Though I’d like to wax poetic about how this book stuck with me, I can’t. Sometime has passed since I read it and much of it has since faded from memory. Though it’s message resonated with me and was something I needed to hear/read, it didn’t have as hard an impact as I wanted it to. Why was that? Well, I’ve read a lot of articles and books on getting started on creative projects, creativity in general, and on motivation so the message in Gilbert’s book wasn’t new.
Also, being a major fan of Gilbert, though I’ve read only two books by her books counting this one, I was so excited when I heard she would write a book on creativity that I dived into all the talks and articles and reviews she and others did about this book when it was published and I think I overindulged. By the time I read the book, I already knew much of what it contained. (Does that mean I was spoiled for a nonfiction self-help book? Is that even possible?) However, that didn’t lessen my excitement. When I started reading it, I read it quickly but in spurts and so didn’t allow the book to take hold.
My reading experience with Big Magic seems similar to my first read of Pema Chödrön’s Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better. I also didn’t gain much from that book when I first read it because I sped through it. As such, I’ve decided to re-read Big Magic in a few months or so. It’s a short book, easy to read, and I love how Gilbert wrote it. Actually, I enjoyed reading it, which from all I’ve since said might seem confusing. The thing is I enjoyed reading the book because I love how Gilbert writes it, but I didn’t glean as much as I thought I would from its content.
However, what I got was something I needed: Permission. Permission to start living the creative life I want to live and indulge in my eccentricities, the things that make me feel happy and playful. We don’t need permission to live a creative life, but sometimes our responsibilities get us so bogged down that we feel guilty if we have fun doing something that we love. I’ve been waiting for permission to jump in. Because of my current living (with parents) and financial (damn student loans) situation, I feel as if I’m not allowed the freedom to do and be what and who I want to be. I feel confined by these constrains. But I’ve decided to take Gilbert’s advice and open up and be and do what I want.
I’m glad for this section of the book and I think most people who struggle with their creativity will walk away with something after reading the book. The good thing about Big Magic is that you don’t have to read it front to back, you can jump in wherever you want. The book is broken into sections, where Gilbert discusses a particular issue that readers might be struggling with and basically tells us to get over it and get working because sitting around doing nothing won’t make it easier. She includes quotes and personal anecdotes as well as that of other writers and artists to soften the delivery of her advice. But that’s basically what she says again and again. It’s the same as other writers and artists have said.
The really unique concept in this book is Gilbert’s unconventional thoughts on how ideas work. Many readers were surprised by her explanation and disagreed with what she said. I thought I would react the same, but I didn’t find her explanation all that surprising partly because I’ve read many reviews that disclaim Gilbert’s assertions on how ideas work (I guess I really spoiled myself for this book) and partly because it fits her. The only other book of hers I’ve read is her memoir Eat, Pray, Love in which we see a little of how she interacts with the world, and I think her explanation of ideas as being “disembodied, energetic life-form[s]” with consciousness and will matches what’s expressed in Eat, Pray, Love.
But do I agree with Gilbert here? Kind of. I don’t think I can go as far as believing that ideas are life-forms because then I would have to accept other things as real (and I so don’t want to go there), but I agree with her that we should be kind to inspiration and our ideas. I think it’s beneficial to be polite to them. In a way, one can see this as expressing self-compassion, but…..fine! I sorta agree that they are life-forms.
I give this book 5 stars because if I’d read it a couple years ago, I would be preaching and raving about it. It was an enjoyable read that’s funny and thought-provoking, and I believe most readers will walk away with treasured advice when done. If not, the reader might be heartened by Gilbert’s encouragement. Actually, while reading I imagined her as a coach cheering us on to get up and get creating. I will reread it and I know I will return to it when I need the encouragement to get creating.
By the way, I highlighted damn near everything in this book. I’ll only include a few quotes below.
Also, I saw this Humans of New York post after reading the book and it made me think back to this quote from the book:
“When artists are burdened with the label of “genius,” I think they lose the ability to take themselves lightly, or to create freely.”
“Creativity is a gift to the creator, not just a gift to the audience.”
“You do not need anybody’s permission to live a creative life.”
“No matter how great your teachers may be, and no matter how esteemed your academy’s reputation, eventually you will have to do the work by yourself.”
“Music is nothing more than decoration for the imagination.”
“My creative expression must be the most important thing in the world to me (if I am to live artistically), and it also must not matter at all (if I am to live sanely).”
“While it’s lovely to be childlike in your pursuit of creativity, in other words, it’s dangerous to be childish.”
“Slip away from everyone else at the party and go off to dance alone with your ideas in the dark.”
“Be satisfied with even the smallest progress, and treat the outcome of it all as unimportant.” — Marcus Aurelius
“What you produce is not necessarily always sacred, I realized, just because you think it’s sacred. What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life. The more lightly you can pass that time, the brighter your existence becomes.” — (Makes me think of Miranda and her comic book in Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.)
14 thoughts on ““Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert”
Oh, I’m so happy you loved Big Magic! 😀 I read it a couple months ago, and its messages and ideas resonated with me so much. I’m also thinking about putting my own spin on some of the things she talks about in future blog articles, because every writer and creative person in general can benefit from reading each other’s experiences with inspiration, courage with creativity, etc.
That sounds good. I’ll look out for them. I agree. It certainly helps boost my willingness to continue trying when I read about how others overcome their doubts about creativity and their struggle with their projects.
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Definitely feel you on the whole living-with-parents and paying-off-loans thing. I’m moving back in after being on my own post-college for 2 years, and I’m afraid it’ll be really hard. I don’t typically go for books like this, but this one sounds really interesting and something I might actually pick up. This was a great review!
I hope you enjoy as well, if you read it. I think many will find this book inspiring.
Oh gosh, it was so hard to adjust when I moved back in (and now I can’t wait to move back out (whenever that will happen)). Man, those damn student loans! I wish I had more guidance and advice about them when I was in school. Oh well. Lemme go pay a bill.
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I wasn’t big on EPL. I could see why it tickled the public palate but her real work of art is The Signature of All Things. As for her ideas on ideas and art, no – she is not original. But yes, she does have a way of reaching the heart.
I hope to read The Signature of All Things this year. I love the way she writes so I’d like to read more of her work so I can say for sure that she’s one of my favorite writers.
I know I was partial to it bc I happened to have gone to Univ of PA AND studied the Classics she attributes to a minor character. She also touches on holistic health, and the history of homeopathy I espouse links with the cinchona bark that features in the earlier part of the book. But it was her artistry that won me over, and what she did with an unattractive character like Alma. The story is very well architected and rich. I was very touched by the lives of the characters. As I implied, there’s a reason it didn’t beat the sales over EPL – it’s not the mainstream palate. But it’s for that work she really deserves accolade. (So EPL was a disappointment for me in many ways – and poorly written toward the end. What in the world her editor was doing I don’t know.)
I’ve heard similar things about The Signature of All Things. Many have saud that it’s her best work. I have to disagree with you on Eat, Pray, Love, though. I enjoyed the book and thought it was written well. I felt like I read it at the right time because I could relate to her though I’ve never went through any of the events she had.
Yes, as I said, she has a way of reaching the heart. That’s great she spoke to you.
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This was such a great review. I’ve been hesitant to read this book, but after reading your thoughts I really want to read it. I agree on your point about permission, and I think that a lot of times people are too hard on themselves, and we hold ourselves back from our own creativity. I’m trying to be better about open about doing what I want too.
Yea that’s true. And Gilbert discusses that as well. She tries to nudge us to get out of our own way.
I def recommend the book!
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