Book Review: ‘Big Magic’ by Elizabeth Gilbert

Read time: 3 mins

Introduction

In Big Magic Creative Living Beyond Fear (2015) Bloomsbury, Elizabeth Gilbert details what creative living involves and encourages courage, enchantment, persistence and trust in its pursuit.

Courage

Gilbert starts, Big Magic, by describing a great poet who wrote poetry with a life-long commitment to searching for grace and transcendence, but he never much cared about being known. Within the advice he gave to aspiring writers, Gilbert points to, what she considers, the central question on which creative living hinges – ‘Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?’ In the first part of Big Magic, that creative living is described as ‘…living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear’ and the need for courage is made clear. Fears are identified, and they are seen as being bound with creativity, needing to be accepted within the creative process but not permitted to take control of it.

Enchantment

The second part of the book considers enchantment and how ideas present themselves, with a discussion of making yourself available to ideas. It is necessary is to show up, day after day, and do your work. Sometimes inspiration will be difficult to find, and at other times it may come easily. We are urged to ‘let it come and go’. Gilbert describes great mystery in the process of collaborating with the forces of inspiration.

Keeping good physical health is acknowledged as being good for your art. There is no necessity to suffer, as the stereotypical Tormented Artist or a martyr might suffer, but instead, to dedicate yourself to your path. This will lead to ‘… a charmed, interesting, passionate existence’.

The feeling of needing permission is described, with suggestions of how to overcome it. Gilbert recommends striving not for originality so much but for authenticity. To do what you want, trumping the motive of helping others. This point is highlighted with the delightful quote from ‘… Katherine Whitehorn: “You can recognize the people who live for others by the haunted look on the faces of the others.”’ On racking up student loans to study within art schools, Gilbert warns people to be careful with themselves and to ‘… push yourself deeper into the world, to explore more bravely. Or go more deeply and bravely inward.’

Persistence

The importance of persistence is examined, and the recommendation is a sensible approach, keeping pressure for financial success off the creation of art, to reduce feeling the need for continuous inspiration. This approach is a good way to avoid quitting entirely. Being wary of perfectionism is stated as ‘Done is better than good.’

Trust

Trust is the subject of the penultimate section, and approaching work from a place of ‘stubborn gladness’ (rather than from suffering) is what Gilbert favours. Taking a persona of a martyr is unhelpful, but trying instead to be like the trickster, is suggested, seeing life as interesting: ‘… the trickster trusts the universe.’

When it comes to passion versus curiosity, Gilbert is somewhat against passion. Rather than follow your passion, she prefers, follow your curiosity. ‘Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living … Passion can seem intimidatingly out of reach at times … 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.’

I’d like to think this review has piqued your curiosity to find a copy and read it, as it has inspiration, compassion and signposts to creative living.

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