ELIZABETH GILBERT – Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner – continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you – is a fine art, in and of itself.”
I actually bought this book for a friend, as part of a KK present in 2015. She LOVED it, having viewed Gilbert’s TED talks online, and eagerly took it all in, before kindly offering to lend it to me.
I’d had no intention of reading it. I didn’t know much about Gilbert, I hadn’t seen her online TED talks, and I hadn’t even read Eat, Pray, Love. I know. Am I even a woman?
Yet, when I read Big Magic, I felt like this book was truly meant for me.
That story in itself is one kind of Big Magic there. 😉
This is a book for all creative souls, and don’t be mistaken for thinking that you are NOT one of them, or cannot be creative in any form. Creativity doesn’t just appear to artists, writers, actors and musicians: it is there in the kitchen, at the needle and thread. It is in your garden, on the running track, and out in the wilderness. Creativity comes in an endless amount of arenas, in fact, it is EVERYWHERE, and the purpose of this book is Gilbert setting out to help you find that Big Magic of yours, whatever that may be – and giving you the purpose and courage to just go for it.
“All I know for certain is that this is how I want to spend my life – collaborating to the best of my ability with forces of inspiration that I can neither see, nor prove, nor command, nor understand.
It’s a strange line of work, admittedly.
I cannot think of a better way to pass my days.”
Gilbert puts forward the case that a creative life, is the only life to live. And I have to agree, as a fellow writer (I am declaring myself, as she says you must) this book was like “yep, yep, yep” for me. But you don’t need to be a writer to enjoy this book, or find a sense of kinship in the stories she puts forward. It is an entertaining read, very easy to follow and hard to put down, and her conversational style lets you flip page after page after page quite easily. Her examples and self-rules are appropriate for all creative endeavours, and she basically thinks you should just do what you want to do, no matter what.
“Begin anywhere. Preferably right now.”
Creativity, and the act of fulfilling what it is you love to do, is the reward in itself. Putting the pressure on your creativity, whatever it may be, to pave your way through life and pay your bills, is a huge and unfortunate act, and a horrible burden for your creativity to endure. The act of doing what it is you love is the reward itself, and Gilbert said it best, when she spoke about a time of her life when she was not being published:
“The rewards had to come from the joy of puzzling out the work itself, and from the private awareness I held that I had chosen a devotional path and I was being true to it. If someday I got lucky enough to be paid for my work, that would be great, but in the meantime, money could always come from other places.”
She also told the story of a friend of hers who had returned to figure skating in her 40s – after giving up on the sport when she was younger, realising she wasn’t going to be winning any medals. However she loved the sport, and would get up a few hours before work to figure skate to her hearts content.
The story is a realistic one too, in that her friend did not quit her job or sign on with an Olympic coach after rediscovering her dream – the creative living is in the fact itself, that is the reward, and no ‘awards’ are needed.
Because, you can pursue your dream and live to your hearts purpose, living out the days of your life with joy, as Gilbert puts it:
“Anyhow, what else are you going to do with your time here on earth – not make things? Not do interesting stuff? Not follow your love and your curiosity?”
Otherwise, she offers up this juicy dare:
“There is always that alternative, after all. You have free will. If creative living becomes too difficult or too unrewarding for you, you can stop whenever you want.”
Ha! Not a fat chance in hell. I’m in this for the long haul… are you? 😉
But I’m scared! you cry out. Gilbert covers that too. She paints a picture of fear as boring. Something I had never considered before, but when she explains that humans and animals are all afraid of the unknown, and that that in itself is nothing extraordinary or special… well then that fear becomes very boring. The object of fear most likely differs between human/animal, sure… but it is still fear. So same same, so unoriginal, just another “mass-produced item.”
We all need fear to survive, it’s human nature, it’s a survival tactic. But creatively speaking, we do not need it in that arena. It is mute, unnecessary.
