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big magic 1

Steve gifted me Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert at the end of last year. I finished reading it a few weeks ago and Gilbert’s words on creative living have stuck with me in a way I can only describe as validating and energizing.

Generally speaking, I felt creatively stagnant last year. Some of it had to do with nearing the end of an extensive renovation with no desire to move right away or invent projects just for the sake of blogging. Some of it had to do with Everett’s accident and all the legal, financial and mental repercussions that followed. A lot of it had to do with my struggle to figure out where this space goes after it’s served its purpose as a place to share our downsizing/renovation story. Whatever the reasons, I didn’t write, photograph, create, paint, play around and share enough to satiate my creative side. As a result, my creative muscles atrophied and I felt a little lost.

But after reading Big Magic, I’m finding my way. I’ve come to realize that squeezing creativity into my everyday life is essential to my happiness. I need it to thrive. Maybe you can relate? Here are five key takeaways from the book that are inspiring me to live a more creative life this year.

1. Change your definition of creative living. Gilbert defines creative living as “a life driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” It’s shaping your world exactly to your liking and uncovering your hidden talents. It doesn’t have to be your career. In fact, formal education isn’t always necessary. Sometimes, it’s even crippling because school debt places an emphasis on financial success.

Gilbert gives the example of a middle-aged friend waking up early a few mornings each week to spend time at the ice rink, revisiting her childhood love of figure skating. Creative living isn’t always as obvious as the writer shacked up in a secluded cabin by a lake working on her next novel or the artist brushing paint onto a canvas in his backyard studio. Creative living looks different to different people. And that’s okay!

2. You don’t need permission to live a creative life. You’re allowed to be curious. You’re allowed to try new things. You’re allowed to make things just because you like making things. (You’re also allowed to NOT make things because you don’t enjoy making things.) It’s in your DNA to make things and that’s really all the permission you need. How freeing is that?!

3. Forget perfect. Done is good enough. If you seek only flawless performances or perfect works of art, you won’t create or share anything. And that, by definition, is not creative living because fear is trumping your curiosity. (see #1)

4. The outcome cannot matter. You can’t take creative living too seriously. After all, it’s just trying, learning or making stuff. It’s NOT a baby. (I’ve always found it odd when people describe their creative work this way.) You don’t have to save the world. You don’t have to find some untapped niche. You just have to like it. You can like it because it’s fun, fascinating, healing, sanity-saving or just plain ol’ frivolous. And sharing what you do or make without expectations is the only sane way to create. The peanut gallery’s reaction doesn’t belong to you.

5. Curiosity is the secret. You aren’t creative because you have the luxury of extra time and energy. There is no magic fairy dust. There is hard work, persistence and lifelong learning. You do and make new things because it matters to you enough that you’re willing to give up some sleep, money, TV, exercise, socializing, etc. As long as curiosity is fueling your work, you will be able to get through the shitty parts.

Have you read Big Magic? Did any particular idea(s) strike you as inspiring or change the way you think about creative living? I, for one, am listening to my curiosity now more than ever. I’m excited to see, learn, try and make so many new (to me) things without being bogged down by reactions that are beyond my control. If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts. If creativity and curiosity are tugging at your heart strings, it’s a must-read.

image: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

42 Comments

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book, I’ve been a little out of sync lately with my creative ways and feel the need for some new inspiration, maybe this book will do the trick!

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05.March.2016

Yes on all counts!! Living with curiosity not fear is what I’ve realized I can share through my own artwork, after a solid year spent thinking about why I create and why it matters. My creative impulse is not driven by saving the world or being unique, and I’ve always resisted presenting my art that way. But now that I’m planning on making a living as an artist, those questions keep coming up. My lifetime philosophy as an artist has always been “I make stuff because I enjoy it” but in the past year (back in college!) I’ve tried to push myself farther towards exactly why it’s so important to me, and why it might be important to others. As long as I had a day job, I felt that “I like to make art” was a good enough answer. But now that my art is going to be my primary communication with the world, I feel like I need a clearer and more specific sense of purpose. Do you have any thoughts on dealing with that, as a creative professional vs. personal creativity?

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05.March.2016

“You don’t have to save the world. You don’t have to find some untapped niche. You just have to like it.”

This is great advice!

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05.March.2016

My response to your entry today was – YES! So I think I need to read this book. I spent years NOT exercising my creative side because I was raising kids and just trying to get sleep and time to shower. I ended up feeling miserable and out of touch with myself. I finally starting “making stuff” the past few years and I realized that it makes me feel alive! It is hard to find the time but its so worth it. It feels like the way back to myself after getting lost taking care of everyone else. Thanks for your post – I’m excited to read Big Magic :)

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05.March.2016

” If you seek only flawless performances or perfect works of art, you won’t create or share anything.:
Striving for absolute perfection will stunt growth. But you should also not allow yourself to be sloppy.

