From My Shelves: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

In an effort to read (or reread, like today) all the books on my shelves, I’m reviewing books I already own. Today I’m going to talk about Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

I bought this book at Barnes & Noble when it first came out. I’m not sure what tipped me off to its existence — perhaps I had just started following Elizabeth Gilbert on social media and heard about the book that way. Anyhow, I knew that she was coming out with a book all about how to live creatively, and I was intrigued.

Elizabeth Gilbert

At the time, I was struggling with what I wanted to do with my life. I always knew I wanted to be a writer, mores specifically, a novelist, but the truth was, I wasn’t exactly writing. I had just sent in my deposit for creative writing graduate school, which felt kind of terrifying and interesting and I didn’t know what was going to happen next. This book was intriguing to me because I wanted some kind of guide on how to work through the walls I had put up against my own creativity, so that I could enter that fall with a fresh, new perspective on how to find time to work on my art. Anyway, I went to Barnes & Noble, and somehow I managed to get a signed copy. Before this book, I didn’t really read a lot of self help books, but I thought I’d try it out.

So I first read the book right after I bought it, which was in 2015. I know that my first impression was that I really loved it, but felt a little bit put off by the Permission section in which Gilbert kind of says that she thinks getting a creative degree isn’t necessarily a good thing (pg 101). Since I had so recently committed to grad school, this upset me quite a bit. Am I making myself a worse writer by getting a master’s degree in writing? I thought.

Nevertheless, I decided to pick it back up at the beginning of this year while I waited for my mother to finish a book I wanted to read from the library. I think, actually, that it was exactly what I needed in that moment. I was looking at going back to work full time and struggling with anxiety that I’d stop working on my book and my blog and my Etsy store when that happened.

I don’t know if I keep picking books that are hard to talk about or if I’m just bad at talking about books, but this one is difficult to summarize. Basically, in this book, Elizabeth Gilbert has written a book of encouragement for anyone who wants to do something creative — or just do what they love most. She discusses the ways in which we can bypass our fear, find joy in our art instead of suffering, and a spiritual view of how ideas arrive in our heads. She also includes several anecdotes about creative people and the way that they have lived.

Elizabeth Gilbert

My favorite part of this book is definitely the chapter where she discusses how to face fear. She says that fear is always going to be present in your life, and ignoring it will only make it worse. Instead, she suggests to work through fear, to acknowledge that it’s going to always be something you have to deal with. And then, the most important thing, just don’t let fear drive the car. Acknowledge that fear is there but don’t make your decisions based on it. Don’t stop yourself from doing something just because you’re afraid of it (unless this thing is sure to kill you, in that case please do stop yourself). This metaphor changed things for me. I’ve always been afraid/nervous about everything. Afraid to start jobs, afraid to write books, afraid to let people read what I’ve written. The realization that being afraid of something meant that I should do it rather than the opposite changed my approach to life.

I’m writing this blog right now even though it terrifies me that I’m putting a ton of imperfect writing out there in the world for anyone to read, for instance. Every week when I hit “publish” it gets a little bit less scary, but every week the fear is still there. But I can recognize now that all that means is that I’m doing what I should be doing, that it scares me because it’s important to me.

Also important to me — the idea of being your own patron, of not expecting your creativity to pay the bills. Of working whatever kind of job you have to work in order to put food on the table so that you’re not putting pressure on your creativity to provide.

There are a lot of little tidbits like that in this book, and if you’re someone who likes to create things, even if you don’t usually read self-help books, I really recommend this one. It definitely helps me keep on keeping on despite all the excuses I tend to make.

Anyway, I’m definitely keeping this one on my shelves, and I think that I’m going to be pulling from it when I feel like I need a little push to keep moving forward with my multitude of creative projects.

Oh — and her comment about creative degrees? It doesn’t bother me so much now.  I really feel like my time at my MFA was instrumental in the way I write now, and I don’t regret spending the time and money on it not one bit. I also don’t think the comment is as harsh as I originally found it — guess I’m just a little less sensitive now.

I hope that you’re having a great week. Thanks for stopping by today!


2 thoughts on “From My Shelves: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

  1. Heard amazing things about this one. She is actually on the cover of “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, giving it a recommendation – which I bought for my mum today for Mother’s Day.


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