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Elizabeth Gilbert’s Guide to Creative Living

Sep 22, 2015

by Valerie Rains

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There’s no doubt about it: Elizabeth Gilbert is our kind of girl. Earlier this year, we had the pleasure of sharing the first look at the color-splashed cover of Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Without Fear, which hits store shelves today. And what awaits behind that gorgeously messy image is every bit as inspiring. A totally down-to-earth (and often laugh-out-loud funny) treatise on life and art, Big Magic presents a perspective-shifting vision of creativity as something radically inclusive and infused with trust, wonder, hope, gratitude, and lightness — a welcome alternative to the conventional wisdom that inspiration is in short supply and the best art is all about suffering. As she says in the first chapter, “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.”

While the book is chock-full of practical, down-to-earth strategies and motivational mantras for tapping into the universe’s creative abundance, Gilbert knows that sometimes what you don’t do is as important as what you do. With that in mind, she’s shared a short list of obstacles to creative living that we’d all do ourselves a service to avoid, whether we’re writers, painters, gardeners, knitters, teachers, dog walkers or delivery men.

Read on for five things not to do for a more creative life — straight from the author herself:

1. Don’t think that you need a permission slip from the principal’s office before you can begin. You don’t need anyone’s permission to lead a creative life. You don’t need a certain kind of degree, you don’t need a Certificate of Legitimacy, you don’t need an authority figure to officially pronounce you “an artist.” All you need to do is sit down, wherever you are in life, and begin. My definition of a creative life is very simple: A creative life is any life that is guided more strongly by curiosity than by fear. That’s it. So what are you curious about? What are you afraid of? What would happen if you could allow your curiosity to be just 1% stronger than your fear? Where would it lead you? Go there. Don’t wait for someone to tap you on the shoulder and tell you that you are ready to begin, or that you are allowed to begin. You were born ready. You were always allowed. Creativity is your human inheritance and your sacred birthright. It belongs to you, forever. Just begin.

2. Don’t dismiss your creativity as self-indulgent. It isn’t. Your creativity (whatever it may be) is not some goofy, frivolous, meaningless, airy-fairy impulse. Your creativity is the most efficient and gratifying way for you to interact with an ever-transforming universe that is dying to interact with you. Your creativity is the force that invites you to be a co-creator of your own life, rather than a passive bystander. Your creativity is the most generous way that you can share yourself with your fellow human beings — and in the process of sharing yourself, you may help us to see ourselves differently. Your creativity is sacred, and it deserves your respectful attention. Moreover, if you don’t use your creativity, it may hurt you. Any talent you have but do not use becomes a burden — becomes heavy upon your soul. Your creativity wants to be released, so release it. You are not “stealing” anything from your real life when you devote time to fostering your creativity; you are actually helping your real life to unfold into its biggest and most interesting possible iteration.

3. Don’t negotiate with the terrorists who live inside your head. You know the terrorists I mean, right? The ones who say: “Who do you think you are, trying to be creative? You can’t do this project! You’re a fool! You have no talent!” Disregard them. Understand that those nasty interior terrorists exist inside everybody’s mind, not just yours. They are not a bug, but a feature of the human software package. Don’t listen to them, and don’t argue with them. They are liars. They are lame. They are lazy ghosts who never made anything in their lives. All they know how to do is stand on the sidelines, trash-talking real people who are trying to do real and actual interesting things. If you don’t engage with them, they will have no power over you. And once they realize you’re ignoring them, they will eventually get bored and go away, leaving you to work in peace.

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4) Don’t define your creative success by financial reward. I hope you have financial success in your creative endeavors. I really do. That’s everyone’s dream, and I hope that dream comes true for you. But please don’t make that your only goal, or you may end up accidentally going broke, while also killing off your creativity — all at the same time! I have watched so many talented artists murder their creativity because they demanded that their art pay the bills (in fact, they would only define themselves as “real” artists as long as their art was paying the bills). When their creativity didn’t pay the bills, those artists often descended into anxiety, depression, rage, and/or bitterness. Worst of all, they often stopped creating — thereby killing off the very finest parts of themselves. If you get lucky and your creative work ends up paying the bills, terrific. If your creative work does not, then get a day job — but absolutely keep doing your creative work on the side. Do it because you love it, and because it brings you to life. That must be the primary motivation — to feel your soul expand, and to feed your imagination with joy. And remember this: What defines a “real artist” is not how much money they make. What defines a “real artist” is somebody who makes art. Period.

5) Don’t stop. I think this one is self-explanatory.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s new book, Big Magic: Creative Living Without Fear (Riverhead Books) is available now online and at bookstores nationwide. 

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Lead image of rainbow leather journal from JackdawBinderyAuthor’s portrait by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders.

Valerie Rains is an editor at Etsy.

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