Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us t...

Title:Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:1594634718
Edition Language:English
Number of Pages:288 pages

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear Reviews

  • Diane

    Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert, for writing this much-needed book on creativity. It was practical, helpful, comforting and inspiring. I know it will be a book I recommend over and over again to writer and artist friends, and anyone else who wants to live a more creative life.

    I've been struggling for a week over this review, and I'm still a bit overwhelmed. Sometimes books are so powerful that trying to cobble together a few paragraphs about them seems both trivial and also maddeningly crucial. How

    Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert, for writing this much-needed book on creativity. It was practical, helpful, comforting and inspiring. I know it will be a book I recommend over and over again to writer and artist friends, and anyone else who wants to live a more creative life.

    I've been struggling for a week over this review, and I'm still a bit overwhelmed. Sometimes books are so powerful that trying to cobble together a few paragraphs about them seems both trivial and also maddeningly crucial. How can I express how much this book meant to me?

    I'll begin by summarizing a few lessons from this book. First, if you are lucky enough to be visited by a creative idea, pay attention to it. You have to nurture that idea and give it some of your time, otherwise it will leave and go elsewhere. Elizabeth says ideas want to take root, and if you aren't the best person for them, they will find someone else. She has a few good examples of this, including an amazing story involving another favorite writer of mine, Ann Patchett.

    Second, make time to be creative wherever and however you can. Don't procrastinate because you think there will someday be a "perfect" time to write your book or create music or make that piece of art. There is

    a perfect time, and everyone has to balance jobs and family and other obligations. Elizabeth gives numerous examples of successful writers who have struggled to find time to write. You squeeze your creative work in anywhere you can. If that means getting up an hour early or staying up late or cutting your lunch break short, do it. Find pockets of time for your creativity.

    Third, after making time to be creative, don't fret about whether or not you can make it perfect. Just get to work on your idea. Play with it. Expand it. Follow your instincts. Don't waste precious time being paralyzed by fear about whether something is good enough. Elizabeth has a great line that I have since adopted: "Done is better than perfect."

    Finally, if you don't have a big idea right now, don't worry. Just follow your curiosity. Give time to anything that interests you, because it may lead somewhere inspiring. Elizabeth shared the story of her last novel, "The Signature of All Things," which she said finally came to her after she decided she wanted a garden. That's all it was — she just wanted a few flowers in her yard. But her interest grew as her garden grew, and she did more research on flowers. Later, she had an idea for the novel.

    A few other gems from the book are not to quit your day job and expect your art to pay your bills. Elizabeth said she kept her day job for years and did her creative writing in her free time, because she didn't want the pressure of making her writing pay the bills. (But eventually it did, thanks to Eat Pray Love, which I'll get to in a moment.)

    Also, don't be fooled into thinking you need a degree to be creative. Sure, spend time reading and studying and practicing and researching, but no one needs a certificate to live more creatively.

    If you are a fan of any of Gilbert's previous books, you will probably enjoy some of the stories she shares about what went into writing those. One of my favorite anecdotes was about the first time she had a short story published in a magazine. Elizabeth thought the story as submitted was fine, but because of a space constraint, she had to chop it down by 30 percent. At first she was terrified — how can I lose so much of a short story? But she did it, and that story ended up landing her an agent. The lesson: Don't miss an opportunity because you're afraid.

    Of course, I can't write a review about an Elizabeth Gilbert book without mentioning her huge bestseller "Eat Pray Love." She has some great stories about that book, including innumerable fans who both loved and hated it. Elizabeth said she had no idea the book would be so widely read. She wrote it for herself, but she accidentally struck a nerve. She even had a line in there about asking her then-boyfriend/now-husband about whether it was OK to write about him. He asked if it was a big deal. Elizabeth said, oh no, it's not a big deal, no one reads my books. HA!

    I mention EPL because it's also an example of why Elizabeth says you have to write or draw or build or design or create FOR YOU. No one knows what will happen with a piece of work. Find ways to be more creative in your life, but try not to worry about the end game.

    In conclusion, I loved this book. I thought it was very inspiring and would highly recommend it. 5 stars to Elizabeth Gilbert!

