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How to be creative - Elizabeth Gilbert on creativity and listening to your genius

Updated on March 19, 2013

When I think of creativity I think of originality and genius. I think of someone who is not afraid to openly express who they are by creating new and fantastic things and ideas while the rest of us stare in awe.

Creativity is sought by many, caught by few. Since I am one of the many seeking it, I inevitably have to ask myself why only a few catch it, and how can I become one of those fortunate few.

My answer came via a TED talk given by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the famous book "Eat, Pray, Love." The way she spoke about creativity made me realize I had been looking for it in all the wrong places. Let me explain what I mean.

Creativity before our time

Back in the days, more specifically before the Renaissance, people believed creativity was given to humans by some magical and divine entity who would assist the artist in creating their work. Everyone believed it and because of this belief, no one was blamed if you weren't creative or if your "work of art" was lame. Why? Because this simply meant your angel, or genius, as the Romans called it, was not very good. But nothing was blamed on you. What are the implications of this? Let me take you to my next point...

Creativity is the triumph over fear

Because you couldn't be blamed for your lame work of art, you didn't really have to feel ashamed at not creating something amazing. You were free to explore and do. But ever since the Renaissance the focus has changed. We now believe that creativity comes from the self and much emphasis has been given to the individual human being as the center of the universe, as Gilbert explains in her talk.

What does this mean for us, seekers of creativity? It means we have to start putting less emphasis on ourselves and climb out of our prison of fear and doubts. Many times the reason we don't create is because we are afraid of what others might think.

"Will they like it? What will they think of me? What if it isn't good enough?"

When we start questioning creativity, it rejects us and looks for someone else more willing to experiment. It's as if we are pushing creativity away by being overly self conscious about everything, and then we cry because we are not creative.

Kids are not afraid of creating and inventing, as weird as those ideas may turn out to be. That's what makes kids amazing!
Kids are not afraid of creating and inventing, as weird as those ideas may turn out to be. That's what makes kids amazing!

Learn from kids

Children always amaze me because they're not ashamed or afraid to try new things, and because of this very fact, they are some of the most creative minds in the world. If we want to be creative we need to stop caring about the opinions of others and trust what our "genius" tells us. We need to start creating and push doubt and fear away. Don't let fear stop you from beginning. Do as Nike says: "Just do it."


Sometimes we become so enthralled in the search for creativity that we resist the very thing we are looking for, and creativity escapes us.

Let me explain what I mean. We become so focused in trying to be creative, and we become so tense and stressed by the idea of not being creative, that we forget what we are looking for, and therefore we never find it.

The best thing to do is practice non-resistance. Stop resisting the idea of not being creative. Let it pass through you and don't be afraid of it. Stop wasting mental energy in thinking how uncreative and lame you are. Instead focus on your work and do it for the mere delight of it.

Do as Tom Waits

Gilbert mentions Tom Waits as the perfect example of non-resistance. He was the perfect picture of the tormented artist, trying to dominate the creative impulses that came from within.

One day, while driving in he freeway, a fragment of melody came to his head. Instead of getting anxious of the idea of not catching this glimpse of creativity for lack of pen and paper (and driving), he relaxed and said to the "genius" that had come:

And just like that he released the "genius" back where it came from without getting anxious about it. We don't know if the song came back to him, but I'm pretty sure it did.

Distance yourself from your creativity

We have gone from believing a person HAS a genius to a person IS a genious. That's a heavy responsibility. So heavy that it can hinder us from trying new and exciting things that may add to our creative status.

Don't take yourself so seriously. Keep believing that all your creative instincts are a loan, and don't be afraid to take chances.

Elizabeth Gilbert TED Talk


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