Don’t have a creative bone in your body? Codswallop. So says Elizabeth Gilbert, author to several literary gems including the especially sparkly Eat Pray Love. In 2015, Liz thrust another jewel into our hands – Big Magic – a guide to “creative living beyond fear” that reads like tough love from a dear, witty friend who insists you get to making something. Anything. Bring out the brushes, baking trays or, as one of Liz’s friends does, the ice-skates. Something holding you back? Let’s hear it.
“I have no talent”
Liz sang this tune throughout the majority of her childhood. But, thankfully, Mum wasn’t having a bar of it. “I spent years pushing back against my mother’s unshakeable faith in my strength and abilities,” she shares. “Then one day, somewhere in adolescence, I finally realised that this was a really weird battle for me to be fighting. Defending my weakness? That’s seriously the hill I want to die on?” As the saying goes: ‘Argue for your limitations and you get to keep them.’”
“I’m just not creative”
You are, actually. But you might be on to something in not needing to admit it. Calling someone ‘creative’ is “laughably redundant”, according to Liz, who deems creativity a trait so inherent that it’s completely unavoidable. “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,” she writes. “If you’re alive, you’re a creative person.”
“But someone else already did it”
Originality shouldn’t be your focus (or concern). Try authenticity, instead. As Liz points out, Shakespeare pretty much penned every story line, but that didn’t stop centuries of writers whipping them out over and over again. “Everything reminds us of something. But once you put your own expression and passion behind an idea, that idea becomes yours…” promises Liz. “Share whatever you are driven to share. If it’s authentic enough, believe me – it will feel original.”
“My work won’t be important”
Steady on there, Superman. Listen to Liz: “You are not required to save the world with your creativity.” Pressure’s off! Your art need not move mountains. “Whenever anybody tells me they want to write a book in order to help other people, I always think, Oh, please don’t…” Liz begs. “Your own reasons to create are reason enough.” Here’s a delicious opportunity to be selfish, so take it!
“But I’m not trained in anything”
Neither was Vincent van Gogh. And when it comes to Liz’s chosen craft, she’s not convinced that we need officially credentialed novelists. “History seems to agree with me on this point. Twelve North American writers have won the Nobel Prize in Literature since 1901: Not one of them had an MFA [Master of Fine Arts]. Four of them never even got past high school.”
“It won’t make money”
So don’t ask it to. Liz kept her day jobs (we’re talking waitressing and working on a ranch in Wyoming) until her fourth book – and that was freaking Eat Pray Love. “To yell at your creativity, saying, ‘You must earn money for me!’ is sort of like yelling at a cat,” she writes. “It has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that.” Don’t do that.
“I don’t have time”
“You know how people who are having extramarital affairs always seem to manage to find time to see each other in order to have wild, transgressive sex?” asks Liz. “It doesn’t seem to matter if those people have full-time jobs and families at home to support; they still somehow always manage to find the time to sneak off and see their lover.” Get hot for your creativity. Go on. How about a dirty weekend? Or even a sneaky five minutes on the stairwell…
“But what if everyone hates it?”
Here’s the thing. You have zero control over other people’s response to your art. “Recognising this reality – that the reaction doesn’t belong to you – is the only sane way to create.” If they like it, great. They don’t get it? Too bad. And if haters be hatin’, Liz gives you permission to “smile sweetly and suggest – as politely as you possibly can – that they go make their own f**king art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.”