Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat Pray Love fame has copped a lot of flak by way of negative reviews of her books. But, as an artist, this is to be expected. Creativity is subjective, and not everyone digs the same thing, right?
One only needs to scroll through the reviews on Goodreads to note that plenty of people didn’t appreciate Gilbert’s memoir about spending a year abroad in Italy, India and Indonesia. Despite that, she is one of the most famous authors of our time. The book was turned into a movie and Gilbert continues to write and mentor other creatives. Every. Day.
Needless to say, when Gilbert’s non-fiction book, Big Magic came out, I was eager to get stuck into it. Especially since it promised to be filled with sage advice about living a creative life. If she could build such an amazing career being a writer, surely then, this book would have all the answers?
Not surprisingly, plenty of reviewers loathe this book, just like Eat Pray Love. But a negative review has never stopped me from picking up a book I have an interest in. So I pre-ordered it and devoured it in a single sitting (I’m not a fast reader, so take that as a sign that this book is easy to read).
I dog-eared pages of advice I really loved and I left this book in my bedside table drawer, knowing I would come back to it time and time again. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing ground-breaking to be said in Big Magic. So if you’re expecting the next Don Quixote, well, you may want to look elsewhere. What it is is a common sense approach to living up to your full creative potential. This doesn’t necessarily have to equate to becoming a world-famous author, poet, artist, singer, etc, it just means doing what makes you happy, making time for the creative aspects of your life and not having such high expectations of yourself, your art, or the people around you. Failure is OK and persistence is key. Also, don’t quit your job to pursue the creative life on a whim, because you’re setting yourself up for bankruptcy. Dah.
Though the book is supposedly targeted at anyone seeking more creativity in their life, I do think it is very much pointed at writers, more so than anyone else. There are a few anecdotes regarding poetry and ice skating, etc, but the crux of the book is really only relatable if you’re in that world of words.
Some of my favourite snippets include:
“The arts are not a profession, in the manner of regular professions. There is no job security in creativity, and there never will be.” p.106
“Writers are told to write what they know, and all I knew was that I didn’t know very much yet, so I went forth in deliberate search of material… I kept two notebooks in my back pockets – one for my customers’ orders, and the other for my customers’ dialogue… I learned that not only does everybody have a story that would stop your heart, but everybody wants to tell you about it.” p.111
“I like that feature in men – their absurd overconfidence, the way they will casually decide, “Well, I’m 41 percent qualified for this task, so give me the job!” Yes, sometimes the results are disastrous, but sometimes, strangely enough, it works… I only wish more women would risk these same kinds of wild leaps. But I’ve watched too many women do the opposite. I’ve watched far too many brilliant and gifted female creators say, “I am 99.8 percent qualified for this task, but until I master that last smidgen of ability, I will hold myself back, just to be on the safe side.”” p.168
“If the only thing an idea wants is to be made manifest, then why would that idea deliberately harm you, when you are the one who might be able to bring it forth? (Nature provides the seed; man provides the garden; each is grateful for the other’s help.) Is it possible then, that creativity is not fucking with us at all, but that we have been fucking with it?” p.217
Dear reader, I’d love to know, have you read Big Magic, and if so, what did you think?