Make your creativity work for you.
Creativity is like Bertie Bott’s every flavor beans, a risk with every mouthful.
“You want to be careful with those. When they say every flavour, they mean every flavour — you know, you get all the ordinary ones like chocolate and peppermint and marmalade, but then you can get spinach and liver and tripe. George reckons he had a bogey flavoured one once.”
With every new creation, you dare to eat another Bertie Bott. Even with a solid idea-to-paper process, your creativity will surprise you. You feel moody, surprised, vulnerable, depressed, and enthusiastic while writing the same paragraph. The dynamics make creative work harder than cognitive work, but you can learn to play with it.
Elizabeth Gilbert chewed more Bertie Botts than most of us. She’s been a writer for almost three decades and the personification of a self-made creative-genius. If you read her books about chasing happiness, 19th-century botany, and sexual liberation in the 40s, you’ll see nothing but growth.
From 2007 to 2019, her writing style and content depth drastically evolved. And, lucky for us, her 2015 book takes us through her insights on creativity. Here they are.
“When courage dies, creativity dies with it.”
Fear is part of any creative process. You might fear your lack of talent, inspiration, professionalism, experience. You might fear other people’s opinions, or, even worse, your own judgment. You might fear you’re too old or too young to start. See? Fear is intertwined with creativity.
“Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome,” Gilbert writes. “In fact, it seems to me that my fear and my creativity are basically conjoined twins — as evidenced by the fact that creativity cannot take a single step forward without fear marching right alongside it.”
You don’t need to be fearless to strive for your creative endeavors. But don’t let fear take the lead. Gilbert uses a car metaphor to describe the role of fear: “You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote.”
Courage isn’t the opposite of fear. Courage is to feel fear but risk it anyway.
“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.”
Focusing on things outside of your control will leave you frustrated. You can’t influence how people react to your work. It’s pointless to measure your worth by external reactions, like monetary rewards, audience reach, or editor opinions.
All you can influence is your creative process.
Focus on the dedication to your path. Or, as Gilbert writes, “work with all your heart, because — I promise — if you show up for your work, day after day after day after day, you just might get lucky enough some random morning to burst right into bloom.”
When we look at the work of successful writers, we only see the tip of the iceberg. We envy other writer’s success but don’t look at the dedicated work they’ve done for years. We admire the great works of George R.R. Martin and Stephen King but forget how even they still struggle through the hard work of the creative process.
You have to stick to your path, even if you’ve achieved your definition of success.
“Most of my writing life consists of nothing more than unglamorous, disciplined labor. I sit at my desk, and I work like a farmer, and that’s how it gets done,” Gilbert writes. “No matter how great your teachers may be, and no matter how esteemed your academy’s reputation, eventually you will have to do the work by yourself.”
See? There’s no magic. No fast track. You have to drag yourself through ups and downs and eventually, just do the work.
Don’t wait for inspiration to strike you. Measure your progress by your dedication to writing. Inspiration and fear will join you along the way.
“Most things have already been done — but they have not yet been done by you.”
I remember my writing coach’s words, Sinem Günel, who told me a harsh truth in one of our first coaching sessions. Unless I’m a scientific researcher, she said, I shouldn’t expect to create any groundbreaking work.
While I first felt offended — I wanted to innovate education with every written word — this also took away the pressure.
You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. All you need is to describe your experiences with the wheel and how it can benefit others.
As Gilbert put it: “Once you put your own expression and passion behind an idea, that idea becomes yours. Authenticity beats originality. While the latter often feels like an extraneous attempt to create something new, authenticity brings an inner serenity that creates calm resonance with your readers.”
Every great writer imitates before they find their own voice. Saying what you want to say is the definition of authenticity. Don’t worry about the degree of innovation.
This is what artist Austin Kleon meant when he wrote, “Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.”
“Debt will always be the abattoir of creative dreams.”
Creativity works best when there’s no pressure attached to it. Your inspiration creeps away when it feels the burden to feed a household. Plus, worries don’t go well with your creative flow.
To make creativity work for you, you’re better off keeping a job that can pay your bills.
Elizabeth committed to becoming a writer in her early twenties. Yet, she didn’t go to an expensive school to learn to write. Instead, she made a living on jobs like bartending, tutoring, flea-marketing, or waitressing. And meanwhile, she wrote every day throughout her twenties.
“I held on to my day jobs for so long because I wanted to keep my creativity free and safe,” she writes. “I knew better than to ask this of my writing because, over the years, I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills. ”
Don’t drive your creativity away by relying on monetary rewards too early in your career. Instead, have a job that pays you bills while you create without monetary pressure.
“Learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is part of the job of a creative person.”
Almost any creator can relate to the disappointing feeling after a rejection. But turndowns are part of any creative journey. If one creates with courage, one will face refusal again and again.
Elizabeth writes that she stacked all her rejection letters in one place. Every time she got a rejection from a publisher, she sent a new application at the same time: Whenever I got those rejection letters, then, I would permit my ego to say aloud to whoever had signed it: “You think you can scare me off? I’ve got another eighty years to wear you down!”
If you want to unleash your creative potential, you have to see rejection as part of the process. If you dare to reach high, hearing a lot of no’s is unavoidable. By playing the long-term game, you can stick to the process.
“The world is filled with too many unfinished manuscripts as it is, and I didn’t want to add another one to that bottomless pile. So no matter how much I thought my work stank, I had to persist,” Gilbert writes. “You try and try and try, and nothing works. But you keep trying, and you keep seeking, and then sometimes, in the least expected place and time, it finally happens.”
Generalizing creative writing advice is hard since every brain works differently. What is good for Elizabeth Gilbert might not have the same benefits for you.
And while these five insights have been useful to my creative journey, they might be useless for someone who’s at a different stage of their creative process.
But if your goal is to create great content, support others, share your knowledge and struggles, and eventually make money online, these five pearls of wisdom can help.
- Courage means to feel fear but risk it anyway.
- Measure your success by the dedication to your path.
- Authenticity beats originality.
- Create without monetary pressure.
- Endure disappointment and keep on trying.
Creative work is like Bertie Bott’s beans. But if you dare to eat them despite your fear, one day after another, you’re on your journey towards your best creative self. In the words of Gilbert:
“The essential ingredients for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust — and those elements are universally accessible.”
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