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Inspiration for the Day

Who says You’re not Creative?

By 04/08/2011March 11th, 201731 Comments
Elizabeth Gilbert, Author of Eat, Pray, Love gave a talk at a TED conference.  You don’t get invited to be one of their speakers unless you are totally inspirational and this talk moved me just like this post I wrote months ago which was also from TED.
Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love

She started by talking about artists and how we have completely internalized and accepted that creativity and suffering are ultimately linked and artistry will ultimately lead to anguish. She went on to say that it would be better for everyone if we operated like creativity was something that just came through you instead of something that was a part of you.  Like I somehow got the colour gene (for example) and you didn’t (not true). And she told this story to illustrate her point:

‘Extraordinary American poet, Ruth Stone, when she was growing up in rural Virginia would be out working in the fields and she would feel the poem coming up over the landscape towards her like a thunderous train of air and there was only one thing to do and that was to run like hell towards the house, and the idea was to get a pen and paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her she could collect it and grab it on the page.
Other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, and she would be running and running and almost there but the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and it would continue on across the landscape, past her looking for another poet.

And then there were those times when the poem passed through her and she would almost miss it, she’d reach out for a pencil and then reach out with her other hand and catch the poem by it’s tail and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page and in these instances the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact but backwards from the last word to the first.

Elizabeth said “When I heard that I thought, that’s uncanny, that’s exactly what my creative process is like.” There are work and ideas that come through me, through a source that I honestly feel like I cannot identify. . . and how do you relate to that thing in a way so that you don’t lose your mind?”

She interviewed Tom Waits once and he talked about having the same experience. . . He hears this little fragment of melody in his head as he’s driving down the freeway, and he wants it and he longs for it but has no way to get it, as he does not have a pen or paper or a tape recorder to capture it in that moment.

And then he worries that he’ll lose it and be haunted forever by that song. But one time, instead of panicking, he did something completely novel, he looked up at the sky and said “Excuse me, can you not see that I’m driving? Do I look like I can write down a song right now, if you really want to exist come back at a more opportune moment when I can take care of you, otherwise go bother someone else, go bother Leonard Cohen.”

He said it changed his whole work process. And Elizabeth went on to say “It saved me when I was in the middle of writing Eat, Pray, Love. It happens to all of us. I fell into one of those pits of despair, when you start thinking–this will be the worst book ever written. And so she did the same thing, speaking to the corner of the room:

“Listen you thing, you and I both know that if this book isn’t brilliant that it won’t be entirely my fault, because you can see I am putting everything I have into this, and I don’t have any more than this, so if you want it to be better, then you have to show up and do your part of the deal and if you don’t do that, I will continue to write anyway because that’s my job, so I would just like the record to reflect today that I showed up for my part of the job.”

The angst that creative people feel, the ‘How can I ever write anything better than this?, create anything to top the last thing, write a blog post better than this one?’ we worry ‘What will we do for the rest of our life?’ How do we reconcile that?

Maybe it doesn’t have to be quite so full of anguish, maybe if you never happened to believe in the first place that the most extraordinary aspects of your being came ‘from you’ but maybe if you just believed that they were on loan ‘to you’, from some unimaginable source for some exquisite portion of your life to be passed along when you’re finished to somebody else. When you think about it this way it starts to change everything.

So don’t be afraid, don’t be daunted, just continue to show up and do your job. If your job is to dance, do your dance and if the world shows up and says its fabulous, great. And if it doesn’t, keep dancing. And ole to you to have the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up. Elizabeth Gilbert, Author of Eat, Pray, Love.

Basically I’ve re-created the best part of her talk (above) because I so loved both those stories, but what I really got about her talk is what she’s suggesting is that creativity is all around us, and some of us are simply more aware of it than others. We let it in so that we can use it. You know how they say creativity is like a muscle. The more you use your creative side the stronger it becomes.

People ask me all the time where my ideas for blog posts come from and it often happens like that for me as well. Except that it’s easier for me to write down a headline (than a song, or a chapter in a book) when it comes to me, because that triggers the post I’ll sit down and write later when I’m actually at my computer, instead of driving, barely awake in bed or any number of places.

When I’m doing a part of this creative life that I don’t like, and is totally unglamorous, (and truly there are only little bits of glamour in anything when it comes right down to it) like standing in the pouring rain, freezing cold, talking about curb appeal or hitting the 8th furniture store looking for that elusive sideboard or spending 1 1/2 hours changing light bulbs on brand new lamps that are killing the entire feel of the room because the ones they arrived with are totally wrong, I always remind myself to be grateful that I persevered because who knew my access to becoming an ‘Internationally known’ Colour Expert (which I have had on post-its on my desk for years) would be through 100,000 readers per month from a blog I started writing one weekend in the fall of 2008.

So, if you are reading this and are still looking for your creative sweet spot?

