“Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert could be considered a self-help book. She even acknowledges it in a few chapters. However, this book is about the creative process. It’s a book for every creative person that has doubted themselves or anyone who needs a “legitimacy pass” to pursue their heart’s desire, it’s even for the people that don’t consider themselves to be creative. This book is an encouragement to live a creative life.
It touches on several myths about creativity and a creative personality, which might be revered by some. Like the writers that transform their demons into their muse or the artists that suffer while creating art. This book demystifies the almost romantic idea of justifying your shitty mess of a life in order to create. You don’t need to live in an abyss of suffering to make art. You’ll create in spite of it.
“Big Magic” is divided into six chapters that might read as steps. It starts with Courage, continues with Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, and Divinity. The book lays a path and the first step is to start. It’s better to write, paint, or create badly at first, which you will certainly do, than not even trying. The idea of aiming to be like our heroes can be crippling. We’ll be scared to give a step forward or even backward because we fear that it might be the wrong one. This idea will keep us in the same place, inert, hoping for a ray of light in the shadows of our fears. We want inspiration but we’re not actively seeking it.
Gilbert calls ‘Big Magic’ the unexplainable inspiration that could strike us at any moment and we can’t see or explain it. ‘Big Magic’ is something mystical with a life of its own. Although, I don’t agree with this particular point, I do agree with being fully committed to a creative life regardless of the outcome. The outcome is out of our control. We can’t let it guide us toward our goal. You write, paint, sing, or create because you have to. This is a love affair you’ll have to give in. It might be difficult at times, like any other human endeavor but it will lead you to a satisfying life. It’s not about getting published or being famous. You can’t base your happiness on things that will eventually fade.
Forget about “bleeding” words like Hemingway or the creative geniuses you admire that have a tendency of killing themselves. Pain is not the source of your creativity. I once tried writing while being drunk. I remember having marvelous ideas. The problem was putting them on paper. I ended up sitting on my neighbor’s kids’ swingset with a beer, a notebook and a pen, scribbling like mad. The next morning though I could not make out a word I’d written or even a semblance of an idea. The point is that I looked like a drunken woman sitting on a children’s swingset. I’ve never tried that ridiculous idea again. I have revered those authors that have finished their lives by their own hands and thought that to be a writer you needed to pay a high price.
The idea of the suffering and misunderstood artist has permeated our culture. I’m even a little mad at my literary heroes for perpetuating this stereotype. We might be creating works of art at different levels but we’re not curing AIDS. We might be battling our demons but they’re not what fuel our creativity. As Elizabeth Gilbert concludes, “What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all. We are terrified, and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege.”
Even if your art never makes it to a museum, gallery, or bookstore, it can only be made by you. Do it for yourself. Do it because you have to. Do it because it roars inside you. If it succeeds in the world, great. If it doesn’t, that’s great too. Say, “next” and continue creating. The unexplainable urge that some of us (or really, all of us) have to create something might not be divine but it sure as hell is magical.