“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all. We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. We are terrified, and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us. Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise—you can make anything. So please calm down now and get back to work, okay? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.” -Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic.
My Woman Crush Wednesday is Elizabeth Gilbert. I know it’s Tuesday but I want to write this now and she of all people would tell me to just do it.
I’m a week into (sort of) blogging every day and already I’m thinking, what’s the point, no one wants to read that much content from one person. But one thing I’ve learned from Elizabeth Gilbert both through an interview on NPR and her book Big Magic is that you have to release the stories, ideas inside of you to be happy. It’s kind of like throwing up after eating the equivalent of an entire pineapple and a half. It might feel bad coming out but once it is you feel so much better.
There’s also no way I can keep up with the original graphics I want to use and still do a good job, so prepare for a slew of mediocre graphics. I’m not branding them because I’m proud of them, I’m branding them so people come back here, ha. Feel free to cringe away but read on.
I have absolutely no shortage of ideas. Screenplays, musicals, blog posts, listicles, t-shirt designs, documentaries, songs, research projects, photo journalism ideas, etc. Anyone who say ideas are the hard part is wrong…or they should hire me to come up with ideas for them. When I sit down or set out to do anything I feel a chill go through my body and a feral weasel doing flips in my chest. It doesn’t matter how excited I am or how much I believe in a project. It’s hard. “It’s hard, it’s totally hard.” (there’s a song for that from Something Rotten).
“Let me list for you some of the many ways in which you might be afraid to live a more creative life: You’re afraid you have no talent. You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or—worst of all—ignored. You’re afraid there’s no market for your creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it. You’re afraid somebody else already did it better. You’re afraid everybody else already did it better.
You’re afraid somebody will steal your ideas, so it’s safer to keep them hidden forever in the dark. You’re afraid you won’t be taken seriously. You’re afraid your work isn’t politically, emotionally, or artistically important enough to change anyone’s life.
You’re afraid your dreams are embarrassing. You’re afraid that someday you’ll look back on your creative endeavors as having been a giant waste of time, effort, and money. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of discipline.
You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of work space, or financial freedom, or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of training or degree. You’re afraid you’re too fat. (I don’t know what this has to do with creativity, exactly, but experience has taught me that most of us are afraid we’re too fat, so let’s just put that on the anxiety list, for good measure.)
You’re afraid of being exposed as a hack, or a fool, or a dilettante, or a narcissist. You’re afraid of upsetting your family with what you may reveal. You’re afraid of what your peers and coworkers will say if you express your personal truth aloud. You’re afraid of unleashing your innermost demons, and you really don’t want to encounter your innermost demons.
You’re afraid your best work is behind you. You’re afraid you never had any best work to begin with. You’re afraid you neglected your creativity for so long that now you can never get it back. You’re afraid you’re too old to start. You’re afraid you’re too young to start.
You’re afraid because something went well in your life once, so obviously nothing can ever go well again. You’re afraid because nothing has ever gone well in your life, so why bother trying? You’re afraid of being a one-hit wonder. You’re afraid of being a no-hit wonder.”
I’m sure AT LEAST one of those reasons rang true to you. A lot of them ring true for me, especially the section I bolded. It’s especially ridiculous to think this because I’ve seen so many people be successful in following their dreams. In Provo, there are so many people who I know personally or have heard speak that make their dreams come true.
It’s ridiculous for me to fear being vulnerable and being open because those are the kinds of stories that I personally like to read best. They’re real and they’re raw. We love it when celebrities trip when they go to accept awards because it proves for a second that they are real. We want to see people without makeup and in messy rooms.
Honestly, it makes sense why the Beatles and other artists did so many drugs. If you can cut off that apprehension and be uninhibited you can create great art. I do not recommend drugs as that’s also how we’ve lost too many artists too early. I also don’t think ignoring fear is the answer. Elizabeth Gilbert treats fear as a part of the process instead of something to constantly try and eradicate. You can’t get rid of it. Fear is not going anywhere so you have to work with it. In her book she says, “It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes, too.”
I’m trying to learn how to work with fear. Something I learned along my journey with anxiety was to try and be grateful. “Thanks, anxiety, I know you’re trying to keep me safe from getting hurt, but we really have to leave the house today…You know, you’re right, there is a chance we could die anytime we get in a car, but let’s try it anyway.” I believe that we’re not supposed to just “get over” hard stuff, we’re supposed to wield it for our advantage.
When it comes to creativity, you tell fear to take a back seat. It can still come along but it is not the co-pilot. “Hey fear, thanks for the heads up about how I could fail horribly, I might have to be super vulnerable, I might offend people, or maybe no one will even care and I’ll ‘waste a lot of time’ but you know, if I don’t try I’m going to develop a creativity ulcer. This thought I have is going to literally burn through my stomach lining if I don’t get it on paper somewhere.”
Another big point Elizabeth makes in Big Magic is if you don’t act on an idea it will leave you and find someone else. I think we’ve all had this happen before. It doesn’t feel good because it feels like someone “steals” your idea. But it’s not stealing if you never really created it. Ideas want to be made. If you don’t do it they’re going to find someone who will.
One bad side effect I personally developed from the film program I went through was: If you make a mistake, you fail, and if you fail you are bad. This is a creativity killer. It’s also a soul crusher. Watch out for anything that starts crushing your soul. Creating is hard and sometimes painful, sometimes it cuts like a knife, but it shouldn’t crush your soul. Don’t let it.
Don’t let people, even people in a position of supposed power or experience tell you that you can learn without making mistakes. Do not let them tell you you are bad because you made an honest mistake. If you did it on purpose it wouldn’t be a mistake and if you didn’t do it on purpose then you’re not a jerk.
Art should be a little messy and imperfect. Otherwise we would have computers do it.
Do learn from people who have more experience than you.
Don’t assume people who have more experience know everything.
Don’t let them tell you what kind of story you can and can’t tell. Seriously, eff that (sorry for the language, mom). Make what you want and they can love it or leave it.
Do not let anyone convince you to tell any story but your own. Even if your own story doesn’t seem to be what’s popular.
Don’t try and tell someone else’s story…unless they’re paying you a lot of money to do so. This doesn’t mean everything has to be autobiographical, but you have to own it in some way or it will feel forced.
Do not let them tell you you have to do things a certain way, because if they are successful they probably are because they did something different
Let them tell you you won’t be successful and then be successful anyway.
Do not measure creative success by how many views or how many copies sold. Elizabeth wrote a handful of books and has written a handful since Eat, Pray, Love and doesn’t agree that popularity defines what is her greatest work.
The guys who made La La Land were trying to tell that story for six years. People are like, “no one likes musicals” and then they make one and an overwhelming amount of people like it. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m assuming it’s because it was honest.
“Don’t let fear of failure discourage you. Don’t let the voice of critics paralyze you—whether that voice comes from the outside or the inside.” -Dieter F. Uchtdorf
“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.”
I like to say that writing a blog is like writing a letter, putting it in a bottle and throwing it into the ocean. Either no one will read it, or someone in another part of the world will read it and possibly enjoy it. The important thing is to get it out before you develop an ulcer or go insane. I personally love reading what people have to think, because people are fascinating. In 7th grade I forced all my friends to get “sites” (this was before they were called blogs) so we could all write together. It was great and we literally just wrote about our love of puppies and the cast of Harry Potter/Lord of the Rings/Pirates of the Caribbean. Life-changing? No. Endearing and 100% heartfelt and honest? Yes.
In sum, whether you’re a creative or just someone who is alive, I REALLY recommend Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Even with all the quotes from her I shared I didn’t even get to share all my favorite parts.