If you forget about how she’s now worth millions, you can get behind the message of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic.
I don’t make a secret of my creative tendencies. I’ve been writing since I could literally put a sentence together–I have journals dating from 1st grade where I try to conjugate “to be” in the past tense and gloriously fail.
The trouble with creativity advice is that it is so intensely personal and context-based that it’s hard to take any of it seriously. What works for one person doesn’t work the same for anyone else. For example, I’ve conditioned myself to work best from home; some people swear by working in a coffee shop or library because they can’t get anything done in their house.
So it was with a bit of scepticism that I approached Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. The subtitle, “Creative living beyond fear”, is what attracted me, honestly. To be completely truthful, I am sometimes afraid of the power of my craft. I’ve been told many times that I am a good writer, that I am underusing my talents, that I should be doing more with it. I tell myself that I’m not good enough, that I’ll never be good enough, that so many people are so much better than me and that none of it matters anyway.
But if the 15+ thousand views of my piece about interdependency theory on Medium taught me anything, it’s that I can, indeed, get people to read me.
And that “sometimes”, for Gilbert, is good enough.
You might find that her advice to create and not care about what happens after a bit miffing, especially since she is worth about 25 million, thanks to Eat Pray Love. But I get what she’s saying: “It was never my intention to write a giant best seller, believe me. I wouldn’t know how to write a giant best seller if I tried” (p. 122). Art is not in the intention: it’s in the act.
And so, I didn’t plan on writing a giant semi-viral Medium post that was read tens of thousands of times. I didn’t plan on writing something that is literally just psychological theory made simple to understand. The fact that this theory seems so counter-intuitive yet connected with so many people surprised even me.
And yes, some of Big Magic can seem overly earnest, quirky, and even naive. Gilbert is a dork, at least on paper, and I kind of liked that. I smiled throughout the book, connecting with her personal anecdotes and vulnerable moments she shared with us.
Sure, it’s easy to talk to people about how to be magically creative when you don’t have to worry about rent. But she insists that art shouldn’t be about paying the rent. At the beginning of her career, it surely didn’t. If you want to make your life about things other than working a job and paying bills, you should at least try to spend a little time on creative pursuits, whatever that means for you.
Big Magic isn’t a how-to guide to write a best seller. But it sure is a good pep talk, and a reminder that art is meaningful whether or not it sells.
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