Welcome to a series of conversations on the fabulous creativity book by Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic.
Published in 2015 this book soon became a creativity “bible” for me. Even if you are not a fan of Elizabeth Gilbert’s other books (such as Eat Pray Love) I still heartily recommend reading Big Magic. I promise you it will address all the hang-ups and barriers you might have around your creative process and dreams.
In this series of conversations, I’m chatting with Lesley Pyne, author of Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness. There are six chapters in the book with the following titles – Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust and Divinity. We decided to create an episode for each of the chapters and talk about what it means to us and our creativity.
In this episode – Courage – we cover the following topics:
- What is creative living?
- Is it just about art with a capital A?
- Why does fear accompany creative pursuits?
- Two types of fear.
- Feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
- Creativity means showing our vulnerability – and this creates fear.
- Is creativity selfish, or does it make us better people?
Enjoy. You can watch the video or listen to the audio. You can also scroll down for a transcript of the episode.
About Lesley Pyne
Lesley Pyne is a blogger & author of Finding Joy Beyond Childlessness: Inspiring Stories to Guide You to a Fulfilling Life.
She used to think she wasn’t creative, however ‘rediscovering’ her creative side was the key to coming to terms with not becoming a mother & of losing both parents. And now she finds that she can’t stop creating.
She lists Big Magic as one of the small number of books which changed her life &, even though she’d read it twice before, discussing it with Cali lead to several ‘a-ha’ moments. She’s excited to share her discoveries with you in these videos.
You can read more about Lesley, her book & blogs on her website www.LesleyPyne.co.uk
Lesley. Hello, and welcome. I’m Lesley Pyne, and welcome to Unlocking Big Magic, Conversations About Creativity. Myself and Cali, we met at a Liz Gilbert talk. And we’re going to call her Liz because she’s like a friend now, isn’t she? We’re a bit of a real fan of her work. We’ve been to some work workshops of hers & creativity is really important to both of us. And what we want to do with these conversations is talk about the different chapters, the six chapters in the book, Big Magic, and we’re going to start with chapter one today. So yes, here we go. We recommend if you haven’t read it, you might want to pick up a copy or reread it as we go through. So, as I said, I’m Lesley Pyne. I’m the author of Finding Joy Beyond childlessness, just behind me here, blogger and supporter of childless women and, creativity has been really important to me, especially in the last few years since I’ve been writing my book. So over to Cali, welcome.
Cali. Hi, yes my name is Cali Bird. And I like to write, I do a couple of things. Here’s a novel I’ve just published, Tales of The Countess, it was 20 years in the making. Never worry if your dreams are taking a long time, you’ll get there in the end. And then I also blog about creativity. I have website Gentle Creative, and my take on creativity, artistic pursuits, is really to get on and do them for the joy of doing it. It might not be your profession, but I encourage people to just make a start where they can around the edges of their life & we’ll talk more about that in a moment. And yeah, Lesley and I, I would describe us as Liz Gilbert groupies really, because we go to her events when she comes to London & we do love her, don’t we? And we do call it our friend Liz even though we’ve never really met her though we did chat with her once at a workshop. But yeah, Big Magic is an amazing book on creativity, even if you’ve read Elisabeth Gilbert’s other stuff. I know some people love Eat, Pray, Love. Some people don’t, don’t be put off if you don’t, because this book on creativity is amazing. And I certainly wouldn’t have this book behind me on the shelf without it. And it is a real handbook for getting through the things that stop you. And that’s really what we want to talk about on this podcast so that you’re not stopped, you can create it in your way.
Lesley. The subtitle of this is Creative Living Beyond Fear, which is quite interesting. Because today we’re going to talk about courage and courage and fear balance each other out, don’t they? But before we get onto that, what’s creativity or creative living to you?
Cali. So for me, it’s a two pronged, I mean, I encourage people to be creative, and shall we say, the traditional way the arts, be that writing, music, making things sort of more art, capital A kind of art. But it’s not just that creative living, I think in order to do that, or to do anything creatively, I have a part time day job as an IT programmer I test software. And I have to be creative in that job. Sometimes things break, or there’s a problem. And I think, Oh, my God, how are we going to fix this? And you have to think of a solution? Or there’s something really complicated on like, how am I going to explain that to people in a way they can understand. And that’s creativity. You know, if you’re a taxi driver, and you’re stuck in London traffic, and you think, oh, the Westway is really locked up today, which way should I go in order to do the best for myself and my passengers, that’s creativity. So I think in its widest sense, creativity is doing the best with your life it’s like your highest potential, your best potential and, and bringing that into daily life in a way that makes your heart sing. And that’ll be different, for some people, it’s cooking for other people it’s sport, it doesn’t have to be art. Although I do encourage people in Art.
