Make or break

Henri Matisse once said, “Creativity takes courage”.

Creative expression means taking an idea that is intensely personal to you, toiling over its transformation into tangible work and sharing it with others – for love or judgement.

Yes, creativity takes courage.

For many people, creative expression is not just a luxury to be enjoyed in free or spare time. Few people truly have spare time. But, when creative expression is the solution to a hyperactive mind, a monochrome routine or a jaded heart, people do find the time.

Are you one of these people?

To me, creative expression is colour, absorption, meditation, productivity and a legacy. Like most people, I wish I had more time for it. But I also think that perhaps its the scarcity of time that makes creative projects so invigorating.

I finally read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book on creativity – “Big Magic”. Gilbert writes about creative living in the amateur sense. She is speaking to you and me – not the “poet who lives on a mountaintop in Greece”. She reminds us that you can live a creative life while living an ordinary life. You can steal time to pursue fulfilling projects, just because or perhaps to generate an income or to build a legacy. Gilbert says that “creative living is simply living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear”.

So how can we live a creative life? Here are the lessons:

  1. Why its worth it – Creative living is worth it because the alternative is to do nothing. We all have ideas and the capacity for inspiration within us. What a pity it would be if fear prevented us from making, building, writing and creating. “Life is short and rare and amazing and miraculous, and you want to do really interesting things and make really interesting things while you’re still here.”
  2. It takes work – Of course it does. Bringing ideas into the light takes “work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion”.
  3. Ideas are living, moving things looking for a human partner – Consider this: inspiration floats around looking for a willing human to take the idea and transform it into being. Gilbert firmly believes this, and shares an example of a time when she neglected a book idea, and the idea ended up leaving her and manifesting in author Ann Patchett. If this story is true, it’s fairly remarkable. If nothing else, this concept of ideas floating around looking for a dutiful partner plants in me a sense of urgency. If inspiration arrives, I must give it the benefit of my attention, or it may give up on me and leave again.
  4. I’m afraid its been done – It doesn’t matter. Nothing has been done exactly as you would do it. Do it anyway, in your own way. Just do.
  5. It’s a lifestyle choice – Don’t complain. It’s annoying. Also you might scare inspiration away. See, I’m really buying into this “ideas are alive” thing!
  6. The reaction doesn’t belong to you – Once you set your creation free into the world, it ceases to belong to you. People will enjoy it, despise it, or even worse, ignore it. You cannot control this. Let it go and keep going.
  7. Success – It may come or it may not. Do it anyway. Don’t expect your creative projects to be easy. Only ask that they be interesting. When I started this blog, I wrote my “About Me” page. In it, I expressed my earnest desire to be both interested and interesting, understanding that I could not be one without the other. This is why I’m here. Nothing more, nothing less.
  8. It’s never too early or too late – Start whenever you decide to start.
  9. Perfectionism – “Perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible and the fun”. Gilbert tells a great story of her first break. Her short story was selected for publication in a popular magazine. The relevant edition lost a key sponsor and had to be reduced in size. The editor offered Elizabeth a choice – to cut the story by 30%, or revoke it, in the hope that it may be picked up in a later edition. I had no idea which option Gilbert would choose. She had described her completed works as “polished granite”, so it was possible she would be hesitant to touch the precious work. Gilbert chose pragmatism over perfection, and cut that story down. What emerged was a different story, no better or worse than the original. The story was published and became her big break. Gilbert reminds us to remain adaptable – they’re just words, after all.
  10. Beware the tortured artist trap – Gilbert laments the popular myth that artists and creative types somehow have a license to be dysfunctional, on the basis that their dysfunction must form an elemental part of their creativity. Contrary to this popular cliche, health and stability are actually far more conducive to creative productivity. Gilbert says that when she is unhappy she can feel her “creative angels retreating” – “It’s almost as if they’re saying, ‘Lady, please – hold it together! We’ve got so much more work to do!'”
  11. Time – There is never time, but there is always time.

Are you inspired? Or just inspired to lie down? Yes it seems like work. But, it’s worth it. We can spend all of our days consuming other people’s ideas and creations. Or, we could spend a handful of those days creating something of our own. In doing so we will gain behind-the-scenes insights and a collegiate appreciation for elegant examples of our craft. We may also make something worth keeping.

“The clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.”

What treasures are hiding within you? Maybe it’s time to find out.

Book(s): Gilbert, E. (2015), Big Magic, Bloomsbury. 

Thought Leader(s): Elizabeth Gilbert

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