Book notes: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert book summary review and key ideas.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Synopsis:

“From the worldwide best-selling author of Eat Pray Love and City of Girls: the path to the vibrant, fulfilling life you’ve dreamed of. Fantastic inspiration for the new year.  

Readers and listeners 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 to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. 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.” -Audible

Opening thoughts:

I’m almost certain that I picked up this book because it was in recommended by Audible. As usual, I jumped on this one because of the high volume of reviews and high average rating. It sounds like a good book and I feel like I need something this month that deals with creativity since I am starting a new venture into stand-up comedy.

Key notes:

  • Creative living is living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear
    • A creative life is an amplified life, a bigger life, happier life, expanded life, and a lot more interesting
  • Argue for your limitations and you get to keep them
  • Bravery means doing something scary
    • Fearlessness means not even understanding what the word scary means
  • The road trip – If you want creativity in your life then you will have to make space for fear too
    • Killing your fear will also kill your creativity

Part 2: Enchantment

  • She believes the creative process is both magical and magic
    • She believes all ideas are real things with a will that needs human collaboration in order to come to existence

Reader’s note: Okay, this feels like it’s dragging on a bit. It sounds like she’s telling a narrative fiction story to herself about how creativity works. Not really much high-value stuff here. I’m sure it will get good later on

Now she’s basically saying there are two ways we can do creativity: the bad, dramatic, and painful way, or the enriching positive way.

I’m not sure I agree with this whole concept of “an idea is a living thing and if you leave it alone for too long, it’ll walk away.” I feel like ideas can mature and grow as you sit on them and become even better. This is similar to a piece of art that you slowly keep refining overtime, whether consciously or by your subconscious as you move through life and gain new insights. Or maybe you kind of give up, but I’m not sure about the whole “an idea will leave” concept.

  • She’s telling a story about how she lost the story about the woman going to the Amazon. And how that story transferred to her friend who thought of the exact same story
  • Multiple discovery is a term in the scientific community when two or more scientists in different parts of the world come up with the same idea at the same time

Reader’s note: Okay, she pretty much spent 15 minutes saying the same thing over and over, which is to give yourself permission to be creative

  • Originality vs authenticity
    • Yes, your idea probably has been done before, but it has never been done by you before
  • She would rather you create your art for yourself rather than for other people
  • You don’t need an advanced degree or any type of formal education to be a great artist
  • You must be willing to take risks if you want to live a creative existence
    • But if you’re going to gamble, know that you’re gambling
    • Make sure that you can actually cover your bets, both emotionally and financially
      • Paying for advanced schooling int he arts might seem like an investment but it’s really gambling
      • There is no job security in creativity and there never will be
      • Going into massive debt in order to become a creator then can make a stress and a burden out of something that should only ever have been a joy and release
  • Reasons to stop complaining:
    1. It’s annoying. Every artist does it so it’s dead and boring
    2. Of course it’s difficult to create things. If it weren’t difficult, everyone would be doing it, and it wouldn’t be special or interesting
    3. Nobody ever listens to anyone else’s complaints anyhow cause we’re all focused on our own holy struggle
    4. You’re scaring away inspiration
  • Pure creativity is magnificent because it is the opposite of everything else that is essential
    • Pure creativity is better than a necessity, it’s a gift
      • It’s the frosting
      • It’s a wild and unexpected bonus
  • For most of us living in free and safe countries, the stakes are so low for creative expression
  • Children never seem to worry that the flow of ideas would dry up
    • They never stressed about their creativity, and they never competed against themselves
    • They merely lived within their inspiration comfortably and unquestioningly
  • Music is nothing more than decoration for the imagination
    • Making art is essentially like making jewelry for the inside of other people’s minds
    • That’s what we do for people who spend their days making and doing interesting things for no particular rational reason
  • The Central Paradox: Art is absolutely meaningless, but also deeply meaningful
  • Learning: Everybody imitates before they can innovate
    • Your education is over only when you say it is
  • Handling frustration could be the single most fundamental aspect of the work
    • Frustration is not an interruption of the process, frustration is the process
    • Question: What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?
  • She’s seen many people who have forced their art to be responsible for paying their bills, which ruins their creativity and can lead to giving up their art
    • Maintain alternative streams of income to keep your creativity free and safe, and so that when inspiration isn’t flowing, you can give it space and time
  • We all need something that helps us forget ourselves for a while
  • She believes not expressing creativity turns people crazy
    • Don’t worry about what other people think because nobody is thinking about you anyhow
  • Remember that done is better than good
  • Conventional success would depend on three factors:
    1. talents
    2. luck
    3. discipline
      • Two of those three things will never be under your control
  • When it’s for the love of the art and not the results of it, you will continue doing it anyhow
  • When you sign up for a creative life, you also sign up for uncertainty
  • The author doesn’t believe in the tormented artist
    • She believes you can live a creative life and still make an effort to be a basically decent person

