I LOVED Eat Pray Love. It is undoubtedly one of my favourite books of all time. (You can check out my 2014 review here.) So when I got my hands on Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, a book on Creative Living Beyond Fear, I was incredibly excited.
Here’s the synopsis:
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. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.
The book is written in six chapters: Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, and Divinity. It starts wonderfully, asking the question: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?
It continues with empathy, addressing the reader’s fear of living a more creative life and why: fear of having no talent, fear that somebody else already did it better, fear that your dreams are embarrassing, fear of rejection or criticism.
After an intriguing anecdote, we learn an interesting concept:
That ideas are alive, that ideas do seek the most available human collaborator, that ideas do have a conscious will, and that ideas do move from soul to soul, that ideas will always try to seek the swiftest and most efficient conduit to the earth (just as lightning does).
Before you dismiss this, it’s interesting to note that calculus, oxygen, black holes, the Mobius strip, the existence of the stratosphere, and the theory of evolution had multiple discoverers. I’m not cynical at this point. In fact, I love this thought. I also thoroughly enjoy the history lesson about how the Greeks and Romans perceived people as not being a creative genius but having a creative genius – through the word eudaimonia, which means ‘well-daemoned’.
When I become cynical and doubtful is when Gilbert writes that she wishes Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, had continued writing – “a light romance, a police procedural, a children’s story, a cookbook, some kind of pulpy action-adventure story, anything.”
Naming other famous authors, she continues, “I wish somebody had told them all to go fill up a bunch of pages with blah-blah-blah and just publish it, for heaven’s sake, and ignore the outcome.” Is this what she has done with this book, following her bestseller?
“Does it seem sacrilegious even to suggest this? Good. Just because creativity is mystical doesn’t mean it shouldn’t also be demystified – especially if it means liberating artists from the confines of their own grandiosity, panic, and ego.”
When she writes “with all due respect and affection, I did not write this book for you; I wrote it for me”, she means it. The book continues to read like a never-ending stream of consciousness; points that are excellent and relevant but become less and less so over repetition disguised in different words and awkwardly placed anecdotes.
Because of this, large parts of the book simply don’t resonate with me. More than halfway in, it’s full of musings about creativity and encouraging people to pursue their creativity, but nothing suggesting even an idea of how to. There is no touching on how to be creative or where to find inspiration; rather, the message is:
Go and be creative. Let inspiration come to you, and don’t scare it away.
Keep writing, painting, making art: done is better than perfect.
Don’t listen to anybody who tells you not to. Your work is nobody’s business but your own.
Getting a higher education/degree in your art is unnecessary because you don’t need to pay anybody to affirm that you are a creator.
Be passionate about your creativity.
Dress sexy to seduce the Big Magic.
Yes, that really is one of the points raised in this book.
Perhaps this book lacked excitement for me because I don’t actually harbour a fear of being creative; rather, I’m interested in learning how to fully embrace and attract more of it. However, I wouldn’t agree with the synopsis that this book would ‘open up a world of wonder and joy for me to infuse my everyday life with more mindfulness and passion’. It is simply Gilbert’s introspective reflections on creativity, some that are relevant and some that are not. To be honest, it is likely a fulfillment of the vow she took at sixteen years old to write forever.
If this book were a TED talk instead, like Gilbert’s talk here or here, it would be perfect. The message she was getting across, to simply encourage people to let go of their fear and be creative, was just unnecessarily dragged on, losing meaning with each repetitive but slightly altered stance. In saying that, I imagine that even those with a fear of being creative may find this book inspirational, but not motivational.
So, while I finish this book feeling indifferent, and find it an adequate collection of thoughts about creativity but sadly not ‘potent insights’ or a source of empowerment, I’ll end with a quote that I did indeed love and will take with me on my journey:
“I want to live the most vividly decorated temporary life that I can. I don’t just mean physically; I mean emotionally, spiritually, intellectually. I don’t want to be afraid of bright colours, or new sounds, or big love, or risky decisions, or strange experiences, or weird endeavours, or sudden changes, or even failure.”