Published by Riverhead Books on September 22, 2015
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Love her or hate her, Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing has made her a household name — and in Big Magic: Creative Living Without Fear, she encourages her readers to embark on a life of curiosity, creativity, and passion. This doesn’t necessarily mean pursuing a life dedicated to the arts, though; “when I refer to “creative living,” I am speaking more broadly. I’m talking about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear,” she writes.
Written in a conversational tone full of empathy, humor, and wisdom, Gilbert doles out lessons from history, anecdotes from friends, and her own insights into creativity and inspiration. Like Eat, Pray, Love, I have a feeling some readers will love this book and others will roll their eyes at it. Although her tendency toward magical thinking (she sees ideas as disembodied life-forms, swirling around and looking for human partners willing to seize them) was a bit much for me, I loved what she had to say about doing what you’re passionate about, not for any type of outward recognition or achievement, but because it is spiritually fulfilling.
Instead of writing a traditional review, I’d like to let Gilbert speak for herself. Here are five quotes, each taken from a different section of the book!
On courage: “Fear and creativity shared a womb, they were born at the same time, and they still share some vital organs. This is why we have to be careful of how we handle our fear — because I’ve noticed that when people try to kill off their fear, they often end up inadvertently murdering their creativity in the process. So I don’t try to kill off my fear. I don’t go to war against it. Instead, I make all that space for it. Heaps of space. Every single day… It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes, too.”
On enchantment: “Most of all, be ready. Keep your eyes open. Listen. Follow your curiosity. Ask questions. Sniff around. Remain open. Trust in the miraculous truth that new and marvelous ideas are looking for human collaborators every single day. Ideas of every kind are constantly galloping toward us, constantly passing through us, constantly trying to get our attention. Let them know you’re available.”
On permission: “It’s okay if your work is fun for you, is what I’m saying. It’s also okay if your work is healing for you, or fascinating for you, or redemptive for you, or if it’s maybe just a hobby that keeps you from going crazy. It’s even okay if your work is totally frivolous. That’s allowed. It’s all allowed. Your own reasons to create are reason enough.”
On persistence: “We must understand that the drive for perfectionism is a corrosive waste of time, because nothing is ever beyond criticism. No matter how many hours you spend attempting to render something flawless, somebody will always be able to find fault with it. (There are people out there who still consider Beethoven’s symphonies a little bit too, you know, loud.) At some point, you really just have to finish your work and release it as is — if only so that you can go on to make other things with a glad and determined heart. Which is the entire point. Or should be.”
On trust: “There is a famous quote that shows up, it seems, in every single self-help book ever written: What would you do if you knew that you could not fail? But I’ve always seen it differently. I think the fiercest question of all is this one: 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 your own ego? How fierce is your trust in that love? You might challenge this idea of fierce trust. You might buck against it. You might want to punch and kick at it. You might demand of it, “Why should I go through all the trouble to make something if the outcome might be nothing?” The answer will usually come with a wicked trickster grin: “Because it’s fun, isn’t it?” Anyhow, what else are you going to do with your time here on earth — not make things? Not do interesting stuff? Not follow your love and your curiosity?”
Big Magic would make a great gift for anyone interested in creative pursuits, from a young writer with a fresh MFA, to a musician who plays local venues, to a parent who crafts tiny animals out of porcelain while the kids are at school — from someone who is just embarking on an artistic endeavor, to someone who has been making creative works for decades.
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