Title: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Publisher: Riverhead Books (Penguin)
Time taken to read: 3 days
Goodreads synopsis: Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.
As I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, I am now a barista at a Barnes & Noble café, and as a B&N employee, I have the wonderful privilege of borrowing hardcover books from the store for free. When I saw Big Magic in the store, and even still when I signed it out and brought it home, I thought it was fiction. I had no idea that it was basically a series of essays on creativity, and I definitely had no idea that it was exactly what I needed at this point in my life.
I wrote down only one quote from this book, although nearly every line felt like revelation to me:
…the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have the time anymore to think so small.
I like this because I like the idea of the world’s movements being a measure of time. Clocks are man-made, and sometimes it feels like time is man-made, but the Earth’s rotations are 100% pure nature, and whether or not I am creating things, whether or not I am happy, the Earth keeps going, and I keep going with it. But I can only keep going for so long, because humans are not immortal, and I have to use the time I have as creatively and as happily as possible.
Gilbert talks a lot in this book about how people have this idea of the “Tormented Artist” who can only create great things because of the pain and suffering that they’ve endured, and Gilbert thinks that this ridiculous. She says that we should stop romanticizing pain and that we need to just be ourselves and create from that, and it’s often difficult, and for her impossible, to create when you’re miserable. I have always believed that my creations have come from my suffering, that my voice in my writing is only authentic because I have experienced the pain that I want to discuss in my fiction. How would it be fair of me to write about depression if I hadn’t experienced it myself? For that reason, I have always felt like my suffering was worth it because it gave me permission to write. Gilbert talks a lot about permission too, about how we don’t need permission to be creative or to make art because it’s our right as human beings. That really resonated with me because I have always been so afraid to call myself a writer, because I have always felt like I don’t deserve that title because I have yet to be a “successful” writer, successful to me meaning making money off of it and becoming well-known from it. But I’m not looking to call myself a successful writer right now. Why can’t I just call myself a writer, with my level of success left out of it? Because I haven’t been given permission. But I feel like Gilbert has given that to me with this book. And she has shown me that maybe I don’t need to be in a dark place to write. In fact, maybe I can’t be in a dark place if I want to write. At first I was a little offended by what she was saying, that people want to suffer so that they can be the “Tormented Artist”, but I’d be lying if I tried to act like I didn’t get some enjoyment out of turning myself into the image of the person who hurts so much but makes something beautiful out of it. And maybe that’s just my way of dealing with my pain, maybe I can’t control the way I cope, but at least I can now entertain the idea of letting that go.
I also really liked the way she talked about how our creativity has to be the most important thing to us and it has to not matter at all, all at the same time. I have to give writing everything I’ve got, but I can’t let myself care too much, because life will happen the way it happens no matter what I do sometimes, especially in the world of writing and publishing. I have to let go of my dependency on whether or not I’m a successful writer. Otherwise, writing won’t be fun for me, and if I don’t enjoy it, it probably won’t be very good.
Gilbert also talks a lot about her weirdly spiritual concept that ideas are entities with consciousnesses that are seeking out a person to bring them to light. She describes a time in her life when an idea came to her and how it eventually left her when she didn’t give it enough attention, didn’t prove to it that she was serious about it, and it lost patience. While I think this is a ridiculous thing to actually literally believe in, it made me ask myself, if this were the truth, what would that say about me and my ideas? And I thought about my book, and I realized that, since I got the idea when I was sixteen, I have never once even considered not finishing my book. I have spent months ignoring it, but I never thought for a second that I might just choose to not go back to it. I always knew that even if somehow I knew that it could never get published, it’s very personally important to me that I finish this book no matter what. The characters and the messages mean so much to me, and this idea has been with me for such a long time that it feels like a part of me, and if my idea has a consciousness, I think it must know that, because it hasn’t abandoned me even though it could be argued that I deserved it because of the long breaks I took from nurturing it. All this made me feel like thanking my idea for sticking by me when it didn’t need to. I guess it just knows that I need it very much, because I need to tell this story, whether I’m telling it to the whole world or just to myself. And that’s why I deserve to call myself a writer. Maybe I don’t work tirelessly on my projects every day, but writing in general is something that I have to do for myself, to keep myself sane (or as sane as is possible for me) and to understand myself and the world around me.
Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert, for this incredibly inspiring book.