Review: BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert

Don’t you just love how certain books come into your life?01-big-magic-book-review I have a friend who is a writer. A few weeks ago she sent me a message asking if I’d read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. I responded with a smart-alecky comment along the lines of “I’ve heard good things about it, but I think it might be too girly for a manly man like me.” Nothing more was said, but a few days later a package appeared on my porch containing a copy of Big Magic and a funny little note.

So I read it, and I’m glad I did. My primary creative pursuit is writing, but lately it’s felt sort of joyless. Everything I’ve been writing is for some professional situation, and although I can do it, it hasn’t been all that fun. Meanwhile, I’ve pushed aside some other appealing ideas in order to work on these things that seem more urgent. Big Magic helped me think differently about this dilemma.

The central metaphor of Big Magic is that creative ideas are alive. They pay us visits and invite us to take them in. If we turn away, they take their business elsewhere. On the other hand, if we embrace the ideas, or at least flirt with them, the creative process will catch spark (hopefully), and we will make something of value to ourselves and possibly others. This may sound overly metaphysical or just plain goofy to some, and that’s OK. Maybe Big Magic isn’t for you. All I know is that within fifteen minutes of finishing it, I’d written a satire piece about Donald Trump that is completely different from anything else I’ve ever written. And I greatly enjoyed the process!

Elizabeth Gilbert’s previous book Eat Pray Love is apparently a big deal. I haven’t read it or seen the movie. To be truthful, it doesn’t sound all that interesting to me. However, that book’s wild popularity gives Gilbert credibility about how creativity relates to success, luck, satisfaction, and persistence. Because Gilbert is a writer, obviously, most of her examples deal with writing, but there are also explanations involving visual art, music, dance, carpentry, cooking, gardening, and other creative pursuits.

One of my favorite aspects of Big Magic is how Gilbert uses memoir to illuminate her explanations. Some chapters tell interesting stories that cohere to her theories about creativity. For example, she was deep into writing a novel when circumstances forced her to put it aside. When she returned to the manuscript, her enthusiasm for the project was gone. From Gilbert’s perspective, the idea had left in search of another artist. Imagine Gilbert’s surprise to discover upon meeting an author she admired that an identical idea was the subject of that author’s most recent work: The idea had found another creator.

So, is Big Magic “too girly”? Apparently not, although in a couple of sentences Gilbert seems to be addressing a specifically female audience. That’s fine though. If you identify at all with the label of artist, or would like to identify as an artist, Big Magic will provide useful inspiration and practical advice for creative growth. This copy of Big Magic that came to me as a gift has some pretty good mojo in it, but I’ll gladly pass it along. If you want it, please let me know privately, and I’ll get it to you. What happens after that is up to you and the creative ideas that come your way.

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2 Responses to Review: BIG MAGIC by Elizabeth Gilbert

  1. Thank you! Looks like I’ll be reading this one after all, even though Eat, Pray, Love simply isn’t for me!


  2. I was skeptical, too, but I am nearly finished with this book and just love it. I think it will be a book I return to, quote to my students.


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