Book review: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Okay, so I took a detour from the endeavour to inhale as much of the fiction that-you-should’ve-read-by-now and read what is possibly my first non-fiction novel for fun. Initially maybe a little strange because it’s something I’m not used to – y’know, real life, not needing to use the magical imagination world in my head but rather to read an insightful consideration into that exact process. Elizabeth Gilbert is a writer – famous for the ever-so popular Eat Pray Love – who takes an interesting and intriguing view to creativity. The basic gist explained in the book through many anecdotes and stories is that creativity and inspiration should be treated as a live, divine entity. Rather thinking of it as a personal attribute, you see inspiration as a partner who has chosen you, who you have to work with and treat well otherwise it will leave. I had never thought about it in this way before but the way Gilbert explains it has me hooked, I look forward to welcoming this infinite spirit, coined as Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, into my life the next time I am inspired to create, be it through this blog, choreographing a dance or who knows how else?

I started reading this book with caution, I wasn’t sure whether I could be captivated by a non fiction novel and thought I would feel disconnected. Never having been the fan of the ol’ biography and never having read anything like this. However, after reading about two pages I felt the urge to grab a pen because I needed to highlight and annotate the words as I went along. When that happened, I knew I was gonna love it and page after page I kept finding things that just make so much sense to me. It says a lot about mindset and reminds you not to listen to your fears, in the many forms they can take. If you consider yourself to be a creative person in any way, be that writing, dance, music, acting, painting or whatever float your boat, I 100% recommend that you read this book.

I’m gonna share a couple of the main points that I loved and learned from and I take absolutely no credit for the wisdom that follows, although I will paraphrase a little.

Elizabeth Gilbert talks about how we all have the capability to be creative, believing that the universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. In ancient Greek, the word for the highest degree of human happiness is eudaimonia, which basically means “well-daemoned” – that is, nicely taken care of by some external divine creative spirit guide.
We should aim to live a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear. For without bravery, you would never be able to realise the vaulting scope of their own capabilities and without bravery, you will never know the world as richly as it longs to be known, without bravery your life will remain small. When your courage dies, your creativity will die alongside it.
Fear is a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun. And what keeps you from creative living is your self-absorption; your self doubt, disgust, judgement, your crushing sense of self-protection. And thus, you should measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures. What do you love doing so much that the words failure and success essentially become irrelevant?
A lot of our own fear comes from worrying what other people think about us but when you take a moment to consider how little other people think about you, the less you have to worry. Everyone is too wrapped up in their own stuff to care too much about what you’re doing, to be honest. Anyway, people’s judgements about you are none of your business. Recognising the reality, that the reaction to your creativity doesn’t belong to you, is the only sane way to create anything. Perfectionism is just a high end, haute couture version of fear. The perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible and the fun.

This book “review” was a bit more of a book “gush” but oh well. READ IT!

Creativity is a world of paradoxes that you have to make space for in order to create. Gilbert talks about how a creative life is a bigger, happier, expanded life and is a hell of a lot more interesting, and this is certainly the way I want to live. As one of my absolute favourite queens, Viola Davis, puts it: “I became an artist, and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.” Thank you Elizabeth Gilbert, I will carry these lessons through my creative life and have emerged from reading this with a new mantra:

“Onward ever, backwards never.”

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