The first thing I want to say about Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear is “buy it.” Her advice is honest, authentic, encouraging, insightful, witty, and resourced, for she draws on the wisdom of not only her experience but those of writer friends such as Brené Brown and Ann Patchett, as well as Albert Einstein, Tom Waits, and Werner Herzog, among many others.
After reading this book I felt understood, encouraged, inspired, and ready to pursue my writing with new diligence. Gilbert divides her book into six sections. Here's a little taste of each to whet your appetite:
In my post of Jan. 30 I shared the talking-to Gilbert gives her fear at the beginning of a new project. She acknowledges that we all have fears: “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,” etc. But, she says, fear is boring. Everyone has fear. Your fear is the most mundane thing about you. Focus on your creativity instead.
I loved this part. Gilbert says that ideas are a “disembodied, energetic life-form” seeking a means of expression, a vehicle to become real. “Therefore, ideas spend an eternity swirling around us, searching for available and willing human partners.” When it finds an opening, it asks, “Do you want to work with me?” The answer is up to us, she says. If we say no, the idea will move on to someone else, which is why you may see that “your” book that you have been idly pondering for years has been written and published by someone else.
“You do not need anyone’s permission to lead a creative life.” Besides, Gilbert says, by virtue of being human you are creative. It’s unavoidable. She cites the poet David Whyte’s term, “the arrogance of belonging,” as a necessary condition for taking creative risks. “I believe that this good kind of arrogance—this simple entitlement to exist, and therefore to express yourself—is the only weapon with which to combat the nasty dialogue that may automatically arise in your head whenever you get an artistic impulse.” In this section she also takes on motives (on writing to save the world: “please don’t”), reasons why you don’t need an MFA, and the admonition to stop complaining, because every time you do you scare inspiration away.
Gilbert says that when she was a child she made a vow to her writing, and that it is the one vow she has kept all these years. No matter how many rejections she amassed—and there were many—she kept going for the love of the work, and to educate herself, and to grow. She never thought of giving up, because writing was an inside job. She also warns against putting too much pressure on your creativity by trying to make a living from it: “I’ve always felt like this is so cruel to your work—to demand a regular paycheck from it, as if creativity were a government job, or a trust fund.” She kept working her day jobs until after Eat, Pray, Love was published, even though she had three other successful books under her belt. She also talks about the idea that “done is better than good,” and so much more. There is so much meat in this section that I cannot possibly do it justice. Read the book.
You may love your writing or other creative pursuit, but does it love you? Your answer to this question will make the difference between your living a fulfilled, joyful life or one of the “tortured artist.” (Hint: Gilbert asks, “Do you honestly believe that creativity went through all the trouble of breaking into your consciousness only because it wanted to kill you?”) Curiosity, a light approach, and what she calls a “stubborn gladness” are some of the keys she mentions to trusting where your creativity takes you, no matter how seemingly convoluted the path.
Where does the profane end and the sacred begin, in our work and in our lives? That is the question and the paradox, which Gilbert gleefully leaves us to sort out for ourselves.
Reading this book is like having a frank, inspiring discussion with a wise friend over a leisurely dinner. Tuck in and enjoy!