I knew that whenever I would read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, it would rock me and challenge me. Big Magic did not disappoint.
It called me out. It called me higher. It made murky places clearer and helped me make some huge decisions as a creative---as a writer. So, whoever you are, whatever you do, read Big Magic.
Now, just a little grid about the book. We often only hear Big Magic, but the full title is:
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.
What I loved about how Gilbert breaks it down was that she presented it as a relationship. That we get to engage with new ideas every day. That creativity can be found in the everyday, it’s how we are positioned to receive and connect with them. It also confirmed so much for me that when God made us, He made us creative, whether you do what is deemed “traditionally” creative or not. You are creative. Elizabeth Gilbert shouts that throughout Big Magic. She shares a story of a woman who picks up an old hobby simply for the joy of it. Not to make money. Not to compete or receive accolades. Simply because of the joy it brought her.
To me that’s creative living. Doing the things that bring you joy daily.
In this book, Gilbert explores Big Magic in six parts:
Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, and Divinity.
Each section is chock full of Gilbert’s wit, personal experiences, encouragement, and butt-kicks. I could go on and on about this book. But I really want you to go read it. So, I’ll do my best to not summarize the whole book for ya. Here are some main things I took away from Big Magic:
Ideas and Inspirations
Elizabeth Gilbert does a wondrous job of breaking down the entities that are ideas and inspiration. She talks about them throughout the whole book but really dives into them in the Enchantment section. I love how she personifies them---making them tangible. She expresses them as not just flimsy, flat things, but rather, she makes them full, living---breathing. Sounds crazy. But it helped me grasp the concepts and perspectives she shared.
Ideas and inspiration will come and go. I think we all know that. But what Gilbert reminds us of is the beauty of constantly showing up.
If I am daily in a position where I am working----creating, I invite fresh inspiration and new ideas to find me. I know this to be true, because I experienced it back in college.
I was working on my collection of short stories and felt I was hitting a wall. So many late nights and feeling utterly fruitless. I had a submission due to my writing mentor and had nothing new to give. But, I sat down at the computer anyway. Knee deep in crappy writing, inspiration met me and wrote alongside me. It opened my eyes and the story morphed in the most beautiful way.
Mind you, it was not the stuff of Morrison or Fitzgerald, but there was more on that page than before and that was something to be proud of.
Be okay with Letting Go
Now, somewhere between the ending of the Enchantment section all the way through to the Trust section, Gilbert talks about letting go. Giving yourself permission to create but also taking the process lightly---having the courage and strength to let go--being okay with an idea and inspiration leaving.
I remember getting an idea for a novel in 2012 and feeling inspired to really dig into it. Between making major life changes—like moving across the country—my focus shifted. The novel was always there. I turned to it from time to time, but six years later, I find myself staring at this novel with new eyes.
I found myself teary-eyed as I read through Big Magic because I realized, I needed to be okay with the possibility that this novel---this idea was gone. The more I read through the book, the more grounded I felt about letting it go. This doesn’t mean I’ll never write it, but right now, it’s not where I’m at and it’s okay.
Instead, I decided I’d give following my curiosity a try.
Follow the way of Curiosity
Gilbert talks about following curiosity and it’s easily in my top five favorite parts of the book.
She describes it as being the milder, simpler, and most common form of Big Magic. She shares how curiosity will leave clues that you get to follow that can either lead to your next project or take you on a journey of a life lived inquisitively. Which is not a bad way to live if you ask me.
So, while, writing a novel is on the list of dreams and doing so many other creative things, I really want to lean more into living a life that follows curiosity. Acknowledging when something is interesting, going where it leads and creating what comes from that process.
Don’t be THAT person and Freedom to do the 9-5
Elizabeth Gilbert talks about the tortured artist and it was refreshing to hear, “hey, don’t be that person”. It’s wild how stereotyped creatives can be. The image of the writer is the secluded, borderline, if not completely, alcoholic. Gilbert emphatically insists we not be like that. She also, obviously, gives you full permission to do and be whomever and however you want as a creative, but really, really encourages you to choose a lighter way.
