Thoughts on ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert

big-magic-by-elizabeth-gilbertIn the midst of a writing dry spell, desperate to break out of a creative funk, I walked into Barnes & Noble, determined to find something, anything to rejuvenate my creative self.

I ended up in the self-help section, searching for Enneagram books. (Don’t ask me how I thought that would help. I have thoroughly explored my Enneagram type and squeezed as much guidance out of it as I probably can.) Instead, another book caught my eye: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. The cover was gorgeous, a sea of watercolor splashes and simple text, and I read the subtitle with a sigh of relief: “Creative Living Beyond Fear.” Ah. This was what I needed. I read the first page, liked what I saw, and promptly bought it.

I was not disappointed. Gilbert’s book reads like an eloquent permission slip. It teaches us to let go of the need for external validation that lives inside of all of us. Creativity, she says, is not about that at all. It’s only about making things for the sheer joy of making them. And you don’t need anybody’s permission for that. You can’t be too young or too old; you don’t need an M.F.A. from a prestigious university; you don’t need to be a bestselling author or world-renowned artist.

You just need to realize that nothing stands between you and the creative energy of the universe. Her book was, in short, exactly what I needed.

I devoured the book at a writing retreat, and it helped me understand what was blocking me. First of all, I was asking too much of my creativity. I was asking it to support me, to help me keep up in a society where everybody is curious how much everybody else makes and we tie our self-worth to the size of our bank accounts. I was creatively stifled because I wanted my creativity to do something for me that I had no business asking it for.  Ego got in the way; self-doubt got in the way. I had lost the sense of entering a story and a world with infinite curiosity. I only wanted to finish the story. I didn’t want to immerse myself in it.

As Gilbert writes,

“You can live a long life, making and doing cool things the entire time. You might earn a living with your pursuits or you might not, but you can recognize that this is not really the point. And at the end of your days, you can thank creativity for having blessed you with a charmed, interesting, passionate experience.”

I’m still trying to figure out how to balance my goal-driven, competitive ego with my spiritual, rebellious inner self, the one who doesn’t really give a frack what anyone thinks, she’s just going to create anyway, to replace the need for approval and recognition with the desire for creation and connection.

If you’re facing the same dilemma, I recommend Big Magic. It doesn’t have all the answers, but it can help you figure out where to look for them—or that, maybe, you don’t need answers anyway. You just need to create.

Writing update: Not a whole lot. Trying to figure out Michael’s character arc in Spellfire’s Kiss. That story is whispering in my ear, and I’m trying to listen, like pressing my ear to a seashell. At the retreat I wrote a few thousand words in Silver’s Stray, which started out as a 6,000-word short story but is quickly growing into a longer work. I’m also exploring poetry again, after years away.

What about you? Have your read Big Magic? What were your thoughts on it? How are your projects coming along?

 

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6 thoughts on “Thoughts on ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert

  1. Glad you found something that helped you get out of your funk. I know for me, I put too much pressure on myself to write for others instead of for myself. My inner demons tell me that I’m not really a writer if other people – and lots of them – aren’t reading and loving what I write. The last time I had writer’s block, I just went off and wrote every day in my journal, just for me, and boom – writer’s block gone, coz I was writing for me and my well-being.

    • It’s the same for me, Chris! I keep thinking about getting the book out into the world, not enjoying the journey of writing the book. I’m still trying to figure out how to manage that. I like your idea of journaling, of writing something just for myself. That seems to be, oddly enough, when I do my best work. Just for me and nobody else. Thanks!

  2. I haven’t read “Big Magic,” but it sounds like a fascinating read. Sounds like something I could have used when I was going through a recent writing crisis. It’s hard to balance the creative side with the practical side. Sometimes, I feel like I went into the wrong field because writing didn’t equate to a steady income. But I did it anyway because I wanted to create something. Years after getting that degree, I feel like I’m nowhere closer to writing that novel. However, I’ve learned that writing a novel isn’t for everybody. And that’s fine. I’m happy writing my short stories. I might compile some into a book. Who knows?

    Speaking of writing, I finished a rough draft of a new story. In the middle of that, I’m working on finishing some stories from months back. I have a full plate the next two weeks. I hope to get everything I set out to do this month done.

    • Let me know if you read “Big Magic.” I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.

      I personally feel more at home writing shorter works, although I do have some stories that are novel-length. I have a feeling I’ll end up writing more shorter works, with a novel here or there. I hope someday you’re able to publish a short-story collection. That would be awesome!

      A new story finished? Congrats! And good luck on finishing the others on your plate.

  3. Lovely post, well worth reading! Not only for the reference to Elizabeth Gilbert’s book (which I haven’t read), but for a recognition of that ongoing struggle we all face in finding balance between the creative writing part of ourselves, the business end of dealing with the ‘real world’ of marketing and selling our work, and all the rest that life brings us. I too am glad you found the Gilbert book. I’m seeing posts about the importance of self-nurturing, and that includes reading a good book that brings you back to yourself. Thank you!

    • Beth, it was well worth the read. I don’t think our culture places a great deal of emphasis on self-kindness–even in the writing community, where we tend to slip into word-count goals and sales numbers and forget the spiritual nature of creative practice. If you do read Gilbert’s book, let me know what you think. 🙂

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