Creative entitlement: You are allowed to be here

Most things have already been done – but they have not yet been done by you.

Most things have already been done – but they have not yet been done by you.

If you’re interested in creativity, it is relatively safe to assume that Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way has been recommended to you at some stage. Let me now also recommend Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. She believes that the essential ingredients for creativity are courage, enchantment, permission, persistence and trust:

To live a creative life means having courage. It means living a life that is driven more by curiosity than by fear. But keep in mind that creativity always triggers fear because creativity implies uncertain outcome, which is exactly what fear hates.

The creative process is both magical and magic. Ideas “walk” among us and are available to everybody that are willing and able to help those ideas come to “life”, as it were.

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

Persistence: Learning how to endure disappointments and frustration is part of the creative person’s process. Holding yourself together when things aren’t going as well as you would have liked, that is where the real work lies.

Trust that the work wants to be made, and it wants to be made through you.

Something else that resonated with me was the admonition that “eventually you will have to do the work by yourself” and that “it is ultimately entirely up to you.” You could have the best training, the best supplies or not. Still, you have to do the work.

And for those battling with nasty negative self-talk, Gilbert believes that creative entitlement is the cure. Creative entitlement, or what the poet David Whyte calls “the arrogance of belonging”, is the simple belief that you are allowed to be here (because you were born, after all). And because you’re allowed to be here, you’re therefore allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.

I found Big Magic to be inspirational in a straight-forward practical way without sugar-coating.


Your standards are too high, you don’t offend enough and you need to make friends with rejection

If you want to grow, you must move toward opportunities, not just away from pain points.

Move towards, not just away

I’m not sure what I was thinking when I bought Todd Henry’s Louder than words: Harness the power of your authentic voice.  Maybe I was looking for advice on how to find my voice? Any way, the introduction and table of contents somehow convinced me that this was the book that I must read next.

Although I found the book full of valid ideas it wasn’t a page-turner. It was a bit academic and almost as if Henry wrote about stuff that he knew are buzz words, but he hasn’t really chewed and swallowed it yet. But maybe I’m just not his typical intended audience, or as he calls it, IA. I’m not his IA, okay? But in his own words, “not everything you make will be for everybody, nor should it be.”

Even though I’m not moved to tell you that you absolutely must read this book, there are some things that I found interesting:

  • “Voice” and “vocation” comes from the same Latin root meaning to call. “It’s the sort of work that you feel compelled to do even when no one is paying attention.”
  • Every creative project has a U shape. It starts out all hunky dory but then goes through a dark valley before ending up on top again. A lot of work are given up on in the bottom bend of the U.
  • “If you want to do unique, contributive work, and develop your voice, you must have the courage to offend.”
  • Most of us fear rejection. Henry refers to a story about Jia Jiang that makes one look differently at rejection. Here’s a link to Jiang’s TED talk.
  • Another reason why we are sometimes tempted to give up too soon is because we are incapable of meeting our own high standards:

“… all of us that do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.  But there is this gap.  For the first couple of years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.” – Ira Glass

We must be willing to endure a period of incompetence, which may last far longer than we would like it to before there’s progress in closing this gap.


About stealing like an artist

I have read somewhere that when you steal an idea you should rework that idea that you stole so that the person that you stole it from can’t say for certain that it was in fact their idea. And then I got curious about what Austin Kleon say about stealing like an artist…

He gives a lot of food for thought in bite-sized chunks in his book, Steal like an artist: 10 things nobody told you about being creative.

I liked his idea of starting with one thinker/writer/artist/whatever that you love and getting to know all about that person’s work and then getting to know about the people who influenced that person’s work until you have a type of family tree of influences on your own work. Because, as Kleon puts it, You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life.

“We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.” – Goethe

It could be an interesting exercise to look at the various people that played a role in your own development as a person/writer/artist. For me, novelists that form part of my history is Terry Pratchett and two Afrikaans writers, Dalene Matthee and Deon Meyer. I think the only thing these three writers have in common is the fact that I am a reader of their work!

Another of Kleon’s ideas that made sense to me, was to not throw any of yourself away.

“Don’t throw any of yourself away.” – Austin Kleon

Maybe you’re a writer but also love playing guitar and drawing cartoons. People tend to think that if they want to get more serious about their writing, they should stop playing guitar and stop drawing cartoons and only focus on the writing. But these other aspects that form part of you are important for you to be able to do your best work. It gives you a different perspective and could be a valuable source of ideas.

