Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, is a polarizing figure. Some even consider her whiny and self-indulgent. But I find her refreshingly honest, amusing and inspiring – especially her advice on cultivating a healthy relationship with creativity.
I’d like to share a few pointers I gleaned from her newest work of nonfiction, Big Magic. Anyone with even a glimmer of creative curiosity can take these nuggets to heart.
- Get friendly with fear. Because creativity leads to uncertain outcomes, fear almost always shows up at some point: fear of having your ideas criticized, fear of seeing your content fall flat with your target audience or fear that your cheeky social media post will backfire and create a brand crisis, for example.
There are no shortage of occasions for fear to creep in and hold you back. But if you try to fight that fear away, your creative focus will slip quietly out the back door. Instead, Gilbert’s advice is to get more comfortable coexisting with fear in creative endeavors. In other words, you can let fear tag along on your creative road trip, but don’t let it backseat drive you off the road.
- Don’t take inspiration for granted. We’ve all felt that tingly, adrenaline-laced sensation that comes with hatching an idea, or building upon an idea hatched by one of our peers. It’s a great feeling, right? And what makes it feel so great is the fact that it’s not always there. Inspiration cannot be summoned on demand, and it will not be bullied into serving us ideas. We should view inspiration, Gilbert says, as a partner or companion in our creation of something interesting.
Inspiration will be there for us more often if we agree to a few ground rules: a) receive ideas with respect and curiosity, b) allow ourselves to be pleased with our creations, and, my personal favorite, c) accept projects gone awry as constructive experiments (because we’ve all been there!).
- Don’t wait for permission. If you find yourself waiting for the right project, the right title or the right training to become more creative, stop waiting. You were born with everything you need to be creative.
“To even call someone ‘a creative person’ is almost laughably redundant,’” Gilbert reminds us, “because creativity is the hallmark of our species.” You don’t have to look past Instagram or Etsy.com for proof that we, as a species, are programmed to create. But while you don’t need specialized creds to live up to your creative potential, you do need to believe you’re allowed to have a voice and vision of your own.
And – this is important – do not confuse having your own voice with being completely original. Why? Because originality is overrated. “Most things have already been done and most ideas have already been had,” says Gilbert. “There is bound to be repetition in creative instinct … but once you put your own perspective and energy behind an idea, that idea becomes your own.”
- Acknowledge the dangers of perfectionism. It has taken me nearly 34 years to grasp that nothing we do or create is beyond criticism, and that perfecting is, therefore, a colossal waste of time.
My new idol, Brené Brown, taught me that perfectionism is a behavioral shield we use to protect ourselves from shame and pain — and, more dangerously, a belief that we are capable of protecting ourselves in such a way. Perfectionism has the potential to crush our creative spirits by forcing us to toil tirelessly after something that doesn’t exist.
So, next time you catch yourself sitting on a design, a writing project or a tweet, try repeating this mantra: Good is better than perfect, and done is better than good. Remember that someone will always find fault with your work, but at some point you have to release your work as is, so that, as Gilbert says, “you can move forward with a glad and determined heart.”