    "I believe that curiosity is the secret. 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 intimidatingly out of reach at times — a distant tower of flame, accessible only to geniuses and to those who are 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. Passion makes you get divorced and sell all your possessions and shave your head and move to Nepal. Curiosity doesn't ask nearly so much of you. In fact, curiosity only ever asks one simple questions: 'Is there

    you're interested in?'

    "So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges:

    "

    "I believe this is one of the oldest and most generous tricks the universe plays on us human beings, both for its own amusement and for ours: The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels — that's creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place — that's what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one."

    First Read: November 2015

    Second Read: February 2016

  • Chris Blocker

    Is it mere coincidence that BIG is synonymous with FAT and that MAGIC is one of those oblique words difficult to put your finger on, like CHANCE? Because I think that's a better title for this book:

    . That's the message here: you're gonna fail, you big loser! Where's the big magic in that?

    I get it, some artists are confused about the outcomes or reasons for pursuing creative ventures. It's true, most of us are going to fail and fail again. Many of us will eventually give up trying. Gil

    Is it mere coincidence that BIG is synonymous with FAT and that MAGIC is one of those oblique words difficult to put your finger on, like CHANCE? Because I think that's a better title for this book:

    . That's the message here: you're gonna fail, you big loser! Where's the big magic in that?

    I get it, some artists are confused about the outcomes or reasons for pursuing creative ventures. It's true, most of us are going to fail and fail again. Many of us will eventually give up trying. Gilbert's aim here seems to be getting people to think differently about art, to force them to realize that the business sucks and the process isn't always easy, but we should all be happy because we're like children, finger painting our hearts out.

    Somehow the fact that this advice comes from someone whose net worth is $25 million doesn't make it any easier to swallow.

    The very fact I read this book is a testament to Gilbert's brilliance. It was her 2009 TED Talk that turned me onto the author, a writer I had written off previously solely because of her wild success. Not surprisingly, it is Gilbert's wonderful, well-presented argument about the elusive genius that opens up

    . The message in these chapters is more inspirational: we all have creativity; relax, it's not your fault if your genius eludes you.

    But the rest of the book gets lost in Gilbert rubbing our faces in her success. I know it's not easy, she seems to be saying, creativity won't pay the bills, so just quit thinking about it as a occupation and think of it more as finger painting!

    There's truth there, no doubt. But Gilbert seems too desirous of proving her point by stretching truths. She points out how creative occupations are inherently worthless, the least valuable occupation in society. Objectively, perhaps that roofer's role in society can be more easily quantifiable, but to ignore the artist's role in shaping change and eliciting awe, to call art “arguably useless,” seems rather narrow-minded. (What would your muses think, Liz?) Name one roofer from history whose work was more meaningful than Michelangelo's ceiling. Also, Gilbert belittles creative higher education by smashing the MFA in writing, declaring it a fruitless activity. To prove her point, she highlights that no American winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature had ever earned an MFA. Point proven, well done. Except that half of the winners of the Nobel predated the existence of the MFA. Those who followed were entirely established before the MFA really gained momentum in the writing community. Likewise, the Internet is rather useless because Buddha never surfed the web, and Jesus declared disdain for Starbucks by having never consumed a cup of joe.

    In the end, I think there are definitely glimmers of brilliance in this book and perhaps it is a great book for those who are kidding themselves about the arts. Me? I'm prepared for the toughness. I expect rejection. I'm still here because I love doing it. I whine from time to time, but I don't plan on quitting; I have no backup. Perhaps I should enjoy my occupation more, but being told I'm a failure isn't exactly going to make me jump for joy. Gilbert's insight, while

    accurate, is salt on an open wound for those of us who know it sucks. And I guess the message of

    is that it will continue to suck, even when one of my books takes off and is made into a well-financed motion picture. Fat Chance.