Lesley. Well, yeah, that’s really interesting. I love it because Art brings me out in sort of sweats because I can’t draw paint and I always
Cali. Neither can I, I can draw stick people & that’s it,
Lesley. I was thought I wasn’t creative because of that. So, for me, creativity is anything but Art, actually. And I’ve rediscovered it when I was writing my book, and since then I can’t stop. Embroidery is my thing at the moment, I used to do it as a child and I stopped & then I thought, well, I wonder if I can do this again and it brings me great joy. I think that’s the main thing for me is that it brings me great joy & expands my comfort zone and it’s also an anchor somewhere that I can go when I’m anxious, or worried about something. Creativity takes you takes you out of yourself, doesn’t it? And it brings me more, more joy than, than anything else. And it really helped me through my grief process, and I encourage people when I’m writing my own blogs to, to use creativity to really help you through grief. So, it’s multi-purpose, isn’t it?
Cali. Yeah. And it’s whatever you want it to be really as well.
Lesley. It is. So that I think that answers the Why should you be creative? I guess, because what did you say it brings you to your highest potential? Lots of reasons. So, if we’re moving on to chapter one, courage, fair, you had a sort of definition of two sorts of fear. I think you wanted to talk about.
Cali. Yes so first of all, I used to give workshops, on getting going on your projects, I used to call it about stopping procrastinating because procrastinating is a word that everyone relates to, and it’s a manifestation of fear. I had these definitions of fear, tangible and intangible fear. So tangible fear is there’s a big spider just run over the floor, you’re like, Oh, my God, or you know, a mouse or, a rat or something like that. Or the fear of asking for a pay rise, or, if you just dinked your partner’s car or something. So, it’s the fear that in the past has kept us safe. You know, we as human beings knew to run when there was a sabre tooth tiger on the loose, so we had that instinct like, ah, unsafe, let’s get to safety. So tangible fear is what we’re most familiar with. And it can also save your life, keep you safe, you know, that instinct, if you’re walking down a dark street at night, I just need to walk faster, or just, not be dicking about on my phone or something, you just know you have that feeling. And it keeps you safe.
Intangible fear. I think that stuff, which often when you are, especially at the beginning of a creative journey, you don’t know so much about it, yet it comes up as resistance. It’s the thing that stops you doing what you want to do. There’s an article by Steven Pressfield, who calls it resistance. So intangible fear is when you know your soul wants to do something and you’re really excited but for whatever reason, you don’t, or you stop yourself or you have false starts. It might come up as fatigue or being too busy or working too much. Or, thinking I’m too this I’m too old, I I’m too inexperienced, I’m too crap, I’m too this or that. Intangible fear is the excuses. People call it writer’s block, it’s got many names, and we’ve all got our own version of it. Mine is illness like fatigue, bad back, that kind of thing stopped me in the past, just as I’m making a breakthrough. And that’s the stuff that can stop us creating.
Lesley. I’ve heard a friend of mine describe it as resist dance, because it is a bit like that, isn’t it? It is a dance that you know, when we resist doing something, we definitely dance around it. So, as you we’ve got all the different strategies. I’m too busy. I’m too tired, I can’t do that. This is first development book I bought in 1990, August 1996 (Feel the Fear And Do it Anyway). And it’s almost like that, isn’t it? That’s what you have to do, go into that fear, work with it. The only way out is through, isn’t it?
Cali. Yeah, and I think that’s what we find from this first chapter in Big Magic, that fear is always there. And I say you can use it as a compass. Because one example I always give, the fear or the resistance or whatever it is that comes up. I also call it like your inner Gremlin or that little voice that sits there saying things like ‘what are you even thinking of trying that for? Who are you to do that?’ And it comes up when we when we want to do something that’s really important to our heart. So I always say there is no resistance to getting fat on your sofa eating too much chocolate, you know, you can stick your head in a bucket of chocolate, watch too much Telly, okay, then there’s no resistance to that. But whether it is getting healthy or losing weight or starting to go jogging three times a week, when there’s something you really want and it’s really important that’s when the obstacles come from within and without that they’re all a manifestation of this.
Lesley. And I think creativity is vulnerable. And Brené Brown describes it as like being naked on stage or something like that. And it does feel like that. But I think that for me, when I when I look at my first blogs that I wrote about, five or six years ago there were awful, really, actually. But I just did them anyway, I did it. And my embroidery that I first started about 18 months ago, it was okay, but I’m a lot better at it now. So, it’s the doing it, you have to do it to get better at it. And feel the fear and do it anyway, isn’t it? And as she says in Big Magic, (p18) ‘argue for your limitations, and you get to keep them’. So, if you keep saying that you can’t do stuff, then you never will be able to do it. If you don’t try it, you won’t, and that’s courage.
Cali. And courage isn’t an absence of fear either, or which we often think it is. Being brave isn’t being fearless is doing it anyway. And I think this is great shall I read my favourite line in chapter one? There’s, you know, why does fear accompany creativity? So, let me just read this sentence.
