we already are. All of us. It doesn’t matter who you are and what you do for a living, you are born to be creative and have a right to create just as much as anyone else.
3. You Don’t Need Permission to Live a Creative Life
Growing up, I used to think I needed someone’s permission to live creatively. Whether it was my friends, family, teachers, or followers. I thought I needed someone else to agree that I was a half-decent creative individual who was allowed to express themselves. I believe I got this idea because when I would express myself, people didn’t seem to understand why and would usually pass judgment. So I grew up believing that in order to be creative you had to have permission somehow. That you had to have societies stamp of approval. That you had to be a creative genius in order to have the right to do what you please. FALSE.
You don’t need anyone’s permission to be creative. You’re parents, friends, significant other, followers, professors, or dinner party guests, don’t need to understand why and how you choose to express yourself. People will try to talk you out of being creative for the rest of your existence, so waiting for another’s permission is the kiss of death. Don’t wait for someone to give you permission or else you’ll be disappointed and never have the pleasure and fulfillment you receive for doing what you want. If I waited for other people’s approval to do what I please, I would have never done any of the amazing things that I’ve done over this past year. Like traveling Europe, doing acro yoga, taking a helicopter tour, starting a blog, modeling, starting to write poetry. This year was the best year of my life because I stopped waiting for permission to do the things that brought me joy.
4. Creativity Should Be Folded Into Everyday Life
In Big Magic, Gilbert talks about how creativity is something that should be folded into your everyday life. If you have a passion or a calling to try something new or pursue a creative endeavor, you don’t have to quit your job, move somewhere else, and devote every second of every day to it. Many people make the mistake of thinking that they couldn’t be creative in their current situation. That you have to find a way to break free of all of your responsibilities and obligations so that you can live a life spent in a state a perpetual creative bliss. Unfortunately, that’s not true and definitely not realistic. Yes, it would be lovely to not have to do anything besides listen to music while I sit in my apartment writing blog posts and doing yoga for the rest of my life. But who has the luxury or the time to drop everything and focus solely on their art?
Instead, creativity should be worked into everyday life during our free time. All it takes is setting aside a little bit of time every day to do whatever you feel called to do. Gilbert was very much inspired by her father, who was a chemical engineer but spent his free time as a Christmas tree farmer, beekeeper, and goat farmer. He had no training, no experience, but just simply started his new interests whenever he had the time. Most people don’t drop everything and devote their lives to their creativity, they use “scraps of borrowed time” as Gilbert would say, and follow their passions whenever they get the chance. My favorite example Gilbert shares is her friend Susan, who decided to start figure skating at 40 years old simply because it brought her joy. She didn’t quit her job to pursue a career in figure skating or attempt to go to the Olympics. She simply bought a pair of skates and woke up early three times a week to twirl around on the ice and enjoy herself. For me, I do it on my days off and in the evenings when I can sit alone a quiet room and write until my heart is content. And that’s all it has to be. You don’t have to make a living doing your hobby, you can simply just do it because you want to.
5. Don’t Expect to Become “Successful”
One of the biggest mistakes that people make when it comes to living a creative life, is that they become focused on success. I’m not pointing fingers, trust me I do this too! People often expect that by being artistic or following their hobbies, they should eventually reach fame and success. By doing this, they’re demanding that their creative interests fulfill them AND provide them with purpose, while simultaneously paying the bills, attracting a fan base, and bringing them massive “success.” I’ve seen this the most with musicians who have an end goal of becoming rich and famous through their music. Not that there is anything wrong with them for wanting that, but that’s a lot of expectation and pressure on a simple creative impulse! What a burden for creativity to carry! Now, if they don’t achieve their expected outcome, there’s the misconception that they have somehow failed and shouldn’t have bothered making music in the first place.
“What does any of that have to do with the quiet glory of merely making things, and then sharing those things with an open heart and no expectation?”