‘As the great poet Jack Gilbert said once to a young writer, when she asked him for advice about her own poems: “Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say YES.” (excerpt from E.G. Website)

If you would like your home to fill you with happiness every time you walk in, contact me.

Related posts:

Happiness is. . . Having the Courage to Grab your Dream
Happiness is. . . Being Uncomfortable
Happiness is. . . Living Life as an Adventure

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  • dimi says:

    Excellent post Maria! And it's so true that all creative people share those feelings… It was such an inspiration! Thank you

  • shopgirl says:

    Maria! I can't say how much I love, love this post. It really speaks to me in all levels of my mind and spirit. Thank you for sharing the conference (TED is great – sin't it?) and your knowledge. I definitely am saving this post to read again in the future.

    Cheers sweetie! Wishing you a day full of lovely surprizes!

  • Jimmy The Undercover Designer says:

    I always felt the creative process/creativity to be on loan to us. Never stopped to think by whom, because I would not know. Always feeling like that poem that eludes you, my designs either come to me or not, and when they don't it used to be sheer anguish. Not anymore, and the more relaxed and accepting of the moodiness of the whole process the more you bend it to your rules and befriend it and it becomes a pleasure.


    Thanks, Maria, for your comment today on my blog and blog header. And congrats on your growing readership.

    Creativity has long been a favorite topic of mine. I believe that God is the ultimate Creator and since man is made in His image . . . we are ALL creative. But we have to sometimes look hard for it. And as we find it and use it, we become more creative. Creativity breeds more creativity.

    Thanks for your creative blog and work.


    • Farha Syed says:

      I agree. Creativity breeds creativity. I strongly believe that once you are in the process of writing, it starts becoming easier to write about other topics. Much of what I have learned about writing a design blog is by reading Maria’s advice on how to do so. So I would like to take a moment to thank Maria for sharing her sincere advice and I try to apply it when writing my blogs.

  • Laurie says:

    Amazing- I love those stories and the ideas-
    Thank you for sharing

  • Donna Frasca says:

    Being creative is definitely a gift and it's great that we can turn in around and use it to help others – in the form of beautiful designs. Have a great weekend Maria!

  • Barbara@HausDesign says:

    What a great post – I have also watched that TED talk as well as many others – they never fail to inspire regardless of the topic! I love how you said the more you use your creative muscle, the stronger it becomes! I can relate and I'm trying to work that muscle every day! 🙂 Great post, Maria.

  • Linda Pakravan says:

    Great post Maria! Creativity and for those of us in design, the ability to "see" is both blessing and beast.

  • Marisa says:

    You're amazing!Your posts are always so inspiring and thought provoking. And you're so right. Inspiration for creativity is around us everywhere for the taking. Coincidentally kind of reminds me of what I wrote in my FIRST POST this week. check it out at
    Cheers, Marisa

  • Sally@DivineDistractions says:

    THANKS! I needed that!

  • Lazy Gardens says:

    Whenever he was asked "where do your ideas come from?", author Harlan Ellison always replied "Schenectady".

  • Allison G. says:

    I've heard Elizabeth speak too as I happen to live near her in New Hope, PA. She spoke at a local school to a large group of women right after Eat, Pray Love was published. Very uplifting.

    On a separate topic — here are a few ideas for articles based on discussions I've had with others recently:
    -How to choose hardwood floor stain color
    -How to choose your countertop color


  • I am about to read this post ten times over. It is utterly fantastic and nestles in my soul. Bye. Going back to read again. And thank you!

  • shelly says:

    WOW. I'm speechless. I absolutely love it. For anyone that doubts their creative force, this is mind bending. I love the point that creativity or any other 'gift' is simply on loan to us from the universe; it doesn't come from us or originate in us.

  • Jil Sonia McDonald - Interior Designer says:

    Hauntingly beautiful words. Our First Nations culture believes that we live our lives as a beautiful prayer to the Creator. Being creative isn't something we do one day and not the next, but it's something we are surrounded by and part of. Wonderfully uplifting post Maria. xoxo

  • Ideezine says:


    I can identify with your topic, TED, inspiration, creativity and all it's lovely benefits and there are many. I am also very grateful for all the creative gifts I've been given and use to help others.

    When one area seems low on inspiration I work on another form of creativity in rotation for: blog posts, sewing, thinking, designing, gardening, flower arranging, cooking, sourcing on the Internet, reading, working with clients, working on my home etc. Everything we do is creative…if you look at it that way, respect it, and treat it that way.

    Stretching your creative abilities fun, regular, unusual and difficult, opens you up for more good and brings you a wider range of creativity through others needs. I wouldn't trade it and I hope you and your followers/readers won't either.


  • Indy says:

    I am new to your blog (today!!) and LOVE it. Reason for this is that I find color (on walls or just accents) to be what makes harmony and flow exist in the home. Your blog is very inspiring, and in response to this post on the source of creativity, I know what they are saying! I am a fine artist and have ideas that I feel I have only a slight grasp of. I can see a very "foggy" picture of what I want the end product to be, but the details are the obstacle. Thank you for this wonderful blog.


