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“Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert wrote “Big Magic” to offer advice on being creative without fear.
Elizabeth Gilbert Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear$9.38 FROM AMAZON$15.81 FROM BOOKSHOP
- “Big Magic” is a 2016 self-help book written by Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat, Pray, Love” fame.
- It provides advice and anecdotes about unlocking creativity and getting through artists’ block.
- It helped me pursue writing more seriously by teaching me to let go of pressure and expectations.
I always knew I wanted to write.
I’ve spent years fighting the urge to truly do it because I fell for the typical traps: It either didn’t pay enough, or I could never find the time, or someone else was already writing about the things I wanted to say.
As time went on, I comfortably nestled myself in more lucrative jobs. In actuality, I could never shake the desire to write — there were very few things that replaced the joy of that creative expression for me. But I didn’t know how to overcome my constant self-doubt and need for perfection. Would I ever be able to bridge the gap between fear and joy?
Last Christmas, out of sheer coincidence, my cousin mentioned Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear,” a 2016 book she came to love about living a creative life. She said it challenged her to think that living creatively wasn’t only designed for those with exceptional artistic minds, but for any human being living with even an ounce of creativity.
The title immediately piqued my interest. I knew Elizabeth Gilbert for her inspiring bestselling memoir-turned-blockbuster “Eat, Pray, Love.” Naturally, I was curious to know what she had to say about artistic fear.
Holding up a paperback copy of “Big Magic.”
At its core, “Big Magic” is a self-help book drenched in anecdotes, life lessons, and advice. However, it does not give you tips on becoming a bestselling writer or acclaimed actor. Instead, it nudges you towards “living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” In more ways than one, this book turned out to be exactly what I needed.
Here are 5 things I learned from reading “Big Magic”:
1. Replace being fearless with being brave.
Telling myself to be fearless was an exhaustive exercise in the pursuit of creative expression. But at the time, that’s all I knew.
Every artist has probably experienced fear and has deemed that ridding themselves of it is the path forward. However, Gilbert says that we need our fear for obvious reasons of survival — being fearless is not the goal. The goal is to be brave.
She distinguishes bravery as doing something scary while fearless is “not even understanding what the word scary means.” Fear creeps up in times of creative expression because fear feeds on uncertain outcomes, and creative expression is nothing but a series of uncertain outcomes.
Once I accepted that fear will possibly always exist, I could spend more time ideating and writing. I have gradually accepted and even allowed fear to exist alongside my creativity. I spend less energy getting rid of it.
2. Create art for yourself first.
Gilbert’s love of creativity is infectious, so much so that advises against creating only for the consumption of others. According to her, art can and should be made merely for ourselves. If others appreciate it along the way, it’s a bonus.
I learned this the hard way. I believed I should write only when I could publish my work regularly, overlooking that writing is a therapeutic release for me. I’m slowly learning to detach from the idea that writing is more real and rewarding when others consume it. Now, if an idea begins to form in my mind, I make sure to carve out time in my day to work on it with the same rigor as with an article I’m working on for publication.
One of my favorite anecdotes in the book is when Gilbert recalls a conversation between a musician friend and her sister, asking, “What happens if you never get anything out of this?”
The musician replies, “If you can’t see what I’m already getting out of this, then I’ll never be able to explain it to you.”
3. Follow your curiosity instead of your passion.
While Gilbert talks a lot about being passionate about your ideas and creating your art, she’s against the preaching of passion, which she believes to be “an unhelpful and even cruel suggestion at times.”
I cornered myself into thinking that the truest forms of art are about things we’re most passionate about. While “follow your passion” is straightforward advice, it comes with a complicated path to achievement because passion can quickly falter or be unexpectedly snatched from you.
Gilbert urges us to replace finding our passion with following our curiosity, especially since “the stakes of curiosity are also far lower than the stakes of passion.” Curiosity is intended to evoke inquisitiveness. Ideally, through curiosity, we can live our most creative lives. After all, my curiosity about fear and creative living led me to this book and eventually to writing this.
4. Don’t quit your day job.
There were a couple of things I took away from this lesson, mainly that we need to abandon the notion that we must upend our lives to be creatively free. Our creative dreams can co-exist with our regular lives.
I admire Gilbert for not recommending that we quit our jobs or move cities to tap into our creativity. She didn’t quit any of her jobs. She waited tables and worked on a ranch while writing and pitching stories to magazines.
However, the more gratifying takeaway was that it is unfair to my creativity to demand it to pay my bills. I’ve learned over time that the things I create without the constraints of money are some of my most pleasurable works. Now, I’m a lot more patient with my creativity. I remind myself that my dream to write can be woven into my everyday life. As Gilbert says: “I held on to my day jobs for so long because I wanted to keep my creativity free and safe.”
5. Allow Big Magic to come to you.
Ultimately, what is Big Magic?
Elizabeth Gilbert believes in the power of the universe. The book contains glimpses of her definition and experiences navigating through the laws of attraction and the power of manifestation. In no way does she urge us to believe in these concepts the way she does — she only encourages us to believe in Big Magic.
In one of her most quotable lines from the book, she says: “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 result of this hunt is Big Magic.”
For me, Big Magic is what I feel when I’m writing. The feeling of excitement, of not being able to let an idea go till I’ve exhausted it. Big Magic is the therapeutic release I mentioned earlier. It’s a big sigh of relief to relinquish all that was brewing in my mind. Big Magic is what I have come to believe in that brought me back to writing.
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