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Living the Creative Life: Quotes from Elizabeth Gilbert's "Big Magic"

Updated on February 23, 2017
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Over a year ago I read Elizabeth Gilbert's "Big Magic," a volume I often think of as a "creativity manifesto." As an experienced writer, her insights and suggestions were priceless. She urges others to make art with "stubborn gladness" no matter what else is happening. This comment alone has helped me more than I can say. I hope, quite naturally, these words will be of some use to you. Enjoy.

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“It’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at.”


“I did not ask for any external rewards for my devotion; I just wanted to spend my life as near to writing as possible—forever close to that source of all my curiosity and contentment—and so I was willing to make whatever arrangements needed to be made in order to get by.”


“…learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is part of the job of a creative person. If you want to be an artist of any sort, it seemed to me, then handling your frustration is a fundamental aspect of the world—perhaps the most fundamental aspect of the work.”

“The essential ingredients for creativity remain exact the same for everybody: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust—and those elements are universally accessible. Which does not mean that creative living is always easy; it merely means that creative living is always possible.”


“I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear.”


“At some point, you really just have to finish your work and release it as is—if only so that you can go on to make other things with a glad and determined heart.

Which is the entire point.

Or should be.”


“Possessing a creative mind, after all, is something like having a border collie for a pet. It needs to work, or else it will cause you an outrageous amount of trouble. Give your mind a job to do, or else it will find a job to do, and you might not like the job it invents (eating the couch, digging a hole through the living room floor, biting the mailman, etc.). It has taken me years to learn this, but it does seem to be the case that if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind).”

“Perhaps creativity’s greatest mystery is this: By completing absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are.”


“And if greatness should ever accidentally stumble upon you, let it catch you hard at work.

Hard at work, and sane.”


“A good-even novel violently written now is better than a perfect novel meticulously written never.”


“You may want your work to be perfect… I just want mine to be finished.”

“Creative living is stranger than other, more worldly pursuits. The usual rules do not apply. In normal life, if you’re good at something and you work hard at it, you will likely succeed. In creative endeavors, maybe not.”


“…the goddess of creative success may show up for you, or she may not. Probably best, then, if you don’t count on her, or attach your definition of personal happiness to her whims.

Maybe better to reconsider your definition of success, period.”


“Mind you, hard work guarantees nothing in the realms of creativity. (Nothing guarantees anything in realms of creativity.) But I cannot help but think that devotional discipline is the best approach. Do what you love to do, and do it with both seriousness and lightness. At least then you will know that you have tried and that—whatever the outcome—you have traveled a noble path.”

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“But creative living can be an amazing vocation, if you have the love and courage and persistence to see it that way. I suggest that this may be the only sanity-preserving way to approach creativity. Because nobody ever told us it would be easy, and uncertainty is what we signed up for when we say that we want to live creative lives.”


“…you must never surrender, that no doesn’t always mean no, and that miraculous turns of fate can happen to those who persist in showing up.”


“Heaven forbid anyone should enjoy their chosen vocation.”

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“I believe you can live a creative life and still make an effort to be a basically decent person.”


“My desire to work—my desire to engage with my creativity as intimately and as freely as possible—is my strongest personal incentive to fight back against pain, by any means necessary, and to fashion a life for myself that is as sane and healthy and stable as it can possibly be.

But that’s only because of what I have chosen to true, which is quite simply: love.

Love over suffering, always.”


“The creators who most inspire me, then, are not necessarily the most passionate, but the most curious. Curiosity is what keeps you working steadily, while hotter emotions may come and go.”

“You do not need anybody’s permission to live a creative life.”


“Because creative living is a path for the brave. We all know this. And we all know that when courage dies, creativity dies with it. We all know that fear is a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun. This is common knowledge; sometimes we just don’t know what to do about it.”


“Just because you don’t need your fear when it comes to creativity, of course, doesn’t mean your fear won’t show up—especially when you’re trying to be inventive or innovative. 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.”

“…all the good ideas are daunting at first…”


“I then did what you do when you get serious about a project or pursuit: I cleared space for it. I cleaned off my desk, literally and figuratively.”


“Trust me, your soul has been waiting for you to wake up to your own existence for years.”


“And because I must always be writing about something or else I will go mad, I decided to write about that—that is, to chronicle what was going on in my real life, as a way of sorting through its complications and revelations.”

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