  • MD Interior Design says:

    Thankyou Maria, for sharing this truly beautifully worded blog post about creativity. I totally get it. It's nice to know others feel as though the creativity comes 'through them' – that's exactly how I feel too… I call it Divine Intervention.
    x Michelle

  • Wanda says:

    The appreciation of colour is such an underestimated quality – well done to you for highlighting it!

  • The Shade Shop, Inc. says:

    Be daring enough to try…..not letting the fear of failure stand in your way. Excellent words to contemplate Maria.

  • Things That Inspire says:

    Hmmmm….this post got me thinking. All my life I have felt the urge to write – and sometimes I get that very feeling that rolls over me, that I should be writing more, but not any specific feeling about what to write. My blog has been a great outlet for writing, and ideas come very easily for me – like you, I will often capture a kernel of an idea in Windows Live Writer, with a title, one picture, one sentence, then come back to it later (can be even a year later!).

    Thanks for this inspirational post.

  • Laura@Developing Designs says:

    I have goosebumps….this post has spoken to me on so many levels. Perhaps it is that I am in awe of Elizabeth Gilbert (for me, her book was one of those life changing moments). Then, there is you, your gift to put into words what you perceived to be some of your favorite highlights of the talk (chills, connecting on levels with the parts you shared). You have so many artistic talents and gifts that flow through you for sure, and we, your followers, admirers, readers are the lucky ones that have the pleasure in taking in all the wealth of information you share. Thank you for all you do.
    Keep on Dancing!

  • Donna says:

    Ahhh..thanks for sharing this Maria! This is how I feel! I used to jump out of bed in the middle of the night to write my songs and poems. Mine don't come as I take them when they come and when they do, they are like a river flowing and taking me whether I like or no. I don't want to lose a song.

    But blogging, sewing, teaching..these are like the air I breathe. I've seen articles about getting help for ideas to blog about and I could never relate. New ideas grow like ripe fruit all around me..I just pick them! I love it. That's why I'll never quit..

    I'm going to a weekly post until my dear Jacob leaves for boot camp. He graduates one week and leaves the next. So I'm giving him 'my all'. He'll be gone six months before coming home to go to college. It's with the Texas Army Nat. Guard so it's not military full time thank goodness.

    Just trying to figure out how to do a weekly newsletter..Hubby and I came up with html code to do multiple summaries in one post (jump breaks). I've been wrangling for three days..but we've almost got the kinks worked out. And on the side I designed the fabric Welcome banner mockup so I can begin cutting next week.

    Creativity is the fuel for living life gloriously..and how beautifully you captured that idea in this post. Now I'm going to HAVE to go see that movie..or read the book. I'm so glad to know we think so much alike.

    And to think that I used to think I wasn't creative at all..LoL! Did you ever doubt that you were? You are amazing!


  • Donna says:

    PS. Reading your post was like reading a lovely story. And WOW look how far you come Maria! Your success is an inspiration to us all.

    I like how you mentioned the nitty gritty's of your work. Isn't that so true! Just like my TWO days of shopping for just the right fabric for what should have been a 'no-brained' banner. 10 locations and no appropriate fabric.

    Cakes that fall apart..colors that don't work… computers crashing (I'm typing from hubby's computer..yet again! Twice in two weeks! These are the stuff of life. But they can make for some great posts! You just have to look at the bright side..and you do!

    PS. Can you tell I've missed you?!

  • Marianne says:

    I have been reading your blog for a while, but never commented. I really love this post, it makes things clear for me as I do not consider myself talented or creative.
    I remember in an interview with Benny Andersson (former member of Abba), who described the writing process as "sitting in front of a cave waiting for the bear to come out". The man is brilliant
    so I never really understood this remark. Now I do!
    Thank you for this lovely post!

  • Velvet and Linen says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post and Elizabeth Gilbert's TED talk.

    Thank you Maria.


  • HMB says:

    oh…………..lovely post…lovely…I take meaning for my own life in those words…and I'm going to go buy the dvd of that movie.Thanks for sharing

  • Donna says:

    Hi Maria,

    I've come to this discussion late, but I think your blog is oustanding and this post very timely. I wanted to suggest 3 titles that you and your readers may enjoy that will teach you practical ways to nurture your creativity (even if you think you have none).

    All are by Michael Michalko and available via;

    Thinkertoys (book), Cracking Creativity (book) and Thinkpak (a brainstorming card deck).

  • Kristi says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. This was EXACTLY what I needed to hear right now. All of the colour knowledge you have shared has been invaluable for me, but this post, THIS, will stay with me a long time. Thank you a thousand times over.

  • Maria, I totally love this post. To be open and catch the voice that comes to you whether it is thunderous or a quiet, still, and small whisper. As always, love your blog.

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