  • Lorilin

    Talk about receiving the right message at the right time. Wow.

    is one of the most honest discussions about the creative process that I’ve ever read. Gilbert strikes a playful and conversational tone, but make no mistake, this is all straight talk. Her no BS attitude helps do away with the unrealistic expectations and unnecessary melodrama attached to the concept of “creative living” (like how she so expertly pish poshes the tormented artist ideal). And in its place, she asks all people

    Talk about receiving the right message at the right time. Wow.

    is one of the most honest discussions about the creative process that I’ve ever read. Gilbert strikes a playful and conversational tone, but make no mistake, this is all straight talk. Her no BS attitude helps do away with the unrealistic expectations and unnecessary melodrama attached to the concept of “creative living” (like how she so expertly pish poshes the tormented artist ideal). And in its place, she asks all people who feel called to create (writers, painters, musicians, whatever) to quietly and joyfully accept their creative inclinations and ideas as gifts from the universe. She reminds them to approach their creativity with curiosity and openness, with playfulness and joy—even when it’s tough, even when there is no Pulitzer, no bestseller list, no call from the Met. Own that creativity, she encourages. And also stay light with it.

    Well, this was the message I (apparently) desperately needed to hear. I’m a stay-at-home mom with three young children. And when people ask me what I do, that is what I always tell them. But that isn’t what I want to tell them. What I want to tell them—what I want to shout from the rooftops, in fact—is that I’m a writer. Sure, barely anyone reads what I write, I’ve never been published, and it probably goes without saying that I’ve never been paid for a single sentence. In other words, no one really gets anything out of my work but me. But I love it, straight up. So I keep writing, regardless.

    Yet it feels weird to declare yourself “A Something!” when that something doesn’t earn you money or status or likes or hits or retweets. Which means even though this side passion feels so authentically “me,” I hide it so people won’t think I’m a loser, an imposter, a wannabe, an embarrassment, a failure…and the list goes on.

    I guess this reality had been bumming me out more than I realized, because when I read the following words, they resonated with me in an unimaginably powerful and loving way—like I was receiving a cosmic hug:

    “Shake yourself free of all your cumbersome ideas about what you require in order to become ‘creatively legitimate’… You do not need a permission slip from the principal’s office to live a creative life. Or if you do worry that you need a permission slip—THERE, I just gave it to you… Now go make something.”

    In other words, Gilbert’s message is this: just accept that you need to create. Accept that this is a part of you, that you are ALREADY “creatively legitimate.” And just do what you naturally feel compelled to do. Do it with joy—even when it gets difficult—and don’t worry about how it will be received (if it’s received at all). If you are called to be a maker, then you will just have to make. Own who you are, for better or worse.

    So that’s what I’m doing from now on. I’m owning it. This is me stating my intent:

    Hello, world. My name is Ladybug. I am a writer.

  • Ariel

    I appreciate and respect Elizabeth Gilbert's attempt to inspire creativity, and can fully see why people could love this and take a lot away from it.. but there were too many fundamental things that I disagreed with/thought were done poorly for me.

    1) Creativity as a type of religion: I don't know if "religion" is the right word here, but Gilbert's spiritualization of creativity is saturated in this book. She talks about our need to think of creativity as a spiritual entity, to believe that ideas

    I appreciate and respect Elizabeth Gilbert's attempt to inspire creativity, and can fully see why people could love this and take a lot away from it.. but there were too many fundamental things that I disagreed with/thought were done poorly for me.

    1) Creativity as a type of religion: I don't know if "religion" is the right word here, but Gilbert's spiritualization of creativity is saturated in this book. She talks about our need to think of creativity as a spiritual entity, to believe that ideas can leave us and jump into other people, etc. It all seems extremely unimportant and clouded to me, muddy and distracting.

    2) Everything was super cheesy: It's tough to write non-fiction, especially motivational non-fiction, that doesn't end up being preachy or cheesy, I understand that, but this book had me rolling my eyes all over the place. Maybe some of those moments were what some people needed to hear, but for me it was just extremely boring and anti-climatic.

    3) It was extremely name dropping: every few chapters Gilbert would say "So, I have this famous friend," and it started to get really grating. I get that she has interesting friends with interesting stories, but it really just felt like a pile of name drops.

    4) An uncomfortable anti-higher education stand point: Studying the arts is a very oxymoronic idea, I can absolutely admit to that. Art is about personal endeavour and creativity, and in many ways can't be "taught." But there was a section in this book where Gilbert is very against creative related higher education. I agree that no one should feel that they need to pay crazy amounts of money to feel like a proper artist, but I really disagree with the idea that higher education is useless or worthless and gives you nothing but debt. I think that would be true if higher education was about creating good artists, but that's not what it's about - it's about giving you new perspectives, ideas, references, people, time.. things that you can then use to make stuff you may never have been able to make otherwise. Of course it isn't necessary, but to say it's worthless rubbed me the wrong way.

