Listeners of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author shares her wisdom and unique understanding of creativity, shattering the perceptions of mystery and suffering that surround the process and showing us all just how easy it can be.
By sharing stories from her own life as well as from her friends and the people who have inspired her, Elizabeth Gilbert challenges us to embrace our curiosity, tackle what we most love and face down what we most fear.
Whether you long to write a book, create art, cope with challenges at work, embark on a long-held dream, or simply to make your everyday life more vivid and rewarding, Big Magic will take you on a journey of exploration filled with wonder and unexpected joys.
Anyone poking around my Goodreads profile might observe that I have read this book twice this year already, once via audiobook and one reading of my paper copy. One might rightly, assume, therefore, that this is a book which means a lot to me.
As someone who, cautiously, describes themselves as a writer and has ambitions to get her writing published one day but with no confidence that this is achievable, I am exactly the person that Elizabeth Gilbert is aiming this book at. A creative person who allows fear to hold them back in their endeavours and this is why I love this book so much. It feels like she wrote it just for me and, having someone so successful and whose writing I love, understand me, tell me that she has felt the same and that my feelings are understandable and manageable in a source of such comfort at times when I am struggling.
This is not really a practical ‘how to write’ book. It is a why to write book, and how to overcome the mental blocks that prevent us doing so. In this book, the author talks about all the things that hold us back from fully embracing and engaging in our creative impulses – not just writing but anything at all, painting, pottery, ice skating, anything you do for reasons not of pure practicality – and tries to reassure us that our fears and reservations are normal, universal and conquerable. I defy anyone who has ever wanted to do something creative but has felt embarrassed about it, fraudulent, foolish or afraid about doing so, to read this book and not see themselves mirrored back.
So, for me, this book is reassuring because it makes me feel less alone, and this is important because, as Elizabeth points out, creativity can be a lonely business and we tend to spend a lot of time in our own heads, fretting over our inadequacies and assuming no one else has these struggles. To hear that even the most successful of authors share these moments of angst and self-doubt can help to make use believe that persistence may not be futile and, if we just stick it out, maybe we can make it too.
Look, this book is not going to be for everyone. There is no getting away from the fact that some of her ideas about creativity are a little ‘out there,’ and she admits this herself. She talks about ideas and inspiration as actual living things with will and motivation and that there is real magic involved in the process of creation. Some people will find this hard to swallow and it may put them off but, even if you find these theories too wild to be credible, there is a lot in this book that will be relatable and useful.
She talks about fear and how it can cripple your creativity and this is the most personal of her comments to me. “…we all know that when courage dies, creativity dies with it. We all know that fear is a desolate boneyard where our dreams go to desiccate in the hot sun.’ She is writing my soul here. I have spent far too many hours being literally (and I do mean literally) paralysed with fear into an inability to write. To feel so understood, and also have someone tell me they can help me deal with it is of immense comfort.
“Perfectionists often decide in advance that the end product is never going to be satisfactory, so they don’t even bother trying to be creative in the first place.” She’s talking about me again! Perfectionism has been the biggest debilitating factor of my life. It has caused me more anguish, stopped me doing more things, prevented me taking pride in any achievements than anything else in my life. It is absolutely not a virtue, it is a curse and, as Elizabeth says, it is ‘just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat.” Did I mention that her imagery and turn of phrase are also one of the things that make this book such a delight?
She deals with so many topics in this book. How to live with your fear (because there is no getting rid of it), what success can look like and how defining it can help you get over your fear, how to give yourself permission to write, how to trust yourself and the process. Whatever your particular hurdles are that hinder you from creating freely, I’m sure you will find something in here to help you, give you a crumb of comfort and the impetus to keep going. Certainly, for me, this is a book I keep on hand to dip in and out of whenever I need it. To keep the doubts at bay. I am not a person who dogears their books, but my copy of Big Magic has many pages with the corners turned down so I can find a favourite line or paragraph when I need a little boost.
This book tells me it is okay to be afraid. It is okay to fail. It is okay to feel like a fraud. It is okay to call myself a writer even though I have no qualifications in this area. It is okay to be a writer and never get published. Success for me is mine to define and not for others to decide. Time spent doing something you love is never wasted, even if it has no commercial value.
It’s okay to be the skinny lobster in spandex tights.
Big Magic is out now in all formats and you can buy a copy here.
About the Author
Elizabeth Gilbert was born in Waterbury, Connecticut in 1969, and grew up on a small family Christmas tree farm. She attended New York University, where she studied political science by day and worked on her short stories by night. After college, she spent several years traveling around the country, working in bars, diners and ranches, collecting experiences to transform into fiction.
These explorations eventually formed the basis of her first book – a short story collection called PILGRIMS, which was a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award, and which moved Annie Proulx to call her “a young writer of incandescent talent”.
During these early years in New York, she also worked as a journalist for such publications as Spin, GQ and The New York Times Magazine. She was a three-time finalist for The National Magazine Award, and an article she wrote in GQ about her experiences bartending on the Lower East Side eventually became the basis for the movie COYOTE UGLY.
In 2000, Elizabeth published her first novel, STERN MEN (a story of brutal territory wars between two remote fishing islands off the coast of Maine) which was a New York Times Notable Book. In 2002, Elizabeth published THE LAST AMERICAN MAN – the true story of the modern day woodsman Eustace Conway. This book, her first work of non-fiction, was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Elizabeth is best known, however for her 2006 memoir EAT PRAY LOVE, which chronicled her journey alone around the world, looking for solace after a difficult divorce. The book was an international bestseller, translated into over thirty languages, with over 12 million copies sold worldwide. In 2010, EAT PRAY LOVE was made into a film starring Julia Roberts. The book became so popular that Time Magazine named Elizabeth as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
In 2010, Elizabeth published a follow-up to EAT PRAY LOVE called COMMITTED—a memoir which explored her ambivalent feelings about the institution of marriage. The book immediately became a #1 New York Times Bestseller, and was also received with warm critical praise. As Newsweek wrote, COMMITTED “retains plenty of Gilbert’s comic ruefulness and wide-eyed wonder”, and NPR called the book “a rich brew of newfound insight and wisdom.”
Her 2013 novel THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS is a sprawling tale of 19th century botanical exploration. O Magazine named it “the novel of a lifetime”, and the Wall Street Journal called it “the most ambitious and purely-imagined work of (Gilbert’s) twenty-year career.” THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS was a New York Times Bestseller, and Janet Maslin called it “engrossing…vibrant and hot-blooded.” The novel was named a Best Book of 2013 by The New York Times, O Magazine, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and The New Yorker.”
In 2015, she published BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR—a book that encapsulates the joyful spirit of adventure and permission that Elizabeth has always brought to her work and to her life.
Her latest novel is CITY OF GIRLS — a rollicking, sexy tale of the New York City theater world during the 1940s. It will be published in June of 2019.
Elizabeth divides her time between New York City, rural New Jersey, and everywhere else.
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