Even though she’s a writer and it’s largely a book about writing, Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear” is a better “startup book” than most startup books. Here’s why:
Ideas are everywhere and they’re dime a dozen. Just because you “have” one doesn’t mean it’s “yours.” An idea is meaningless without execution.
Gilbert talks about readers approaching her at Eat, Pray, Love book signings to growl at her from across the table: “that was supposed to be my book! I had that idea!”
This happens to a lot of people. “One morning you open up the newspaper and discover that somebody else has written your book, or directed your play, or released your record, or produced your movie, or founded your business, or launched your restaurant, or patented your invention – or in any way whatsoever manifested some spark of inspiration that you’d had years ago, but had never entirely cultivated, or had never gotten around to finishing. This may vex you, but it really shouldn’t, because you didn’t deliver!”
“People convince themselves that they have been robbed when they have not, in fact, been robbed… There is no theft; there is no ownership; there is no tragedy; there is no problem.”
“The best you can hope for in such a situation is to let your old idea go and catch the next idea that comes around. And the best way for that to happen is to move on swiftly, with humility and grace. Don’t fall into a funk about the one that got away. Don’t beat yourself up… Better to just say good-bye to the lost idea with dignity and continue onward. Find something else to work on – anything, immediately.”
You have to actually work.
Gilbert’s is probably my favorite TED talk, and my favorite line is how she describes her creative process as, quite simply, “working like a mule.”
“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. Most of it is not fairy dust.”
“I don’t sit around waiting for passion to strike me.”
You don’t need permission.
It “never occurred to me to go ask an authority figure for permission to become a writer… I decided to just go make stuff.”
“You must possess a fierce sense of personal entitlement.” Not acting like a prima donna, or as though the world owes you something. Just recognizing your right to be creative.
Solve a problem you have. Don’t do it just to help others.
An old adage in writing is “write about what you know.” Do the work that you know how to do.
“If what I’ve written here ends up helping you, that’s great, and I will be glad. That would be a wonderful side effect. But at the end of the day, I do what I do because I like doing it.”
“It’s very kind of you to want to help people, but please don’t make it your sole creative motive, because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls.”
Experience is the best education.
Gilbert never got an advanced degree in writing. “I was suspicious of the idea that the best place for me to find my voice would be in a room filled with fifteen other young writers trying to find their voices.”
“I wasn’t exactly sure what an advanced degree in creative writing would afford me. Going to an arts school is not like going to dentistry school, for instance, where you can be pretty certain of finding a job in your chosen field once your studies are over… I worry that what students of the arts are often seeking in higher education is nothing more than proof of their own legitimacy – proof that they are for real as creative people, because their degree says so.”
So, too, should we be careful with similar environments for startups, including incubators and accelerators.
“If you’re working on your craft every day on your own, with steady discipline and love, then you are already for real as a creator… let the world educate you.”
Anguish and angst is unbecoming.
Creators have this tendency to romanticize anguish. We approach our work with toxic mindsets, making ourselves slaves to the craft. It doesn’t have to be this way and, in fact, most great work isn’t.
Success not guaranteed.
There’s no guarantee that people will like your work. It’s not the world’s problem that you wanted to do something. It’s not the world’s jobs to enjoy your work.
“Stop complaining. It’s annoying.”
Of course it’s difficult. If it was easy to succeed at creating something new, everyone would be.
Quit it with the perfectionism and preciousness.
“When people talk about their creative work, they often call it their ‘baby’ – which is the exact opposite of taking things lightly.”
“I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant.”
“At some point, you really just have to finish your work and release it as is – if only so you can go on to make other things with a glad and determined heart.”
Done is better than good. Just ship it. Let it go.
What you produce is not sacred just because you think it is. “What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life.”
“Do what you love to do, and do it with both seriousness and lightness.”