– Elizabeth Gilbert
Big Magic taught me that I shouldn’t ever expect my passions and creative impulses to support me, or bring success and money. When I first started blogging, I thought I had to make money and becoming a “successful” so-called “content creator.” But I don’t have to, and I can show up on this platform and write just because I want to. And you can too. You can make music, write a book, make paintings, figure skate, design jewelry, start a garden, or whatever you want to without putting pressure on your creativity to bring you success or outside validation.
6. What Others Think is None of Your Business
You cannot and should not care about how others perceive your artwork and the way that you choose to express yourself. Everyone has some kind of creative impulse that exists inside of them, and the point of us having these impulses is not to impress other people. It’s to make ourselves happy. To feel alive. It’s to create simply because it brings us joy and adds color and excitement to our lives. Caring about what other people think, will only dampen your own happiness and ruin the fun in the work that you choose to do.
Let me tell you, no one I’ve been close to has ever once understood or was supportive of what I chose to do for fun or to express myself. If I listened to them, I would be miserable right now. I now pursue whatever creative impulses I have, even if it’s short-lived. Without these creative outlets, I would live a plan, dull, unhappy life, just because someone else didn’t approve of what I created in my own personal time. Funnily enough, once I let go of what other people thought, I actually got better! And in turn, people started to respect my creative endeavors more. Worrying about what other people thought only turned out to be a waste of time and energy that I could instead put into my hobbies.
“The greatest prison that people live in is the fear of what other people think.”
– David Icke
7. Art Doesn’t Have to be Important
Another common misconception that Gilbert shares is that art has to be important. Believing that will only weigh you down and hinder your ability to reach your highest potential and create something wonderful. And it’s ok for art to be completely and utterly frivolous. I love Gilbert’s quote, “Your own reasons to create are reason enough.” You don’t have to justify why you want to pursue a hobby or creative interest by deciding that your work has to help people, or be important, or move people to tears. It could be simply to entertain yourself. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece that’s admired in a gallery while wealthy people stand around and drink champagne. It doesn’t even have to be incredibly original or helpful.
This may seem like common sense, but it’s surprising that when we go to create something ourselves, we set the bar a hundred times higher than we do for others. Which we do intentionally because it helps us to justify why we’re creating. Unfortunately, this will only set us up for failure.
I know that I’m no Hemingway, or Picasso, or Rumi. I will never be a world-renowned anything. And I’m completely ok with that. I express myself in ways that I want to and no longer feel like it has to contribute to the world in a major way. My work doesn’t have to change the world. Letting go of that mindset was like taking a weight off that I’d been carrying forever.
“Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert
8. Inspiration Will Come and Go
Inspiration sometimes will hit you like a ton of bricks. I’ve had to suddenly hop off a treadmill, or pull my car over, or hang up the phone because the inspiration came so suddenly. I love when these moments happen. The inspiration appears easily and gives me a rush of creative excitement that keeps me preoccupied for a whole day. Other times, the inspiration doesn’t flow so easily. Sometimes as much as you want to create you can become stuck in a rut and find it difficult to get the inspiration back. I used to be hard on myself when this would happen, but Gilbert helped me to realize that it’s a normal part of creative living. It happens to everyone, even the New York Times Best Selling Authors like herself! Sometimes the creative juices won’t come when you want them too. Sometimes you’ll struggle to come up with your next big idea or project. It shouldn’t lead you to believe that inspiration has abandoned you forever.
“Holding yourself together through all the phases of creation is where the real work lies.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert
9. Ideas Are Alive
One of my favorite lessons from this book is when Gilbert shares her belief that ideas inhabit the world in the same way that people, plants, or animals do. Just as we are walking around this planet going about our day, so are ideas. Ideas are born and they float around the world searching for a human to collaborate with to be brought into fruition. If you’re lucky enough, a brilliant idea will choose you and you’ll have the pleasure of bringing it into existence. If not, then you will simply let it go and pass it off to someone else. But either way, ideas are out there dancing around us, waiting for someone to grab hold and nurture it until it’s finally recognized.