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05.March.2016

I have this book on my table from the library and need to start reading it! Can’t wait! I have loved a few of her other books. I believe I need some creativity in my day to be happy as well. On a side note, I sent you an email an wasn’t sure if it went through.

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replied on March 7th, 2016

I did get it and your question is a frequent one that pops up in my inbox! Mind if I answer in the form of a blog post since I think many readers have the same question?

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06.March.2016

Thanks for introducing me to the book. I’m not quite finished with it yet but one idea I thought was really intriguing was that ideas are their own entity and they’ll visit people until they find the right person. Looking at things that way helps take the pressure off of feeling like to do anything you need to be a creative genius. Thanks for sharing all your creativity and projects. I’ve read your blog for years. I love what you do.

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06.March.2016

I have only just started the book, but am loving the reviews I’ve read online, including this one. I’m kind of on a different train of experience, as I haven’t really viewed myself as a creative-type; however, the past year I’ve realized that I actually am and a big part of my frustrations (including anxieties) in life stem from me not pursuing creativity in any sort of facet. I’ve come to identify that I most naturally want to create with interior design, and I also want to go back to old loves from my growing up: dance and art. Not having a celebrated “end product” has held me back for over a decade, and I’m in the process of trying to stop that thinking and just try for the sake of trying. Anyway, long-time reader here just to say, thank you for sharing what you have throughout a difficult year. Your creative journey has largely inspired my own and I’m looking forward to seeing what you do!

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replied on March 7th, 2016

Reconsidering the the definition of creative living is profound!

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06.March.2016

Check out the podcast too, it’s amazing! I listen to it over and over. http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/magic-lessons/

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replied on March 7th, 2016

Will do! Thanks for the link.

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06.March.2016

This is the next book on my to-read list. I can’t wait – my creative side has been dying to get out so I hope this will inspire me to take the time to do it.

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06.March.2016

Dana, I have slowly been reading this book since I received it for Christmas. I have so many post it notes on several pages it is hard for me to chose just one part to share with you. I am an artist who primarily paints & I had heard so many fellow artists speak highly of the book I thought I must read it.
page 195 is spot on. I totally connect with these words. After trying & trying it is such a feeling when your ideas connect & that magic happens.

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07.March.2016

I wholeheartedly agree. The book has stayed with me since I read it, and has given me the courage to continue on my path of curiosity. I included it on my top 3 books of 2015:
http://www.theoutsideandin.com/top-3-books-i-read-in-2015/

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replied on March 7th, 2016

Such a great list! I’m adding the other two you mentioned to my reading list. I absolutely LOVED Ken Robinson’s TED talk on creativity. It was one of many things that influenced our decision to send our oldest to a local Montessori school a few years ago. If anyone else wants to check it out, I’m providing the direct link here…

https://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity

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I’m so happy I read this beautiful post on Monday morning. I will carry these words with me all week, thank you Dana!

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replied on March 7th, 2016

:)

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07.March.2016

Oh wow, I TOTALLY GET IT and I think that this book is a must-read for me!!!!! I get so depressed if I’m not living creatively and I finally get that about myself…
Thank you so much for this…
Leah: )

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07.March.2016

OH YES.

I was lucky enough to see Elizabeth Gilbert speak back in September and her words about living creatively really resonated with me. So glad you read the book and draw inspiration from it!

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07.March.2016

Good for you I am so glad you are finding your way. I noticed the difference in your voice this year. I hope you find the perfect place. There is no such thing as perfect.:)

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replied on March 8th, 2016

Really?! You’ve noticed a difference?

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replied on March 8th, 2016

Yes, especially after your son’s accident. The frequency of you posting has also slowed a great deal.

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replied on March 8th, 2016

Yes, the less frequent posting has been two-fold: 1) no more big projects to share 2) my attention has been focused on my family out of necessity. I always wonder, would readers like to see more frequent posting of smaller, even off-topic, projects just for the sake of more frequent posting? Maybe I should post what’s grabbing my attention at the moment? I’d love to hear any feedback on that.

replied on March 8th, 2016

I knew that, raising three kids is a job in itself and come first. You post it, I will read it. What ever the subject. If time allows. No such thing as off topic.

replied on March 9th, 2016

I appreciate the feedback.

replied on March 9th, 2016

Thanks for asking. I quit getting emails telling me you responded. Any idea why? Now I have to come look. Good new post. Great compliment indeed. This blog is about more than a house it is about a Family too, which is what makes it a home. :)

replied on March 9th, 2016

Ever since I “upgraded” to this WordPress version, the comment section has been jacked up. It’s a known issue with WP, so I’m hoping the next update fixes the bug! So sorry for the inconvenience.

