Book Review: Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic

 Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?

-Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert

I recently borrowed Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic” from the Los Angeles Public Library. It’s a quick read and highly recommended for anyone pursuing a creative, artistic life. You can see a Clif Notes version of what she covers in her book in her widely viewed TED Talk. Elizabeth Gilbert also wrote the New York Time Best selling book, “Eat, Pray, Love. ”

The central question of Big Magic is, “Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?” That’s a meaty question and she offers her point of view on creative living beyond fear. The hidden gem of the book is that she’s walking the walk – she wrote it because it was a passion project. Second, she could have rested on her laurels after Eat, Pray, Love, but she is committed to writing books and expressing her creativity.

There’s a bunch of gems. Here are the ones that jumped out at me:

“The paradox you need to inhabit if you wish to live a contented creative life, goes something like this: ‘My creative expression must be the most important thing in the world to me (if I am to live artistically), and it also must not matter at all (if I am to live sanely).'”

“Creative living doesn’t necessarily mean selling everything you own to pursue a life in the arts. It’s certainly an option, but she’s more interested in the creativity that inspires us, delights us and keeps us sane.”

“If you’re going to do anything creative, you have to make space for fear.”

“Creativity is a birthright.”

“Push yourself deeper into the world, to explore more bravely.”

Some other pieces of advice:

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Pay your bills. Don’t strangle your creativity or resent it because of bankruptcy. Jim Henson worked in advertising for 20 years before realizing his dream – The Muppets. Toni Morrison used to work on her novels before going off to her publishing job. J. K. Rowling did too. The LA conundrum.

Don’t be a Tormented Artist

She offers an alternative to the Tormented Artist. She suggests clearing out the obstacles holding you back, treating “failure” as an experiment, and measuring success by the process, not product.

The Shit Sandwich

What’s your favorite flavor of shit sandwich? Mark Manson is a blogger and entrepreneur. He offers seven questions to consider when determining your life’s purpose. What’s your favorite flavor of shit sandwich is one of them. He writes:

Everything involves sacrifice. Everything includes some sort of cost. Nothing is pleasurable or uplifting all of the time. So the question becomes: what struggle or sacrifice are you willing to tolerate? Ultimately, what determines our ability to stick with something we care about is our ability to handle the rough patches and ride out the inevitable rotten days.

Grab the tiger by the tail

Creative ideas present themselves to us all the time. We have a choice. If we say no. It goes elsewhere. If we say yes, then we enter a contract with it and should put time and energy into it making the idea blossom. She shares a story int he book of Ruth Stone, an American Poet. When working in the fields, Ruth would sometimes hear a poem coming toward her and she would run like hell to the house to get a piece of a paper and write it down. She could feel the poem rushing through her, the lines falling on the page. Sometimes, she would nearly miss the poem. In these instances, she’d “catch it,” like a tiger by the tail, and the words would come out backwards.

Tom Waits has a similar story. Gilbert interviewed him for GQ years earlier and he said some songs come to him like a dream through a straw while others are like digging up potatoes. Some are sticky and weird like gum under the table and some are like wild birds that he must sneak up on them sideways. He now trusts songs will come to him. How did he come to this conclusion? His children. They create so freely. He said, “I realized that, as a songwriter, the only thing I really do is make jewelry for the inside of people’s minds.”

Keep Creating

Champion yourself.

Done is better than good.

Don’t dwell on failures. Keep moving forward.

The Teaching of Pain – distrust pleasure and put their faith in struggle alone.

It’s not your baby. Edit, cut, refine.

Stop complaining. Do the work.

Create for yourself, not others.

Trust the process.

If you wait for inspiration, you may be waiting forever.

Stick with It

Don’t quit when things get interesting. That’s the transformative part, when you push past the difficulty and enter into some raw new unexplored universe within yourself. Reminds me of Ira Glass’ thoughts on The Gap.

Opening the Creative Pathway

How can you open the creative pathway? Einstein used to call it Combinatory Play – the act of opening up one mental channel while dabbling in another. That’s why he would play violin when he was having difficulty solving a mathematical puzzle. This jumped out at me because I have studied at the AdlerImprov Acting Studio for the past two years and change. Rob Adler uses Viola Spolin’s games to encourage presence, spontaneity and play. Viola’s games provide a focus, point of concentration, that puts the brain on one mental channel while freeing up one’s creative genius. How about that?