Big Magic – What a Book to Start the Year On
You can only hope the year is going to be a good one when you start it off with a book like Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear.
Yep. You read right. Elizabeth Gilbert, the same author of Eat, Pray, Love. Which – in the interest of full disclosure – I’ve never read. I didn’t think it was a book I’d dig, so I never picked it up.
That being said, I like books about writing, where authors take personal reflection on the creative process. It’s fascinating to read about their own personal insights and routines. As a wannabe author myself, I do scan the pages somewhat, in the hopes of learning something, anything that will take me one step closer to achieving my dream.
While I’d never read any of Gilbert’s other books, the woman was pretty much a household name for years. Say what you want about her, but if anyone knows their stuff, she surely must.
I picked up Big Magic with trepidation and devoured it with utter delight. It was one of those books I just didn’t want to end – yet I found myself unable to put it down, finishing the book within the space of a few hours. I both love and hate when that happens.
If I were to describe Big Magic in one word and had a limited vocabulary, I would say the book was fun. Gilbert delivers lessons in how to harness your creativity and be open to living a life that is “driven more strongly by curiosity rather than fear”.
Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a perfect read. Gilbert is hazy with her own definition of what creativity actually is. She talks of her old friend, who used to be a figure skater, gave the sport up in her years as a young adult. She talks about how her friend in her forties, dissatisfied with her life, began waking up at dawn three nights a week, to start skating again. Gilbert calls that “creative living”. Personally, I’d call it a hobby.
I found a few of her points hard to take seriously. There’s a lot of talk of spirituality – of ideas as conscious beings, whizzing around the world, looking for someone to breathe them into existence. While I like the idea of creativity as a force, I found that to be a bit too much to swallow.
As were her own experiences. She talks of how she was paralysed by neurosis and fear as a child, to a point where she was pretty much scared of her own shadow. How did she overcome this? She got over it by realising that her “fear was boring”. Not the most solid advice, but thanks anyway.
What I do like about Big Magic is its efforts to encourage artists to take themselves less seriously. As Gilbert points out:
“Nobody ever died because I got a bad review in the New York Times. The polar ice caps will not melt any faster or slower because I couldn’t figure out how to write a convincing end to my novel.”
She believes that creativity and writing in particularly should never be a burden. It should come from a place of love and love you in return. She rebukes the image of the tortured artist, in that you need to know pain and suffering in order to produce something worth appreciating. For her, this is a concept that does more harm than good – taking talented people off the face of the earth, long before their time is due.
At the age of 16, she decided that she wanted to become a writer. So, she made a pact with herself to follow through on that. And she did – by writing every day, submitting stories, getting rejected, submitting again, going and going until she’d got far enough to quit her day job and become a full-time writer – shortly after publishing her third book.
As I put the book down, I felt the familiar flickering flames of a fire igniting in my belly. I felt motivated to start ploughing ahead with writing, letting nothing else stand in the way. I suppose that’s the beauty of the early days of a new year – anything and everything seems possible. That’s a kind of a magic in itself – one we’d all do well to hold on to.
Have you read Big Magic? ARE YOU INSPIRED TO LIVE YOUR BEST CREATIVE LIFE?
NB: This post contains affiliate links, which goes directly back into feeding the book addiction. But remember – there’s no better feeling than walking out of your local independent bookstore with an armful of novels!