07.March.2016

Thanks for this post! I keep hearing about this book but now I really want to devote reading time to it. I’m a creative to my core, but fight the goal of perfection. It’s fun to know there are so many of us in the world. :)

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replied on March 8th, 2016

Oh perfection, you unattainable thing.

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07.March.2016

I’m teaching myself to sew and I’m brimming with the seemingly endless possibilities of what I want to make and really struggling with not being able to execute all of the things swirling around my brain. Sometimes I wish I could just quit my job and sew all day long without interruption! I also really struggle in finding the balance between finding enough time to pursue my personal interests without feeling like I am short changing my family and neglecting my kids (feels selfish to pursue my interests), even though I know these things bring me joy and make me feel better. I’m trying to include them in my interests, but its tough. The three year old is not such a good listener which makes working around things that can injure tricky. ;)

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07.March.2016

I still haven’t read this book despite the fact that creative people keep recommending it. I need to do it!

Did you listen to the podcast on creativity and the brain? Fascinating!

http://www.onbeing.org/program/rex-jung-creativity-and-the-everyday-brain/1879

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08.March.2016

Dana,

Thank you for the recommendation! Loss of my creative motivation was a BIG reason why I decided to retire early two years ago. Now, even though I’m busy with volunteering and other projects, I can select the activities that will loosen my creativity. I figure if I’m happy and motivated then I will bring that to others. And never feel as though you have to blog every day. You are doing great work here and your blog is undoubtedly “new” to someone different each day. Relax and enjoy what you have created.

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08.March.2016

I borrowed the library’s copy and loved it so much that I bought my own. It’s one I will read and read again. And I second the Magic Lessons podcast suggestion. If you liked the book, you will enjoy the podcast for sure.

The thought that an idea or creative notion is its own entity searching for the person willing to bring it to fruition–I found that beautiful. We are not creating from scratch. We are surrounded by creativity, and we are outlets for it. And creating just for the act of creating, even if no one but you sees it, I think is really important because it takes the pressure off. Why do we feel this weight to make every creation or idea perfect? That can be paralyzing to say the least. But if we just create simply because we love to and feel the need to–that is freeing.

Feel inspired, create your thing, put it out in the world or keep it for yourself. Do it because you feel driven to do it because to do otherwise is not honoring yourself. I personally found all of those notions very inspiring.

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08.March.2016

I agree with other readers, I have definitely noticed a difference in your voice this year. I love the way in which the blog is headed, each post is a breath of fresh air. I also admire how you’ve maintained a solid vision towards doing things you love and are passionate about… even if they don’t necessarily award you large monetary gains. :)

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replied on March 9th, 2016

I really appreciate your thoughts, Natalee. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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09.March.2016

I read Big Magic and loved it! It so inspired me to get off my butt and work on my screenplay. She also has a podcast of 12 episodes bases on the book that I just started listening to.

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replied on March 9th, 2016

12?! I need to check them out.

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replied on March 10th, 2016

I have started to listen to podcasts lately. I also like a few from NPR and happier with Gretchen Rubin who wrote the book, The Happiness Project.

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10.March.2016

This is why I knit! Not only is it “productive meditation”, it’s a great creative outlet and you get to play with all sorts of yummy fibers and BEAUTIFUL colours. I am otherwise a pretty impatient person, but I am inspired daily by my knitting projects and power through them because I can’t wait to see how a certain pattern will turn out in a certain yarn.

So if you’re looking for a new hobby… ;)

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11.March.2016

It’s so interesting to read this blog post because I recently read Big Magic and thought about what an awesome example YOU ARE of Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice. Technically you gave up your day job, but you supplanted it with being the primary care giver for 3 children, so while “unpaid” you have a full time job and then you somehow, someway manage to find the time for your creative side to flourish which we get to see through your blog. I imagine you wake up before everyone else, or after everyone is in bed, or steal moments of nap or quiet to Tweak. Your blog has been such a motivation for me, even before reading Big Magic, to embrace my own creativity. Then, if anything, I feel like you are embodying Big Magic even more this year if you haven’t “felt it” because you kept it up! I loved the master bedroom with the morroccan blanket. I love the updates on the studio (I still look at those leather pulls once every few weeks). I love the ikea series. You’re art is good enough and done! :) Happy Friday!

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replied on March 13th, 2016

Wow, Jade, thank you for this. Your words mean a lot.

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