If the art legitimates cruelty, I think the art is not worth having

Adam Phillips, British psychoanalyst
  • Choose love over suffering
  • What you produce is not necessarily always sacred just because you think it is
    • What is sacred is the time you spend working on the project and what that time does to expand your imagination and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life
  • Your creative work is not your baby. If anything you are it’s baby
    • Every creative project you work on will mature you in a different way
    • You are what you are today precisely because of what you have made and what it has made you into
  • She doesn’t believe in the saying “follow your passions”
    • Passion is defined as an interest that you chase obsessively almost because you have no choice
  • She believes that curiosity is the secret
    • Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living
    • Big magic is all about saying yes to your curiosity
  • Your ego is a wonderful servant but a terrible master because the only thing your ego ever wants is reward, reward, and more reward
    • And because there’s never enough, your ego will always be disappointed and it will rot you from the inside out
  • Whatever else happens, stay busy
  • Combinatory play: the active opening one mental channel by dabbling in another
  • Inspiration will always be drawn to motion
  • Fierce trust means doing the work and sharing your work regardless of the outcome
  • Don’t ask what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail
    • Ask:
      • What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?
      • What do you love doing so much that the words failure and success essentially become irrelevant?
      • What do you love even more than you love your own ego?

Reader’s note: Now she’s telling the story about the guy who went to a themed party dressed as a lobster but eventually owned it. I feel like this entire book is just one long peptalk for artists or creators and writers. She’s basically saying, you got this, just do you best and believe in yourself. And don’t worry about the outcome, just do it.

Part 6: Divinity – Accidental grace

  • In conclusion: creativity is sacred, and it’s not
    • What we make matters enormously, but also doesn’t matter at all
  • Only when we’re at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us

Main ideas / Themes:

  • Creative living is living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear
  • Multiple discovery is a term in the scientific community when two or more scientists in different parts of the world come up with the same idea at the same time
  • Pure creativity is magnificent because it is the opposite of everything else that is essential. Pure creativity is better than a necessity, it’s a gift
  • Making art is essentially like making jewelry for the inside of other people’s minds
  • The Central Paradox: Art is absolutely meaningless, but also deeply meaningful. Creativity is sacred, but it is also not.
  • Handling frustration could be the single most fundamental aspect of the work. Frustration is not an interruption of the process, frustration is the process
  • Forcing your art to pay for the bills will kill creativity. Have multiple streams of income or a financial buffer to give your creativity room to breathe
  • Not expressing creativity turns people crazy
  • Remember that done is better than good
  • A creative life is always going to be an uncertain life
  • What you make is not sacred. What is sacred is the time you spend working on the project and what that time does to expand your imagination and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life. Every creative project you work on will mature you in a different way. You are what you are today precisely because of what you have made and what it has made you into
  • Big magic is all about saying yes to your curiosity
  • Whatever else happens, stay busy. Combinatory play: the active opening one mental channel by dabbling in another. Inspiration will always be drawn to motion. Fierce trust means doing the work and sharing your work regardless of the outcome

Closing thoughts:

While there are some really solid nuggets of wisdom in the book, there is a TON of fluff in between. The audio version is about 5 hours long, but I feel like all of the essential stuff could be told in 30-45 minutes.

A good majority of the book felt like a whimsical, almost fantasy-type narrative and story telling. The impression it left me was that the author was telling herself a magical fairy tale, but mainly giving herself a pep talk about how she should going.

Granted, the few tips she gives the reader is really good. However, I didn’t like her delivery. It could just be personal preference, but I really didn’t like the style.

Sometimes an author really captivates me with their narratives. For example, Mark Mansion does a good job with this in Everything is F*cked. But in this book, I felt like I just wanted to fast forward through the stories and get to the point.

Overall, I highly recommend just reading through the main points. If you read the “main ideas” bullet points, that’s basically all you need to get from this book. Unless you have 5 hours to kill and don’t mind listening to her whimsical story-telling, don’t waste your time.

One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

There are a few solid points that I’d like to keep them in mind. But if I were to cheat a bit and combine the takeaways I got from this book into one idea, it would be:

  • Big magic is saying yes to your curiosity. Stay busy and keep dabbling in your interests because inspiration will always be drawn to motion. Fierce trust means doing the work and sharing your work regardless of the outcome

Basically, just keep chasing your curiosities and doing the work regardless of the outcome. This is essentially what I’ve been doing this year as my Theme of the Year is “Being Prolific” in all of my creative pursuits. Just putting in the reps and doing the work and not worrying about the results. I just need to focus on getting better and refining my artistry.

Nutshell:

Concepts and principles any artist in any field should internalize as they pursue a creative life.

Rating:

2/5


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