If you’re a creative person (in any form) and you read only one personal development book this year, let it be Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert.
It’s a therapy session, spiritual guide, best friend, and bible of truths that anyone wanting to live a creative life should have at hand. It’s my favorite book because it’s been the most transformative for me.
It changed my life because it was the first book that made me realize how normal all of my fear and self-doubt surrounding my creativity was, and her wisdom around it was comforting and eye-opening.
Elizabeth Gilbert is a treasure. If you’re not familiar with her, she’s also the author of Eat Pray Love and City of Girls. Her TedTalk on the ‘elusive creative genius’ is one of my favorites and a great introduction to her if you haven’t seen it yet.
Big Magic is filled to the brim with actionable advice and wisdom that will help you live a creative life, so it’s best consumed in its entirety (and more than once), but I’ve pulled out some of the most powerful quotes to share my favorite takeaways from the book.
Other posts you may like:
- 7 Ways to Get Out of a Rut and Stimulate Your Creativity at Home
- 11 Quotes on Creativity and Self-Doubt to Inspire You
- 8 Easy Go-To Remedies for Imposter Syndrome
Life-Changing Advice on Creativity from Big Magic
Judgment and Criticism
The idea of what we create being unceremoniously picked apart is enough to scare some people into not creating anything at all — or at the very least, hiding it from the world.
Our creativity feels like an extension of our deepest selves, so any negative opinion on the things we create can feel like a very personal, heart-wrenching attack.
Liz has a sobering perspective on dealing with judgment and criticism as a creative.
“Recognizing that people’s reactions don’t belong to you is the only sane way to create. If people enjoy what you’ve created, terrific. If people ignore what you’ve created, too bad. If people misunderstand what you’ve created, don’t sweat it. And what if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your good name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest – as politely as you possibly can – that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.”
“You are free, because everyone is too busy fussing over themselves to worry all that much about you. Go be whomever you want to be, then. Do whatever you want to do. Pursue whatever fascinates you and brings you to life. Create whatever you want to create — and let it be stupendously imperfect, because it’s exceedingly likely that nobody will even notice. And that’s awesome.”
Perfectionism is a defense mechanism against judgment. We get caught up in the idea that if we work hard enough at and polish something enough, it will reach a level of perfection that makes it immune to criticism.
But the reality is, perfection doesn’t exist. It’s an illusion. And it likes to operate as an excuse for you to avoid putting your work out into the world.
“A good-enough novel violently written now is better than a perfect novel meticulously written never.”
“I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more that a deep existential angst the says, again and again, ‘I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.'”
“It starts by forgetting about perfect. We don’t have time for perfect. In any event, perfection is unachievable: It’s a myth and a trap and a hamster wheel that will run you to death. The writer Rebecca Solnit puts it well: ‘So many of us believe in perfection, which ruins everything else, because the perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun… The most evil trick about perfectionism, though, is that it disguises itself as a virtue.'”
“We must understand the need for perfectionism is a corrosive waste of time, because nothing is ever beyond criticism. No matter how many hours you spend to render something flawless, somebody will always be able to find fault with it.”
Fear and creativity
The most insidious killer of creativity is fear. But it can only destroy it if you let it.
Fear and creativity go hand-in-hand. It will always be a passenger on your journey of a living a creative life and that’s okay. The important thing is to develop a relationship with fear that keeps you in charge of the wheel.
“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.”
“When I refer to ‘creative living,’ I am speaking more broadly. I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”
“Creativity is a path for the brave, yes, but it is not a path for the fearless, and it’s important to recognize the distinction. Bravery means doing something scary. Fearlessness means not even understanding what the word ‘scary’ means. If your goal in life is to become fearless, then I believe you’re already on the wrong path, because the only truly fearless people I’ve ever met were straight-up sociopaths and a few exceptionally reckless three-year-olds—and those aren’t good role models for anyone.”
“Basically, your fear is like a mall cop who thinks he’s a Navy SEAL: He hasn’t slept in days, he’s all hopped up on Red Bull, and he’s liable to shoot at his own shadow in an absurd effort to keep everyone ‘safe’.”
“If you can’t learn to travel comfortably alongside your fear, then you’ll never be able to go anywhere interesting or do anything interesting.”
Discomfort, practice, and beginnings
A creative life isn’t always a comfortable life because you’ll constantly be challenged to grow. However, that’s actually where the true beauty of it lies.
“It’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at.”
“Argue for your limitations and you get to keep them.”
“We are all just beginners here, and we shall all die beginners.”
“Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process. The fun part (the part where it doesn’t feel like work at all) is when you’re actually creating something wonderful, and everything’s going great, and everyone loves it, and you’re flying high. But such instances are rare. You don’t just get to leap from bright moment to bright moment. How you manage yourself between those bright moments, when things aren’t going so great, is a measure of how devoted you are to your vocation, and how equipped you are for the weird demands of creative living.”
“People don’t do this kind of thing because they have all kinds of extra time and energy for it; they do this kind of thing because their creativity matters to them enough that they are willing to make all kinds of extra sacrifices for it.”
Failure is a natural, inevitable part of the creative process because creativity is about experimenting. Instead of fearing it, embrace it.
“Fierce trust asks you to stand strong within this truth: You are worthy, dear one, regardless of the outcome. 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.”
“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.”
“Learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is part of the job of a creative person.”
Everyone is born to be creative
If you’ve ever doubted whether you have any or enough creativity inside of you, the answer is: YES.
We are all creative by nature and our creativity can manifest in various ways. And all of our unique perspectives, ideas, and voices have a right to exist in this world. In fact — they need to exist.
“If you’re alive, you’re a creative person.”
“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. Living in this manner — continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you — is a fine art, in and of itself.”
“You have treasures hidden within you — extraordinary treasures — and so do I, and so does everyone around us. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.”
“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.”
Confidence and creativity
Here’s a freeing thought: you don’t have to take it that seriously.
“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.”
“It might have been done before, but it hasn’t been done by you!”
“The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying. We are all the chosen few. We are all makers by design.”
“Often what keeps you from creative living is your self-absorption (your self-doubt, your self-disgust, your self-judgment, your crushing sense of self-protection).”
“Anyhow, the older I get, the less impressed I become with originality. These days, I’m far more moved by authenticity. Attempts at originality can often feel forced and precious, but authenticity has quiet resonance that never fails to stir me.”
“You’re not required to save the world with your creativity. Your art not only doesn’t have to be original, in other words, it also doesn’t have to be important. For example, whenever anyone tells me that they want to write a book in order to help other people I always think ‘Oh, please don’t. Please don’t try to help me.’ I mean it’s very kind of you to help people, but please don’t make it your sole creative motive because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls.”
Be sure to grab your copy of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear if you haven’t yet. Trust me when I say, you need this one on your shelf.