Yes (p13),’we all know that fear is a desolate Boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun. I just love that line, she’s such a great writer. We all know that fear is a desolate Boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun. And the sentence above (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. Because it does take a level of courage to do those things. And when we get into creativity, there’s nothing certain about it, I think this is why there is fear. Because when we, for example, do a day job, you agree a salary, it’s a job that you either like or you can at least tolerate, and you make a deal with the employer and you show up and do it and as long as you show up every day, you get paid. Okay, so there’s a guarantee. But when we do creative projects, there isn’t that guarantee, you never know if you’re going to be a success. Most people think of that in a financial way. You don’t know how it’s going to turn out. Invariably, as we both found out our early efforts are often not so great, you know, or other people’s comments on them can derail or derail you. So, it’s all that uncertainty. And you can’t predict where it’s going to go because sometimes you have a set idea, I’m going to do this, and it starts to veer or you’re not sure and, I find it always takes a lot longer than you think.
Lesley. I think for me, it’s two things: you can never predict the outcome of anything you do. I mean, we heard a talk that Julia Cameron, who wrote The Artists Way, and she’s written 40 books, and she said that she’s still afraid, worried, concerned when she publishes a book, so that fear never goes away it’s about learning to live with it. And the other thing for me is about twisting it around. I do my creative things for me. Maybe that’s being selfish or not, I don’t know. But then the outcome doesn’t really matter. I mean, it’s not about looking at other people it’s not about the perfection, or what other people think it’s about what I think so maybe that’s an interesting way of switching it round.
The other thing about courage, Brené Brown talks about the root of courage is the cor Latin for heart. And it originally meant to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart which I think is if you change the word speaking and make it showing it’s creativity isn’t it? To show your whole heart which is vulnerable, and it takes it does take courage, it’s bound to raise vulnerability.
Cali. I like it. I haven’t read much Brené Brown, but I know you’re really into her stuff. But I like that because one of the courses I did once was Why Do You Create? I come up with this ‘because I want to express my truth’. Which is pretty much the same. It’s the equivalent of what she’s saying there. So, I know for me creativity is in there and it’s got to come out. When I’m writing, I do want an audience you know, I would love the new novel to be a best seller, I have great plans which may or may not ever happen. But I think that is a secondary thing, I think the drive is from yourself and to create, and how people receive it is something separate. But the fear of how that’s going to be received that often can stop people. And especially when new, you talked about your early blogs, and when you look back at them, they might not be so good, but had you looked at them then and gone, that’s crap, and not bothered to continue. I know your work really well, and your community you’ve built and you’ve created so much value that, women suffering, and I’ve talked to you on childlessness, mine was because I was single. You’ve created this community; you’ve given people a voice and shown them ways to heal. And if you had stopped at that first hurdle, and gone, oh it’s crap, I can’t do this, or I’m scared of what people are going to think of me. But you kept going. And so, creativity isn’t because you say you do it for yourself that’s selfish. And I do it for myself. and I think there is a selfish element to creativity because we’re just so driven to do it, irrespective of anyone else’s needs. But if we didn’t do it, what good would it be to anybody anyway? Exactly. So, it’s like its paradox, isn’t it?
Lesley. I you know. You wrote Tales of the Countess for you, didn’t you? That it was a book that took 20 years, that’s a project and a half isn’t it? There’s a another Brené Brown quote, she says you can have courage, or you can have comfort, but you can’t have both at the same time. And I think that for me, courage is one of my values and a comfortable life is okay at points isn’t it, but it’s a bit boring, isn’t it? And creativity is a way of getting through that, being courageous and growth absolutely. So, we’re at 17 minutes we want it to be about 20 minutes. So, what takeaways then from courage and fear, what are yours?
Cali. I think fear. Fear is always there, there’s a great analogy in the end of the courage chapter. And if you read Big Magic, you will know it. And Elizabeth Gilbert, she talks about a road trip fear is always there as part of the family. It’s trying to keep her safe, although it doesn’t always because if it stops us doing all these wonderful things. And she gives us an analogy that, you know, it’s like going on a road trip fears going to be there in the back, it’s part of the family. But we don’t allow it to make any decisions. She says, you don’t even get to choose what’s on the radio, a road trip analogy. And I so I think for me, that yes, fear, it just does go hand in hand with creativity, we’ll all have our own version of it. But I think once we know that it’s always there, and you can write 40 books and it’s not going to go away. We’re not weird or can’t do it because I think once you know that, then that frees you to do it anyway. And I think that’s really what I try and encourage people to do is point out well here’s some of the obstacles but don’t let that stop you. Do it anyway.
Lesley. I don’t know if there’s anything much I can add to that except that yes for me, it’s that courage and comfort. I want a courageous life, a comfortable life for me is boring and creativity is one of the ways through and that feel the fear and do it anyway. As you say, fear is always there but it’s and it’s about making peace with it
Cali. And mitigating it as well. Yu can do things in baby steps, you have to baby yourself sometimes, do whatever it takes, you have to sometimes play tricks with it. Or maybe yourself give yourself little rewards because you’ve written for half an hour. So, it doesn’t matter how you get around it but just find ways that you can in little chunks. And little chunks add up to a long journey if you keep taking enough of them, don’t they?
Lesley. Okay so, thank you. We were talking about courage, and we’ll be back next time. Thank you.
Cali. Bye lovely. Thank you.