Actually, stealing like an artist is but one of the chapters in the book. The whole thing is filled with good and inspiring advice on how to incorporate creativity into your life.

Make stuff you love…

Just finished reading Austin Kleon’s book Show your work. He’s also the author of Steal like an artist, a book I haven’t read. I thought I needed more encouragement in the showing my work side of things than in the stealing side of things. Kleon says this book is for people who hate the very idea of self-promotion!

I have found with my “experimentations” with creativity, that it’s hard to show my work to others. [Especially when you make something for someone as a gift and you’re not sure they’ll like it. Or worse, someone asks you to make something for them based on something else you made… To be the cause of unmet expectations…]

But our job is not to worry about what others think about our work. Our job is to do the work. (I’m pretty sure Julie Cameron said it in one of her books on creativity.)

Kleon says it’s better to contribute something than to contribute nothing.

“Just do the work that’s in front of you.” Austin Kleon

When it’s finished, evaluate without too much introspection what you could have done differently or better and go on to your next project. Keep it going. He argues that you should share some of your work every day. Of course, the idea is that you are in fact creating something every day. In this way you are building up your body of work. Become good at what you do.

“Being good at things is the only thing that earns you clout or connections.” Austin Kleon

“Make stuff you love and talk about stuff you love and you’ll attract people who love that kind of stuff. It’s that simple.” Austin Kleon

Insanity, digging holes and creativity

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?
Been there, done that. Still doing it.
Therefore I am in fact quite insane?

I rather struggle with this whole routine thing. On the one hand I would very much like to believe that it is possible to use routine to assist in building positive habits.
But routine and a rut is so often the same thing. [I read somewhere that the difference between a rut and the grave is the depth…]

I have managed to – for once, at least – change my routine of feeling down and then as a matter of course sitting in front of the T.V. eating and swallowing without even noticing what is going into my mouth. I climbed into my car and went for a drive instead. I couldn’t wallow in negative feelings because I had to concentrate on the road. I came back energised and refreshed.

Went for a drive.

Went for a drive.

But I have since fallen back in a negative spiral of my own doing.
What is the first thing to do when you find yourself in a hole?
Stop digging!

If only I would listen to my own advice!

I’ve rediscovered Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. In this course book she suggests the writing of three pages in the morning in which you get rid of what ever is running through your mind at that specific junction. Get all the stuff that’s bothering you on to a page and get some distance from it. In effect you’re making space for better/creative thoughts.

As part of the process Cameron also proposes that you make an artist’s date with yourself every week. The purpose of the date is to open yourself up to insight, inspiration and guidance. It’s supposed to be an excursion to accommodate your inner child/the artist in you. Spending time in solitude, she says, is essential to self-nurturing. And you get to listen to that inner voice telling you “I hate this serious stuff, I wish I could…”

I’ve had success with the morning pages, it seems to free up the worrying part of my personality. But for some reason I have trouble turning up for my dates. I’ve missed a date at the fabric shop and the wool shop. I did have a date at the crafting shop though and brought home colourful paper of various textures that made my heart sing. Of course, judging myself for not having done anything with it yet, is not helping…

Isn't it lovely?

Isn’t it lovely?

I love these textures and colours

I love these textures and colours


Use fear to know what you care about

I got these great perspectives on fear from “Creative is a verb” by Patti Digh:

It’s through knowing WHAT we fear that we know what we CARE about and how we measure our worth.


Fears about artmaking fall into two families: fear about YOURSELF, and fears about YOUR RECEPTION BY OTHERS. In a general way, fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work.

You were born an original. Don’t die a copy.
John Mason.

Decisions, decisions: act against fear and break down the walls

Even though Kelly Rae Roberts’ advice on facing your fears in Taking flight is aimed at artists, I’m pretty sure that it has a wider application in life:

She warns that we will only see any potential progress when we make a clear decision and commitment to “our creative endeavours” or let me substitute that with that thing(s) that we’re scared of doing but want to do.

After the decision and commitment, we need to take a small step: We often tend to not start with something, because we think we need to take some bold leap into uncertainty. We just need to take action in spite of our fears. A small step from where we are today. Nothing too intimidating.

“By taking action, you attract to your life the same mindful intention you put into it.”

When we take action against fear we also embrace the notion of unlearning: unlearning old negative behaviour, and

“breaking down the walls we’ve built to keep us safe until we see ourselves as we did when we were eight years old: brave, curious, alive.”

Small steps continously in the right direction…

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