Experience six steps for living creatively

Book review

“Big Magic: Creative Living beyond Fear” is Elizabeth Gilbert’s introduction of creativity and inspiration in her life.

Drawn from her TED talks, Facebook page discussions and Etsy collaboration, Gilbert has six steps for living creatively.

Her approach is, in many ways, iconoclastic. At times I stopped to simply let the words soak in, particularly when they challenged my own, and society’s, closely and long-held ideas of how creativity functions.

The sum of her approach is to simply do the work. It doesn’t have to be good as long as you enjoy it.

Reading this book is like sitting with Gilbert over coffee (or maybe a whiskey) and becoming a conduit, or a benevolent co-conspirator, for pursuing an inspired life.

Courage is the first step 

Gilbert proclaims that we, as human beings, are innately creative. Creativity can require courage to step beyond our false stories of ourselves as mere technicians, to step outside expectations of ourselves and to embrace even the smallest measure of what brings us joy.

She shares a story of a woman who returns to figure skating after many years, abandoned as an adolescent when she realized she wasn’t talented enough to pursue skating professionally.

The woman did not go on to hire a coach, and at 40, become a champion. Rather, she simply skates a few mornings a week because of the joy it brings her.

That is enough.

Finding that thing — be it a sport, painting, baking, gardening, writing, music — that brings us that deep joy is what living creatively means to Gilbert.
Courage is required to pursue what pleases us, regardless of the goal or outcome.

Step two is enchantment

Gilbert delightfully posits that ideas are conscious, invisible entities that drift about the world in search of human partners for their manifestation.

She admits this is not rational, and presents her own experience of feeling inspiration, and the experiences of a few other writers. In these cases, inspiration does seem, indeed, like magic.

This idea of enchantment is similar to the sense of wonder other creatives describe as the spark to creative action.

Permission is part three

Permission to create, permission to fail, permission to act. All different types of permission addressing the objections of the potential creative life.

Permission to be creative, Gilbert notes, is essentially unnecessary, because creative acts are our due as human beings. Gilbert touches on the concept of entitlement, re-framing the contemporary negative associations with the idea that, “you are allowed to be here.” Allowed to exist, therefore allowed to create.

Gilbert insists that education in one’s chosen field is not necessary. This is one point in which the reader may stop and disagree, but her reasoning is clear. Debt isn’t necessary for creativity. Peer groups may be found outside
scholastic settings.

Persistence is next

This is the part when inspiration has flitted off to the other ears and minds, and one must carry on.

This is the hard work that allows inspiration to flow through when it does arrive. Gilbert claims that imperfection is fine and expected. There will always be a part of any life that takes slogging through the muck. “Done is better than good,” she writes, emphasizing self-discipline to completion,
without demanding perfection.

Then comes a healthy life

Gilbert refuses to accept the notion that all great art, or any art, must come from a place of suffering.

How many times have we heard that we can’t create because we haven’t suffered enough? Or how many artists, musicians and actors have we seen pursue destructive behaviors and relationships because they believe it will make them better creators?

Gilbert rejects this notion, even saying she can have drama in her life, or write drama (fiction), but never both. Creativity does not require self-destruction. It is co-creation with inspiration as partner. She persists that a “sane and healthy” life are the best
foundation for a creative one.

Lastly, there is divinity

She recounts the intermingling of sacred and non-sacred dances in Bali, noting that all creativity is sacred, and it is all mundane. She acknowledges the paradoxes in what she says throughout the book, but concludes that living this way is achievable, full of personal riches and worth it.

Rose Peacock is a technician at Cook Memorial Library.

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