She says how Harper Lee did not write for decades after writing To Kill a Mockingbird, because she was scared of how she would out-do its success! Fear kept her from writing, when writing in itself is the reward. Imagine if she had only forged through her fear and written on, what do you think she could have produced? We will never know.
Rather than waiting for your genius to hit… you must head out there and get onto your passion, because guess what? Your genius is waiting for YOU.
“There are people out there who still consider Beethoven’s symphonies a little bit too, you know, loud.”
And no matter what you do, there will always be that one person. That one, measly person, (1, if you are lucky), who finds fault in what you do. You cannot be in charge or control what other people think of you, and Gilbert says it is none of your business anyway. Let them have their own passionate opinions about you, just as you have your own passionate opinions about them. The only thing you are in charge of, is creating your own work. That’s it. It’s the only sane way to live.
And what to do, if someone is really, truly, attacking your work and everything about you? Gilbert sums it up absolutely perfectly.
“Just smile sweetly and suggest – as politely as you possibly can – that they go make their own fucking art.
Then stubbornly continue making yours.”
She swears. I fucking love the gal.
“Your art not only doesn’t have to be original, in other words; it also doesn’t have to be important.”
I hear you sister. When I decided that in order to become a writer, I had to embody writing as something I did in EVERY day of my life (years later and I’m still posting regular content on SmikG and carcrashgratitude) I wasn’t concerned with how it was going to heal the world. I had, and still have an expression that needed to come out, I wanted to share my views with the world, on writing, on coffee, on Motherhood, on whatever the hell shit me or made me so inexplicably grateful that day, and I never really asked myself ‘is this really important?’ To some, probably no. To me, it is what I love to do, and so if it makes me happy, if it means I can express myself as I wish and get a great sense of fulfilment in doing so, in just being me…
Well then, why the hell not?
I think what she is trying to say, is don’t get caught up in the whys and hows, worried that what you are doing is not going to save somebody else’s life. Creativity is an important part of everyone’s existence whether they realise it or not, and the world needs humour, insight, honesty and flair to keep them going on going.
And though you may think it has all been said, or done before… maybe it has, but not with your unique take on it. Only you can say it, or do it, as YOU can.
You have to do whatever it is that is within you, because of YOU. Because you have something that has to be said. To be expressed. No one else has this, just you.
“You are worthy, dear one, regardless of the outcome. You will keep making your work, regardless of the outcome. You will keep sharing your work, regardless of the outcome. You were born to create, regardless of the outcome. You will never lose trust in the creative process, even when you don’t understand the outcome.”
She offers up some fabulous bits of advice, some of which I carry close to me as I write, or just generally as I go about life… firstly, no one else cares. Not in the vindictive sense – but a freeing way of thinking about your life, and doing what you want to do, is to remove yourself from the idea that people are so concerned about everything you are doing – chances are they probably don’t think of you as much as what you think. They are too busy building up their own lives and doing their own thing, they don’t have time to stop and ponder hard about what your next move will be, and how it will affect them. So just worry about yourself.
Secondly, you will fail. But when you do, do not bother with the whys and hows of it – just pick yourself up and move on with the next project. Dwelling will only make things worse. Own it, and just move on.
Which brings me to another great question…
“What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?”
Hmm that puts things in perspective doesn’t it? She offers this up in a different form, rephrased by the writer Mark Manson, who asked “what’s your favourite flavour of shit sandwich?” This sounds absurd, right, but just take a moment to think about it… what are you willing to put up with the most, and what are you so passionate about that you don’t care about the cons of what it is you are trying to do? That my friends, is your flavour of shit sandwich.
How bad do you want ‘it?’ Like Gilbert said when a friend of hers didn’t want to write anymore, because he didn’t like the results (awards) he got from it, leaving her hungrily eyeing off his uneaten shit sandwich! How much, do you want it? It’s a telling question (and answer) indeed.
