Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert – Book Review
Have you ever wondered what it’d be like to try something completely new, no matter how old you are? Feel like something’s holding you back and you need a kick to get started? Last year, I found myself feeling like this with a few things, and I found that turning to non-fiction books has helped me a lot. I listened to the audiobook of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert and it was interesting, to say the least…
Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now, this beloved author shares her wisdom and unique understanding of creativity, shattering the perceptions of mystery and suffering that surround the process – and showing us all just how easy it can be.
By sharing stories from her own life, as well as those from her friends and the people that have inspired her, Elizabeth Gilbert challenges us to embrace our curiosity, tackle what we most love and face down what we most fear.
Whether you long to write a book, create art, cope with challenges at work, embark on a long-held dream, or simply to make your everyday life more vivid and rewarding, Big Magic will take you on a journey of exploration filled with wonder and unexpected joys.
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
I’ll start off by saying that I had very mixed feelings about this book. Okay, I probably didn’t give it my full attention – I listened to the audiobook while I was working – but still. There were some parts that made me think, “Wow – that’s cool!” or “That’s interesting!” but there were definitely other bits that made me feel like this wasn’t the book for me.
I think the reason this book didn’t resonate with me very much is because it’s all quite spiritual. It talks about creativity as if its some sort of traveling spirit that can jump from person to person. There’s even a section where the author talks about how an idea passed from one person to another via a handshake. I’m a huge skeptic who sees things for exactly how they are, so something this abstract doesn’t sit very well with me. I understood what Gilbert was trying to say, generally – but it didn’t resonate with me very well.
“A creative life is an amplified life. A happier life. An expanded life. And a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you is a fine art in and of itself, because creative living is where big magic will always abide.”
I also found that the book was littered with so many personal stories, which is fine in a non-fiction book – but there were SO MANY. It was like Gilbert was trying to see how many times she could drop famous friend’s names and talk about how the “creative spirit” flowed between them. It was all a bit too woo-woo for me and I phased out a few times.
There were a few times when I got a little annoyed at the points Gilbert was making, especially when talking about people who study creative subjects in college or university. As much as she says people need to continue to grow creatively, she gives the impression that she completely looks down on people who formally study creative subjects because they’re wasting their money and creativity can only appear naturally, rather than being ‘forced’ through education. I thought this was a load of rubbish. I studied a media degree and I’ve never regretted that, because it pushed my creativity and encouraged me to explore what I can actually do.
I didn’t like the amount of negativity towards people who are trying to build a life for themselves in creative sectors. It made me feel a bit confused, and others seem to agree with me too on Goodreads. What she was essentially saying was “be creative! It’s good and fun and liberating!” while also saying “don’t go out of your way to have a career in an entirely creative sector because you will be poor and fail. It’s inevitable so don’t bother.” It was a bit disheartening to someone like me who wants a creative career. It’s not very encouraging; it’s just confusing. I don’t actually really know who this book is aimed at.
One thing I did appreciate, however, and something that made me sit up and listen, was Gilbert’s explanation of how creativity only works if you’re brave and you allow it to happen. She says, “If you don’t have the courage, let’s try to get you some. Because creative living is a path for the brave. We all know this. And we all know that when courage dies, creativity dies with it.” I know that sometimes, as soon as I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking I’m not good enough to do this. Other people are better than me so there’s no point in my trying to compete, I tend to give up.
Bravery and self-belief are 100% needed to be completely creative, and this is where Big Magic came in useful for me. It made me realise that I don’t need to be scared to do something even if I know someone who does it better. It also teaches you that you don’t need to be fearless, though, in order to live a creative life, and that there’s an important distinction between being brave and being fearless:
“Now you probably think I’m going to tell you that you must become fearless in order to live a more creative life. But I’m not going to tell you that because I don’t happen to believe it’s true. Creativity is the path for the brave, yes, but it is not a path for the fearless – and it’s important to recognize the distinction.
Bravery means doing something scary. Fearlessness means not even understanding what the word ‘scary’ means. If your goal in life is to become fearless, then I believe you’re already on the wrong path. The only truly fearless people I ever met were straight-up sociopaths and a few exceptionally reckless 3-year-olds – and those aren’t good role models for anyone.”
Finding something scary, I think, is good. It means that when you do take a leap into the unknown and start something brand new and scary, doing so gives you a sense of strength and pride that you don’t get from something that’s already familiar. You can’t get that feeling if you’re completely fearless, so that’s where being a little scared to do something new helps greatly. You just have to get past the doubts and go for it!
Who might Big Magic help?
In the book, Gilbert lists some of the many ways in which you may be afraid to live a more creative life. I thought this list was great and really helps show who the book helps. You might want to have a look at this book if you’re afraid that…
- You have no talent.
- You’ll be rejected or criticised or ridiculed or misunderstood or worst of all, ignored.
- There’s no market for your creativity and therefore no point in pursuing it.
- Somebody else already did it better.
- Everybody else already did it better.
- Somebody will steal your ideas, so it’s safer to keep them hidden forever in the dark.
- You won’t be taken seriously.
- Your work isn’t politically, emotionally, or artistically important enough to change anyone’s life.
- Your dreams are embarrassing.
- Someday, you’ll look back on your creative endeavours has having been a giant waste of time, effort and money.
- You don’t have the right kind of discipline.
- You don’t have the right kind of work space or financial freedom or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration.
- You don’t have the right kind of training or degree.
- What your peers and co-workers would say if you express your personal truth aloud.
- You’re too old to start, or you’re afraid you’re too young to start.
I can tick at least a few of these off the list, and I’m sure you can too. Big Magic helps you realise that none of these things actually matter in the grand scheme of things, especially when it comes to creativity. There are no excuses for not being creative. Literally anyone can be creative, no matter how your brain works. Anyone can put their mind to something, and anyone can live a creative life. You just have to be brave.
Have you read Big Magic? What did you think of it? This was an interesting one for me because I had so many contrasting opinions. I liked the advice about letting go and not letting anything get in the way of creativity, but the woo-woo aspects of turned me off a little bit and the negativity towards creative careers confused me. But I’d really love to know your thoughts!