Unlike most of the women in America, I wasn’t particularly interested in reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-seller Eat Pray Love. What little I knew of it just didn’t grab me. But I found in her latest book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear a new way of looking at creativity. Gilbert talks about inspiration as she would about a friend. When inspiration comes a-calling, it is incumbent upon a creative person to welcome it. And do whatever it takes to bring the idea to fruition.
Gilbert divides her book into six sections: Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, and Divinity.
Gilbert relates that as a child she was afraid of virtually everything. At age 15, she discovered that fear was, well, boring. She cautions that creativity does not, however, require fearlessness. We need fear, but we also need to be brave enough to overcome it.
Gilbert sees ideas as a life form that have a will to become manifest. For that to happen, they need a human collaborator. An idea may try to attract your attention, but you may miss its arrival or circumstances may not be right for you to embrace it. Embracing it does not involve suffering. Instead, Gilbert says, cooperate with both joyfulness and discipline.
Don’t bother asking permission from anyone. Do what you want to do. We make things because we want to make things; humans always have. The arts don’t belong to just a chosen few. Live the most vivid life you can. Declare your intent. You are entitled. Your art doesn’t have to save the world.
Whatever you practice, you will get better at. And it’s never too late to start that practice. Gilbert says the question to ask yourself is: “What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?” But keep your day job too. For ages, people have taken care of themselves and their creativity.
Being an artist does not mean you have to be an addict, an alcoholic, or otherwise messed up. The persona of a Tortured Artist is often used to excuse bad behavior. Trust love over suffering. Believe that your work loves you as much as you love it. If you don’t know what your passion is, follow your curiosity.
In the end, creativity is a paradox. It is sacred and not sacred. It matters and it doesn’t. It is a chore and a privilege. Make space for these paradoxes, Gilbert assures us, and we can make anything.