    5) The opinion that creativity isn't necessary: There was a big section that I found really confusing and counter-intuitive to her entire argument, where she argued that the arts aren't necessary. She mentions how plumbers and janitors (for example) are roles that ARE necessary, but art isn't. And I just, shoot, I just really disagree with that. Of course art is necessary! If it wasn't necessary we wouldn't all wear different clothing, cut our hair in different ways, decorate our rooms differently, we wouldn't care about recording history, or sharing our experiences. Maybe someone could take from her writings a freeing lesson that "I can do whatever I want, because it doesn't matter!" but I disagree.

    I

    glad (contrary, perhaps, to this review's tone) that I read this because I do like hearing people champion creativity, but there were too many differences in mine and Gilbert's thinking. I recommend skipping this one and instead reading "Show Your Work" by Austin Kleon, a book I thought was super motivating and uplifting.

  • Debbie

    Where to start? This book knocked my socks off. Which is pretty strange given that I’ve always been a die-hard cynic (with really tight socks). I’ve always rolled my eyes at spirituality and snidely called it woo woo (now I murmur woo woo with affection). And self-help? Please! I don’t need some pompous asshole telling me how to live right, okay? And I wasn’t a fan of

    . What a lot of strikes against this one.

    So….ta da!! Holy freakin’ toledo! I know I risk

    Where to start? This book knocked my socks off. Which is pretty strange given that I’ve always been a die-hard cynic (with really tight socks). I’ve always rolled my eyes at spirituality and snidely called it woo woo (now I murmur woo woo with affection). And self-help? Please! I don’t need some pompous asshole telling me how to live right, okay? And I wasn’t a fan of

    . What a lot of strikes against this one.

    So….ta da!! Holy freakin’ toledo! I know I risk chasing my fellow cynic buds away, but I can’t contain myself. I feel like I’ve seen a UFO or something. Okay. Here goes. Over the last three months, my 30-something daughter Jess and I have been writing a weirdo, playful story together, a first ever. As soon as we started, coincidences started happening. I mean, really bizarre coincidences. For example, in our story Jess named a cheetah Lampshade. A month later, she was describing Lampshade to her boyfriend on a walk, when suddenly he pointed to a purple plastic tombstone (a Halloween decoration in someone’s yard). It said in huge letters, “Pablo Lampshade.” That pretty much blew our minds, but then other equally strange stuff happened—I’m talking seven or eight times! In fact, it seemed that almost every time something happened in our story, a weird-ass connection would occur in real life. There were no logical explanations. I’m officially spooked. I go crazy with glee every time another one happens—and yes, of course we use all the strange occurrences as material, which is making the story even richer.

    Timing is everything. Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I picked up Big Magic, which pre-story, I had avoided. Spirituality, self-help, puke. I had even told a fellow reviewer friend that it wasn’t a book for me because it was about the big S. But lo and behold, I opened Big Magic and I instantly felt that huge spurt of energy you get when something fits just right. I couldn’t put it down. Locked in. Sucked in. Slurped. When suddenly I get to an anecdote about the author, Gilbert, and her friend, Ann Patchett. That sealed the deal. It helps tremendously that I happen to love Ann Patchett (

    is one of my all-time favorites), and damn if Gilbert isn’t talking about that exact story. I don’t want to ruin it by telling you the anecdote here, but it’s enough to make a believer out of anyone.

    For some people, this book will spark their creativity. For me, it helped me see that my obsession with writing is okay, and that in fact, writing is what I should be doing. Here are the ah-ha’s that I murmured in my head after I read this book:

    -I’m not a freak because I’d rather write a story than watch the news.

    -I’m not a freak because I sometimes stay up all night writing.

    -I’m not a freak when I space out because a story idea has hijacked my mind: daydreaming is cool.

    The whole idea is this…

    -If ideas come a callin,’ find a way to put off mundane life stuff and grab a pen, fast. Ha, make sure I can find the damn pen, because memory is short these days.

    -Ideas are floating around out there in the universe, and if I’m lucky, one will land on me. I should grab it before it’s too late, before the idea abandons me to find a more attentive host.

    -Keep inviting my inner trickster to the party—it’s all about playing and having fun.