This took some of the pressure off of being creative because it makes me feel as if the ideas that come to me are not completely mine. I don’t feel guilty or bad if I’m not able to create something that I thought up because it wasn’t really mine, to begin with. If I couldn’t help bring this concept to life then it will simply move on and find the best person to collaborate with who will bring it to life. Those ideas didn’t first originate in my mind before it did in anyone else’s mind in the world, and it will continue to visit others after me.
10. Ideas Won’t Wait
One of my favorite parts of this magical book is when Elizabeth Gilbert shares that ideas will not wait for you. Ideas float around and look for a willing person to grab hold of it and see it through. If we get consumed by our own negative self-talk and get caught up in life’s distractions, the idea will simply move along to someone else. Someone who will be willing to nourish it to its potential. That’s why sometimes you’ll be watching a t.v. show and suddenly a movie trailer came on that you swear you came up with the idea for. Or you’ll see a commercial for a product that you swear you thought up. Maybe you’ll find a book at Barnes and Nobel that you planned on writing someday. Ideas are real and they desperately want to be brought to life, even if it means moving onto someone else. Ideas will grow impatient.
11. Creativity is Magic
My last lesson and most favorite lesson from Big Magic is that creativity is magical. The proof is simply in the way that we feel when a magnificent idea comes to us. Our hairs stand up on our arms, our hearts race, we feel dizzy and excited — almost like we’re falling in love as Gilbert explains. We’ve all felt it from time to time. You feel the inspiration coursing through every cell of your body. How could a simple creative impulse cause such feelings if it weren’t magic? And when this happens the universe will arrange itself in order to help us to pursue the new idea. Coincidences and synchronicities start to happen. We may just happen to meet the right people when we need them and notice signs in our daily lives.
“And when I refer to magic here, I mean it literally. Like in the Hogwarts sense. I am referring to the supernatural, the mystical. the inexplicable, the surreal, the divine, the transcendent, the otherworldly. Because the truth is, I believe that creativity is a force of enchantment — not entirely human in its origins.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert
Another way that you can recognize just how magical creativity and inspiration are is through “flow.” Flow is that state you’re in when you’re completely absorbed in creation. You lose all sense of time and awareness of the surrounding world. You fully lose yourself and become immersed in what you’re doing. It makes you forget to eat, shower, or sleep. The only thing that exists is the pen or paintbrush or the movement of your body while you’re dancing. That’s a state of flow. The best feeling in the world in my opinion. There’s nothing that feels so mystical and so lovely as becoming lost in a creation. Gilbert describes the feeling of flow perfectly when she writes, “I can feel myself being gently propelled by some exterior force. Something is carrying me along — something powerful and generous — and that something is decidedly not me. You may notice this feeling. It’s the feeling you get when you’ve made something wonderful, or done something wonderful, and when you look back at it later, all you can say is: ‘I don’t even know where that came from.’”
“Perhaps creativity’s greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert
And the reason why this feeling when we create is so important is that….“We all need something that helps us to forget ourselves for a while.” It’s a relief to be free from ourselves and our own complicated minds for that one moment.
There you have it, my top takeaway from my all-time favorite book, Big Magic. I’ve read it cover to cover at least six times and will probably be reading it many more. This book came to me a perfect time when I wanted to express myself so badly, but I didn’t have the courage. Without this book, I would still be in a pile of self-doubt feeling frustrated that I didn’t create what I had a burning design to do. If you’re a creative person or have a desire to try new things, this is the book you should read. It’s inspiring, uplifting, and funny. I hope the book will bring as much magic into your lives as it did to mine.
Photo by Allen Fajardo.
“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life.”
– Elizabeth Gilbert
Have you read Big Magic? What are your thoughts on the book? Did you have any big takeaways? Did it help you overcome some kind of hurdle or self-doubt? Let me know in the comments! I love hearing from you!