Five Inspirational Gems from Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Posted September 22, 2015 by LeahAdmin in Reviews / 19 Comments

Book Review: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Big Magic: Creative Living Without Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Published by Riverhead Books on September 22, 2015
Pages: 288
Format: Galley
Source: Publisher
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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.

This post contains affiliate links you can use to purchase the book. If you buy the book using that link, I will receive a small commission from the sale.

  • I love what she has to say on trust and permission! And – I think I would probably find the ideas as disembodied life-forms stuff a bit much as well. I heard on a podcast (can’t remember which one) that she said an abandoned book idea of hers ended up as Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. Hmm…wonder what Ann Patchett has to say about that…

  • BooksBikesandBeyond

    Gosh, I have to admit I’m intrigued by this book! I tried reading Eat, Pray, Love years ago and just couldn’t do it. I was uninterested in her as a person and her journey. But then I read her work of fiction, The Signature of All Things and… woah! As my dad would say: I ate that book right up. I loved it. Have you ever seen the nearly 20 minute long video of Gilbert trying to sell her gorgeous home? If not, go to youtube and search for Eat, Pray, Crib. The entire video is quite the experience!

    • I hated Eat, Pray, Love, but I had to admit that her actual writing was really strong; I suspect that I would really like The Signature of All Things. I’ll have to look up that video!

  • I could definitely see myself getting a bit fed-up with a whole book in this vein, but I love the quotations you pulled. The one on enchantment particularly resonated with me, as someone who’s endlessly curious and eager (though sometimes somewhat fearful, I admit!) to discover new ideas and ways of thinking.

    Also, like Sarah said below, trust and permission are biggies, too, and I think they apply to far more things than just creative pursuits!

    Thanks for giving me some food for thought today. 🙂

  • I haven’t read anything by Elizabeth Gilbert but I’ve been curious about this book. Thanks for sharing those quotes, I think I will definitely keep an eye out for it 😉

  • Oh my, this sounds good. I’d seen things about it but hadn’t looked too closely. I’ve been so chewed up by fear lately I could use some help figuring out how to get some use out of it- other than a complete nervous breakdown. Which would mean a sanitarium and unlimited reading so that wouldn’t be all bad.

  • Oh this one sounds really good. I have only read The Signature of All Things and I liked it.

  • I really enjoyed Eat, Pray, Love so I might try this eventually, but I’m not sure this is a good fit for me. I’ll probably try The Signature of All Things first 🙂

  • Great review! I read that first few pages at work and loved that story about the non-related Gilbert guy who was truly doing his work out of passion rather than for the accolades. I wasn’t a fan of EPL either and haven’t picked up anything since but will give this one a go.

  • I keep saying I need to read this book, and keep forgetting to follow through. Putting it on hold at the library right now!

  • Fab review! I don’t know whether I will love or hate it, but I know I will read it. She’s done and seen so much so she must have wise words on it all.

  • My “big plans” for this weekend = reading this book. Thanks for the extra push!

  • Lindsey Stefan

    I have to confess I wasn’t a huge fan of Eat, Pray, Love. However, I’ve been listening a bit to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic podcast and I think I’m going to have to give this book a chance!

    • I didn’t care for Eat, Pray, Love, either, and I was pleasantly surprised by this book! I’ll have to give the podcast a try.

  • Elena

    So good, all of them… I sometimes think I’m a workaholic. People keep telling me I work a lot, or too much, depending on the day. But, I always say that work is what keeps me sane. And now I know I’m not alone.

  • I’ve been wondering about this book. I’m glad to be warned about the magical thinking – if I read it, at least I can be prepared. But reading those quotes, I’m definitely leaning more towards reading it than skipping it. It’s good to have a reminder that you can do things just because you enjoy them, they don’t have to become anything.

  • Terra

    I think this author is worth reading though for me she misses the boat in her thinking about religion. I will read this book since I am an author and may find some insights on daring to fail! I like that idea.

    • She steers pretty clear of religion in this book, and I think it’s definitely worth a read if you can get past the magical thinking.