In that same breath, she also proudly talks about not making whatever you create your income.
Hear me on this.
She was not turning a snobbish nose up to those who have quit traditional jobs and pursued their creative love as a career. She was more expressing don’t let that be why you do it. If the way you express creativity provides opportunities for income. Awesome. But be mindful that it does not become why you do what you do.
For me, I felt this pressure that if I wasn’t doing that whole quit job-make-creative-outlet-income rig, then I wasn’t really creating. It’s easy to feel this way when we live in a time where it’s kinda what you do. You stick it to the man, quit that job, and go off and create/build your own thing.
Nothing wrong with that. #lifegoals.
But there’s equally nothing wrong with having a traditional career or working a 9-5. What Gilbert showed me is that it’s possible, to create beautiful things and still have a 9-5. One does not have to be sacrificed for the other.
Gilbert will tell you, she always worked. It wasn’t until her bestseller Eat, Pray, Love that she made enough as a writer to no longer work a traditional job. Mind you, that book wasn’t her first published work. What I loved most when she shared about this was that if Eat, Pray, Love hadn’t done so well, she’d still be working.
I needed to hear that from a successful writer and creator. It was also a major kick in the butt. Because, to work a traditional 9-5 and create on the side, that’s hustle y’all. It challenges you to ask yourself, how much do you love or want to do the thing you say you want to do?
Because, traditional job or not, if you wanna create the only thing stopping from doing so is you.
Explore Other Creative Outlets
Another revelation Gilbert dropped that blessed my whole soul was in the section “Do Something Else”. Here she speaks to those spaces that feel slow or stuck or the times you did do the thing and it completely flops. She writes,
“Own your disappointment, acknowledge it for what it is, and move on. Chop up that failure and use it for bait to try to catch another project. Someday it might all make sense to you—why you needed to go through this botched up mess in order to land in a better place. Or maybe it will never make sense. So be it. Move on, anyhow. Whatever else happens, stay busy.”
Or more simple terms.
“If you can’t do what you long to do, go do something else”.
It was a beautiful reminder to explore other creative outlets. Sometimes taking a step away is just what you need to find your drive again and for inspiration to meet you. She encourages us to change perspective on what we are creating. She writes,
“What you produce is not necessarily always sacred, I realized, just because you think it’s sacred. What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life.”
Reading, humbled me and challenged me and encouraged me all at once. It is so important to remember that while the end goal is awesome and seeing the fruit of your labor is amazing, nothing beats the process---the journey to that moment. We must never forget that.
Whew. I know that was A LOT. There was so much that resonated with me from Gilbert’s Big Magic but the biggest of them all was this:
“I work either way, you see---assisted or unassisted—because that is what you must do in order to live a fully creative life. I work steadily, and I always thank the process. Whether I am touched by grace or not, I thank creativity for allowing me to engage with it at all. Because either way, it’s all kind of amazing---what we get to do, what we get to attempt, what we sometimes get to commune with. Gratitude, always. Always, gratitude.”
No matter the season or the process, however creativity manifests itself in your life, always stay vigilant, leaning in, moving and working. Whether you become a big name or what you create or explore stays intimately with you, you will know you’ve pursued a creative life.
Your turn. Will you check out Big Magic? What books have you read that have inspired you to live your fullest life?
Post Photo courtesy of Michelle Dant
Danae Carson is the Founder and Editor of This Wondrous Life. With a passion for creativity, dreams, community, and simple living, you will find in the content she creates an eagerness for others to be awaken to their dreams, creativity, and beauty of living a simpler, full life. When she isn't busy running This Wondrous Life, Danae can be found working a 9-5 in Washington, D.C. and when she's not there, she can be found making areopress or pour-over coffee at home, brainstorming and dreaming up how to best live simply and present with those around her. Danae resides in the suburbs of Maryland. To learn more about her and This Wondrous Life, you can follow the journey on Facebook and Instagram!