    -It’s okay if my work is frivolous as long as it makes me happy.

    Gilbert has some practical advice as well as her woo-woo stuff, like keep your day job. She also says don’t waste your money on grad school, and I’m a little torn about that one. She claims art is useless but that it doesn’t matter. So what?, she says. If it makes you happy, you are so so lucky.

    One of her anecdotes is a little too far out for me: it’s about an artist who, when his muse left him, dressed up to go on a date with his creativity. He claimed it worked! Curious, Gilbert tried it herself. She dolled herself up; she even wore lipstick for god’s sake, even though she never wears lipstick (ha, or so she says….it’s suspect that she had some lipstick laying around the house, lol). She claims it worked and the date was a success; her muse returned. I draw the line at dating my ideas, I really do. I don’t think you’ll catch me trying that. First I’d have to go buy stuff. Friends would be shocked that I returned from RiteAid with a bag full of makeup, but they’d really be worried about me if I said I was going on a date with my creativity, which was playing hard to get. I can see me now, dabbing my face with powder, blackening my eye edges with mascara, ironing a blouse and sitting ladylike at my computer, hoping to impress the hell out of my creativity. But is this one of those, “don’t knock it till you try it” sayings? I’m pretty sure I can’t bring myself to try it. If I took a little selfie of me sitting there in my Sunday best, batting my eyelashes at the computer, I’d seriously wonder if I was ready for the loony bin.

    I don’t think this date story qualifies as a complaint. I don’t really consider it a bad thing because I have too much fun picturing myself trying it.

    Oh, I can’t finish this review, though, without mentioning the god business. I don’t like the G word; it always sends me running, and whenever spirituality is the theme, God is sure to be lurking nearby. Luckily, Gilbert mentions the G word maybe three times, and each time it’s not offensive—she uses it in broad terms and I think she includes “the universe” each time. Yikes, it just occurred to me that I was so enthralled, I could have missed the dreaded reference. Wouldn’t that be a kick? Anyway, the times I remember her using the word, it didn’t bug me, which is a miracle.

    Gilbert is something else. Her tone is conversational, which invites you into her bright, inspiring world. She keeps the curtains open so the sun beams into the room. I love her super cool anecdotes; she has hand-picked the cherries from others who are chasing their creativity. She’s a bossy bitch, but I didn’t mind because she’s so fucking wise. I can’t possibly do justice to all the fantastic things about this book. I just love the title, too. I’m a firm believer in Big Magic.

    There are a million sentences that made me think. I highlighted so much, I could just close my eyes, point my finger, and I’d land on a gem. They’re everywhere. I really liked this one:

    And here’s a good one to end on:

    Amen.

  • Darth J

    You know, I didn't enter into this as a "hate-read", despite being such a cynic. I don't like to waste my time and money on things just to have something to snark at (I can already hear the snickering in the audience as I write that). You see, with any of these advice books I actually want to learn something useful; that's the whole reason why I would pick it up in the first place. Despite being utterly let down with her

    , I genuinely wanted to give this a try, if

    You know, I didn't enter into this as a "hate-read", despite being such a cynic. I don't like to waste my time and money on things just to have something to snark at (I can already hear the snickering in the audience as I write that). You see, with any of these advice books I actually want to learn something useful; that's the whole reason why I would pick it up in the first place. Despite being utterly let down with her

    , I genuinely wanted to give this a try, if only to get one tiny nugget of wisdom.

    To paraphrase the late great Myrtle Snow,

    "has a dreadful case of the me, me, me's." Now with any sort of autobiographical work it's expected that the author draws on their own experiences; but the part that bothers me is the unhealthy levels of

    that this contains. I don't know why I expected Gilbert to be any less full of herself this time around, but perhaps I thought she would have matured a bit at least in the narcissism department. I was wrong, my friends. So wrong...

    Moving past that, this book seems to be written for artists. No, strike that:

    ! With the pretentious pronunciation and all. It's mainly written for other writers, so her advice is not universal. Even then, the very best thing she can come up with is to not let bad reviews or rejection get to you. That's probably the only useful thing she says throughout this book made up of 2-3 page vignettes. When she isn't writing as if staring lovingly in the mirror at herself, she constantly contradicts herself with pendulations between

    and

    .


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