Book Talk: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
ISBN: 9781594634710
Genre: Non-Fiction | Self-Help
Published: September 22nd, 2015, by Riverhead Books

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You either like this book or you don’t. There is really no midway. And I like it!

 As you may know, I don’t read reviews of books before I read them. That way I don’t get into a book with expectations. (You may also know that while reading thrillers I sometimes read the end if I get too anxious. Hey, no judging, we all get to have our quirks.) So, when I saw a lot of my mentors and peers talking great things about this book, I had to read it myself to find out what was the big magic about BIG MAGIC.

My reaction to this book is “ oh ya!” “I am glad I am not alone.” “Thank good someone else also feels this way.” And a whole lot of head nod in agreement. That is not to say I agree with every point in the book. There are a few things I don’t agree with, but I get the author’s point, and I know where she may be coming from.

In an interview, Elizabeth Gilbert is asked what was the reason for this book, and she says, it's a response to years of being out publicly talking to people who tell me about the projects they want to be making and are not making. The things they want to be doing and are not doing.

 And so the book is all about that.  

Creativity, what, how, why, why not, what if, even if.

Big Magic details the fear and problems when you are trying to make a go of something and in that sense, this book resonates with me. It is liberally sprinkled with her personal anecdotes which makes it so relatable.


My takeaway from this book.

1. On Creative living:

“Do whatever brings you to life. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.”

“Be the weirdo who dares to enjoy.”


2. On persistence:

“It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes, too.”

“Let me list for you some of the many ways in which you might be afraid to live a more creative life: You’re afraid you have no talent. You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or—worst of all—ignored. You’re afraid there’s no market for your creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it. You’re afraid somebody else already did it better. You’re afraid everybody else already did it better. You’re afraid somebody will steal your ideas, so it’s safer to keep them hidden forever in the dark. You’re afraid you won’t be taken seriously. You’re afraid your work isn’t politically, emotionally, or artistically important enough to change anyone’s life. You’re afraid your dreams are embarrassing. You’re afraid that someday you’ll look back on your creative endeavors as having been a giant waste of time, effort, and money. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of discipline. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of workspace, or financial freedom, or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of training or degree. You’re afraid you’re too fat. (I don’t know what this has to do with creativity, exactly, but experience has taught me that most of us are afraid we’re too fat, so let’s just put that on the anxiety list, for good measure.) You’re afraid of being exposed as a hack, or a fool, or a dilettante, or a narcissist. You’re afraid of upsetting your family with what you may reveal. You’re afraid of what your peers and coworkers will say if you express your personal truth aloud. You’re afraid of unleashing your innermost demons, and you really don’t want to encounter your innermost demons. You’re afraid your best work is behind you. You’re afraid you never had any best work to begin with. You’re afraid you neglected your creativity for so long that now you can never get it back. You’re afraid you’re too old to start. You’re afraid you’re too young to start. You’re afraid because something went well in your life once, so obviously nothing can ever go well again. You’re afraid because nothing has ever gone well in your life, so why bother trying? You’re afraid of being a one-hit wonder. You’re afraid of being a no-hit wonder.”


3. On getting in the zone

"I always try to remind myself that I am having an affair with my creativity, and I make an effort to present myself to inspiration like somebody you might actually want to have an affair with - not like someone who's been wearing her husband's underwear around the house all week because she's give up. Seduce the Big Magic and it will always come back to you - the same way a raven is captivated by a shiny, spinning thing".


4. On keeping sane:

“You're not required to save the world with your creativity. Your art not only doesn't have to be original, in other words, it also doesn't have to be important. For example, whenever anyone tells me that they want to write a book in order to help other people I always think 'Oh, please don't. Please don't try to help me.' I mean it's very kind of you 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.”

"The paradox that you need to comfortably inhabit, if you wish to live a contented 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 must not matter at all, if I am to live sanely". 


5. On courage:

“The oldest and most generous tricks that the universe plays on us human beings both for its own amusement and for ours. The universe berries strange jewels deep within us all and then stands back to see if we can ever find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels that's creative living the courage to go on that hunt in the first place is what separates a mundane existence from a more chanted one.”

“So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?” 


6. On authenticity and Perfectionism

"Most things have already been done - but they have not been done by you. So what if we repeat the same themes? Once you put your own expression and passion behind an idea, that idea becomes yours. Anyhow, the older I get, the less impressed I become with originality. These days, I'm far more moved by authenticity. If it's authentic enough, believe me - it will feel original".

“Done is better than good.”

“Perfectionism is a particularly evil lure for women, who, I believe, hold themselves to an even higher standard of performance than do men. There are many reasons why women’s voices and visions are not more widely represented today in creative fields. Some of that exclusion is due to regular old misogyny, but it’s also true that—all too often—women are the ones holding themselves back from participating in the first place. Holding back their ideas, holding back their contributions, holding back their leadership and their talents. Too many women still seem to believe that they are not allowed to put themselves forward at all, until both they and their work are perfect and beyond criticism. Meanwhile, putting forth work that is far from perfect rarely stops men from participating in the global cultural conversation. Just sayin’. And I don’t say this as a criticism of men, by the way. I like that feature in men—their absurd overconfidence, the way they will casually decide, “Well, I’m 41 percent qualified for this task, so give me the job!” Yes, sometimes the results are ridiculous and disastrous, but sometimes, strangely enough, it works—a man who seems not ready for the task, not good enough for the task, somehow grows immediately into his potential through the wild leap of faith itself. I only wish more women would risk these same kinds of wild leaps. But I’ve watched too many women do the opposite. I’ve watched far too many brilliant and gifted female creators say, “I am 99.8 percent qualified for this task, but until I master that last smidgen of ability, I will hold myself back, just to be on the safe side.” Now, I cannot imagine where women ever got the idea that they must be perfect in order to be loved or successful. (Ha ha ha! Just kidding! I can totally imagine: We got it from every single message society has ever sent us! Thanks, all of human history!) But we women must break this habit in ourselves—and we are the only ones who can break it. We must understand that the drive for perfectionism is a corrosive waste of time, because nothing is ever beyond criticism. No matter how many hours you spend attempting to render something flawless, somebody will always be able to find fault with it. (There are people out there who still consider Beethoven’s symphonies a little bit too, you know, loud.) At some point, you really just have to finish your work and release it as is—if only so that you can go on to make other things with a glad and determined heart. Which is the entire point? Or should be.”

“It’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at.” 


7. On Failure & Critism

“Own your disappointment, acknowledge it for what it is, and move on.”

“You don’t need to conduct autopsies on your disasters.”

“Failure has a function. It asks you whether you really want to go on making things.”

“Results of my work don’t have much to do with me. I can only be in charge of producing the work itself. That's a hard enough job. I refuse to take on additional jobs such as trying to police what anyone thinks about my work once it leaves my desk.”


This book is not just for creative people but for everyone. And I hope you'll pick this book up for your next read.


Click her to know about the author Elizabeth Gilbert


Other books by the author: