8 Reasons You Should Read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
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Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert is a refreshing and practical guide on living a creative life. It should be required reading for everyone who… Actually, it should just be required reading for everyone.
In it, Liz (I’m calling her Liz because I feel I’ve reached that level of familiarity with her by the end of the book) provides her perspective on what creative living means to her. Surprisingly, it does not mean selling all your possessions and moving to Paris to become a famous painter, nor does it mean sloughing off your stable job to write and drink all day in pursuit of becoming the next Hemingway.
On the contrary, Liz does not endorse grand gestures or great suffering as a testament to your commitment to creativity. Living creatively can be as simple as waking up early every morning to practice ice skating, which she describes her friend doing. It is doing something you enjoy that takes you beyond the humdrum working day without any expectation from it except the pleasure that it brings you.
While reading Big Magic, I couldn’t help but furiously take notes on all the wise nuggets Liz provides her readers. I closed the book relieved, not because I had finished, but because I felt like I had reached the beginning of something great in my life.
I felt renewed in my decision to start this blog and put my thoughts out into the world without fear whether they would be well-received or not. And I resolved to hold on to the idea for a novel I started playing around with a few months ago.
Read on to find out eight reasons this book (and maybe a notebook and pen) should be on your nightstand right now.
Liz writes about how people in Greek and Roman times believed a daemon of creativity lived in the walls of your house like a house-elf. This daemon wasn’t always there, but when he was, he helped provide inspiration to you as you toiled in your creative pursuits.
The Romans called this house-elf your genius. During the Enlightenment, the language shifted and instead of having a genius, creative people were now the geniuses themselves. (Liz gives a TED Talk on this subject here).
What if instead of having to worry about being a genius and being in charge of finding all your ideas and inspiration, you went back to the Greek and Roman times and relied on your house-elf to provide it for you?
If your work completely sucks, you can blame your house-elf for not showing up that day (or week, or month, or year!). And if your work is a runaway success, your head can’t get too big because you can’t take all the credit for the success.
Whether you succeed or whether you fail, your genius living in the walls allows you to continue being creative and sane. We can thank Liz’s genius for that insight!
Although she believes no one needs anyone’s permission to be creative, Liz gives it to her readers just in case they feel they still need it. She says that we are all entitled to be creative: we are allowed to be here and we are allowed to have our own voice and vision. There’s no bigger reason needed for creativity than you like to make stuff. How sweet is that?
Liz says we shouldn’t worry about whether what we want to do has already been done before. Everything has been done before, but it hasn’t been done by you. Each generation revises the same stories over and over again. Why can’t you add your version to the heap?
How liberating is that? Here’s someone saying your work doesn’t need to be new. It doesn’t need to be important. It doesn’t need to help others. It’s around simply because you like doing it. And if the end result helps others, even better. Off you go! Be selfish!
Liz read a blog post by Mark Manson that resonated with her. It asked the question, “What’s your favorite flavor of shit sandwich?” Every undertaking has its downsides. What are you willing to put up with to enjoy the upsides? If the thrill of your creativity doesn’t outweigh the drawbacks, then why are you doing it?
Don’t quit your day job! Liz believes you should support your creativity, not vice versa. If you rely on your creativity to pay your bills, you just may kill your creativity altogether. So go to work and allow your paycheck to fund your creative pursuits.
Don’t whine that you don’t have enough time to be creative. Even Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, wrote to friends about how he was strapped for time, and look at the tome he managed to finish. Liz suggests having an affair with your creativity. Nobody ever has time to have an affair, yet people still manage to have them all the time. Sneak away, get to work, and finish your project.
Here’s what you need to tell yourself after you have revised that piece for the the tenth time or are obsessing over that one little pixel on your photo that is not quite right but no one will ever notice: “Done is better than good.” Perfection is not attainable and is rooted in the fear of not being good enough. As Liz notes, many people start things, but not many people finish things. If you finish something, whether it’s “good” or not, you’re already ahead of most people out there.
Don’t be a martyr and sacrifice everything for your art. Don’t suffer for your craft. Don’t become an addict or spiral into depression. Be a trickster, says Liz. The trickster knows it’s all a game. If you make your work fun, then you manipulate the system so that you enjoy it. Enjoying being creative allows you to be a healthy, sane person who can actually write, or paint, or design, or garden, etc. If you aren’t a healthy, sane person, your martyrdom will surely overwhelm you. What good does that do your art if you aren’t around to create it?
Reading Big Magic is like discovering a holy book for creativity. It makes you feel good. It gives you hope. It grants you grace.
Liz’s belief in the divine nature of the creative process coupled with her down-to-earth advice for staying stable and sane make this guide accessible for anyone wanting to transcend the banality of the daily grind.
If you haven’t read it yet, what are you waiting for? Grab a copy now! And don’t forget the notebook and pen!
Have you read Big Magic? What did you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.