A terrific idea Gilbert brought forth in this book was the concept of ideas, and them owning us, choosing us to manifest themselves through, rather than us discovering them. They live around us, with the whole purpose of their being to be made material through us, and they will try and catch our attentions through all manner of ways. Sometimes we catch the signs… sometimes we don’t. And when we miss them, they will simply move onto another willing participant.
It certainly explains the phenomenon, of two people in different places having the same idea. Or how you think up a great idea or invention, and then months later it is advertised or on the market, and you say “that could have been me!” Well it could have been, but you didn’t want it bad enough, so the idea left you. Sheesh, harsh there.
Gilbert offered up one story regarding herself, and an idea she had… and then how the idea went away because she had not been focusing on it for a while… only to later learn the exact idea had now been brought into existence by a fellow writer friend of hers!
Why, that sounds like Magic! Big Magic to be precise. I’ll let you read the actual book for the full details, but it is one of those stories that you just can’t get your head around, it’s that terrifically fantastical.
One name for this is multiple discovery, a term used in the scientific field. It is when the same idea appears in two different places at the same time, and a lovely way to explain it is:
“When the time is ripe for certain things, they appear at different places, in the manner of violets coming to light in early spring.”
I have always in some way believed this, and I don’t even know how this thought of mine came to being or where I got it from. But once an idea is out there, it is ripe for the picking!
This made me think, A LOT. I was stressing for a good while over the book I wrote, that had just been hanging around on my laptop waiting for me to do it over, or send it to someone, for ages. Her take on ideas moving around drove me to push on, because I don’t know what I would’ve done if my idea went away from me! I owe my idea, my book, that much!
I have ideas though that have stayed with me for so long, so I don’t know what Gilbert would say about that… my ideas love me? They don’t want to leave me even though I rarely have time for them? I believe with her theory while still feeling it’s unfinished, incomplete, with some work in progress exemptions to it. 😉
Believing in an other-worldly force, like ideas playing with us, is not an overall novel concept… the Romans for example, didn’t believe that people were geniuses. They believed a person HAD a genius, a muse as it were.
Are you responsible for your incredible thoughts, visions, imageries? Or is it your Muse who should really be accepting all praise/blame? Keeps that ego in check doesn’t it?
“I have chosen to believe that a desire to be creative was encoded into my DNA for reasons I will never know, and that creativity will not go away from me unless I forcibly kick it away, or poison it dead.”
I couldn’t agree with her more. Something has always happened to lead me back to writing, and one of the classic examples was one night many many many years ago, when Hubbie asked me what I would do if I had no boundaries, what would be my ultimate vocation, and so the wheels started turning from way back then. I think it’s important for us to go on this creative journey and find what it is that makes us happy, and then go about our lives DOING THAT THING. It IS about the journey, and not the outcome, because at the end of it all, isn’t that what it’s all about? Living a fulfilled and happy life?
I’ll end on the most terrific story.
Many years ago Gilbert’s uncle went to see the writer Richard Ford at a bookstore appearance. During a Q&A, a man in the crowd asked Ford why he was so successful with his writings, when the man himself was the same age as Ford, wrote the same themes as Ford, had a similar background to Ford, and yet still did not have the same success as Ford! He wanted some advice, but asked – please, don’t tell me to persevere, that only makes me feel worse.
Ford replied that he would never tell him to persevere; instead he told him to quit. The crowd was stunned. Ford went on to say that clearly, writing gave him no pleasure, and life was too short to be miserable during it. He told him to find new hobbies, find new things to do “but don’t write anymore, because it’s obviously killing you.”
“If you happen to discover, after a few years away from writing, that you have found nothing that takes its place in your life – nothing that fascinates you, or moves you, or inspires you to the same degree that writing once did… well then, sir, I’m afraid you will have no choice but to persevere.”
CHILLS CHILLS CHILLS.
Please let me know your thoughts on Big Magic in the comments below, I would love to discuss with you 😊