Creating, Reading

Big Magic: Permission

October 22, 2015


The paradox that you need to comfortably inhabit, if you wish to live a contented creative life, goes something like this: “My creative expression must be the most important thing in the world to me (if I am to live artistically), and it also must not matter at all (if I am to live sanely).”

In this chapter, Elizabeth Gilbert covers a lot under the theme of Permission:

  • you can do whatever you want, so stop waiting for permission from an external source,
  • you’re allowed to be here and create what makes you happy (and this does not have to entail helping/healing the world or anyone in it or require you to create art that pays the bills),
  • authenticity is much more interesting than originality,
  • you do not need to seek permission in the form of official degrees and schooling, and she spends quiet a bit of time gently nudging people away from spending lots of money on advanced degrees,
  • teachers and mentors are valuable, but ultimately you still have to do the work,
  • stop complaining because it just scares inspiration away,
  • the work belongs to you, but never the reaction to it,
  • there will never be such thing as “an arts emergency”

Defending yourself as a creative person begins by defining yourself. It begins when you declare your intent.

I love how this chapter swooped back and forth between working creativity is a really big deal and who cares, it’s just art. That we need to show up, do the work, face our fears and keep on keeping on while knowing that it’s a human privilege to take time out of living (surviving) for creation. In fact, part of our survival comes out of our need to be creative (and creating keeps us alive).

For those of us who are worried we’re not ready and/or too old to pursue these creative inklings, Gilbert says “trust that the world has been educating you all along…You are not finished; you are merely ready.” And then “the sooner and more passionately you get married to this idea – that it is ultimately entirely up to you – the better off you’ll be.”

Yes – permission is tied into this larger assumption that someone else is supposed to pull the starting gun, tell us what to do, give us the keys to the kingdom. What Gilbert doesn’t mention, but I’ve read before, is that we only understand the work by doing the work. And we have to jump the hurdle of the “it matters/it doesn’t matter” paradox to get our butts-in-chair to actually do the work.

What she does harp on is that it’s up to each individual person to prioritize their creativity, to acknowledge that “art is absolutely meaningless…(and) also deeply meaningful.” That there will never be “an arts emergency” and then that “pure creativity is something better than necessity; it’s a gift”.

Lastly, we are not responsible for nor do we own the reactions to our work. And if we do come up against critics of what we so lovingly, and hopefully happily, produce? Gilbert tells us to “smile sweetly and suggest – as politely as you possibly can – that they go make their own fucking art”.


  • As you read about the idea of permission what came up for you? Are you seeking permission in any areas of your life / creativity?
  • Gilbert explains the attitude of “insouciance” that allowed her parents to do whatever they liked when it came to their creative living, and how that influenced her own path. What are some of the attitudes and assumptions of your family-of-origin? And, as Gilbert suggests, go back through your family history, where are the makers? Where do you come from? And then, it doesn’t matter. We’re all creators. Make your art.
  • Gilbert writes of her dad: “He didn’t quit his day job to follow his dream; he just folded his dream into his everyday life.” How can you fold your dreams into your everyday life?
  • How are you living your “most vividly decorated temporary life”?
  • Pretend you’re in your own hostage negotiation with those negative, internal voices. Speak directly, but lovingly and make your “statement of intent”.
  • “I enjoy my creativity.” Go on, say it.

Catch-up on all of the posts here.

Thanks for reading!

All quotes are from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, chapter 3 – published 2015.

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  • Reply Tammy Vitale October 25, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    I worked as a professional artist for 10 years until, limping along for 3 years of making smaller saleable work after the recession hit, I started to hate making art. So I quit making art and started selling real estate. And then started making BIG art, what I wanted to make anyways, for my yard. Anyways, at shows, my reply to “I could make that” or “Why does that cost so much – how many hours do you have in it” was a sweet smile and a dripping: “Well, my art isn’t for everyone.” Never failed me. Off they went. They were never going to be clients anyways. Clients always stepped up to a piece and stood there for a while like they’d found a long lost friend.

    • Reply jtao21 October 26, 2015 at 8:59 am

      Thanks for sharing 🙂 Love that your real estate business provided some wiggle room to start making the BIG art your heart called to.

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