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Book Review: Big Magic


Big Magic
Creative Living Beyond Fear

Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Published: 2015
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Pages: 272
My rating: 4/5

There has been a lot of hype surrounding Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest non-fiction offering. And the author herself is much responsible. From whipping up a frenzy on her Facebook page to the popular pre-cursor podcast ‘Magic Lessons’, Gilbert has been promoting hard. And it seems to have worked.

In Big Magic, Gilbert tackles her favourite topic – creativity. And after such a long time in the world of publishing and writing, she has a lot to say.

The thing with Big Magic, is that it’s not a book for everyone. Although aimed at those wanting to live a creative life in any respect, I feel that unless your passion lies in writing, a lot of it may not hit the spot for you. But, I could be wrong.

For this reason, rather than do a traditional review, I thought I’d offer 5 things that I took away from the book. I did earmark a lot of pages, something that I don’t normally do, but so much struck me. Let’s see if I can stick to only 5.

My 5 take-aways from Big Magic

1. Fear-Less

Let’s begin with an area where Gilbert and I slightly disagree. Only slightly. She believes that fear has an important role to play and it should be respected – yes agreed. She says being fearless is a fruitless pursuit – I say yes, but I also take that one step further and say ‘fearing less’ is an important concept to grasp for anyone to move forward and aim higher in life. I won’t repeat myself with my take on this again as I have blogged about fearless and fearing less as my word for 2015. You can read those posts here and here.


2. Sit down and get it done

Although some of the issues Gilbert speaks about may come across as ‘airy-fairy’ and made of ‘magic’, she doesn’t hesitate to remind us that it takes work. Good old-fashioned, bum-on-seat work. To get anywhere you have to sit down and write. As Gilbert says,

“Most of my writing life consists of nothing more than unglamorous, disciplined labor. I sit at my desk and I work like a farmer, and that’s how it gets done.”

So make no mistake, there is no magical wand that you can wave, no sitting waiting for inspiration to strike or the right words to magically appear; to get it done you have to sit down and make it happen.


3. Entitlement

In her chapter on Permission, Gilbert talks about entitlement. Not in the egotistical fashion, but in how you need to feel you are entitled to live a creative life. This is certainly one of the areas that I find myself struggling with. Liz talks about the nasty dialogue that forms in your head something along the lines of: “Who the hell do you think you are, trying to be creative? You suck, you’re stupid, you have no talent and you serve no purpose. Get back in your hole.” – Yep. I know that internal discourse all too well!

Gilbert goes on to say that you should engage with this voice and answer it by defining who you are, and not to back down. I’m not sure if this exact technique will work for everyone, but she is right. We need to take control and afford ourselves permission that we are indeed entitled to live a creative life. A big yes to that.


4. Don’t set out with an end-goal

Now this may seem a little odd. For myself, my goal is, or maybe was, to be one day be a published author. But Gilbert, has opened up my perspective. She says don’t create with an end-goal or a purpose. Don’t write to heal or help someone, don’t write to make a difference in someone’s life, don’t write to fascinate others. Write for yourself. Because you like it. 

That sentence there really punched me in the face. In a good way.

Write because I like it. Because I enjoy it. Because it makes me feel whole. Because it is the best way to calm my soul. Yes. Yes. And yes!

Gilbert says if your work helps, fascinates, thrills or inspires other as a by-product, that is fantastic. Amazing. But it shouldn’t be your end goal. If your aim is to be published, that’s a great goal, but Gilbert says…

“The outcome cannot matter.”

Create because you like it. Because you must. And despite what happens to your work once you are finished. Trust in the process. And I feel she is right.


5. Forget about passion and embrace curiosity instead

I’ve always hated the word passion. But have used it many times over for lack of a better word. But Gilbert has found one. Curiosity. To demonstrate let me quote a paragraph from page 237.

“Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living. Curiosity is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. Furthermore, curiosity is accessible to everyone. Passion can seem intimidating out of reach at times – a distant tower of flame, accessible only to geniuses and to those specially touched by God. But curiosity is a milder, quieter, more welcoming, and more democratic entity. The stakes of curiosity are also far lower than the stakes of passion.”

She goes on to say that the only question curiosity asks is: “Is there anything you’re interested in?” And it is within this question that lies the spark to inspire you to find out. Go on follow this curiosity and see where it leads you.


In Conclusion

If you’re a writer, I really do think you will gain quite a lot from ‘Big Magic’. It’s the kind of book you can keep on your desk and flick through should your inspiration wane, or in times of self-doubt. For other non-writers, there’s certainly an underlying positivity you will take-away once you get past Gilbert’s ‘I do it this way’ narrative (which isn’t a bad thing). But go in prepared. Yes, it is airy-fairy in part, yes it is typical Elizabeth Gilbert voice and tone, but if you can look past all that, you will absolutely discover gems of inspiration and brilliance to take away.

Have you read Big Magic yet?
Are you team Liz or not?

Linking with Essentially Jess for IBOT