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Book Review: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert is the author of a bunch of novels (Eat Pray Love her most successful) and has been living a creative life, for well, her whole life. This book tells the reader how she views creativity and how all of us strive, in some way or another, to live creatively. I connected with this book. I seriously connected with it as someone who lives a creative life. I might have connected with it because I am a writer and Gilbert herself is a writer. But either way, I think this book has real value to anyone struggling with declaring themselves a creative being.

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This book is broken up into six sections: courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust, and divinity (like the creative process according to Gilbert). The book is easy to read and conversational. Gilbert talks to the reader directly (using the second person) often.

I wish at times there were more poetic or vivid descriptions. It’s nonfiction so there is a lot of telling. I think it could have benefited from more metaphors. I liked the anecdotes! About her ice skating friend, her neighbor covered in tattoos, the playwright painting stars on children’s bikes. Whenever Gilbert’s ideas came from life experience (including and especially her own experience), the meaning leaped off the page.

Courage

It takes guts to live a creative life. Why? Because creative living can be scary and we are afraid of letting our fear and insecurities out into the world. Plus, creativity can be selfish. We aren’t doing this for anyone but ourselves and that can be hard to grapple with.

Enchantment

This section got into what I like to call “things happen for a reason.” And they do! Gilbert’s experience with this is quite profound and I love her vision of ideas floating around in the universe and we just have to be ready for them to hit us. We have to be ready and open to the inspiration that will come. If not, the idea will move on without you.

You could also call this section “inspiration” and I think it would also work. But it’s more than inspiration too. It’s about letting go when the idea no longer works for you. Her story with Ann Patchett I think is the most compelling story for us readers to believe in Big Magic. And let me tell you, it’s fascinating and, indeed, enchanting.

Permission

Gilbert, with force and conviction, tells us that we don’t need permission to want to live creatively. But whenever we realize that we do indeed have permission to create, we have to defend it. And that’s where we come to the next section: persistence.

Persistence

This section is quite long but completely necessary. You have to do it. You have to do the thing and keep doing it no matter the outcome. I think this section really spoke to me and I think it can be nicely summarized (and I think the most meaningful part of the book in my eyes) with this quote:

“I’ve had to keep defining and defending myself as a writer every single day of my adult life– constantly reminding myself and re-reminding my soul and the cosmos that I’m very serious about the business of creative living, and that I will never stop creating, no matter what the outcome, and no matter how deep my anxieties and insecurities may be.”

From page 95 of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Trust

I do not agree with the beginning of the “Trust” section. Like seriously, do not agree. She talks about how there is this notion that you must suffer to create art. That creating–in whatever form– is painful. I agree that there is this stereotype of the suffering, self-sacrificing creator. Gilbert paints these people as martyrs, who kill themselves in the name of their work.

She suggests that the way to combat this is to become tricksters. That you become playful and light and ever-changing. I just can’t agree with this dichotomy. Why, oh why, are there only two options? If you will, you must pick between playing the hero or the fool. You will be hard pressed if I ever call myself ‘the fool of writing’. I can only picture a court jester, dancing on a laptop, bells jingling every time a word gets typed.

I mean, this is her book (obviously) so she’s saying how she sees the world working. But I just want to suggest a spectrum. To me, we have negativity/pessimism on the one end and positivity/optimism on the other end. Some days and with some work, yes, you might be on the pessimist end. Maybe you have suffered greatly and doing this art, however painful, will help you get through that pain. Some days maybe you are more realistic, telling creativity that the mundane parts of your existence are influencing you. Of course, strive to be in the light. I consider myself an optimistic person and so I approach creativity with a positive lens.

Now I’m saying all this and, hey, if this is the only thing I disagree with in her entire work, that’s not bad and yes I would read this book again. The rest of the “Trust” section rings true to me. Just not that first section.

Divinity

The last section is very short and powerfully put with one meaningful anecdote. Low brow versus high brow art? It doesn’t matter. None of it matters. It’s creativity for the creator and not for anyone else really.

My Final Thoughts

No matter how you create, you should do it for yourself. Make some art! Experience some of that Big Magic and live a creative life beyond fear. This book is encouraging throughout and will hopefully help you let go and get creating.

Happy Reading-

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