Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Big Magic
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Published: 9/27/2016
Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert's books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Key Insights

Elizabeth Gilbert may be best known for her book, “Eat, Pray, Love,” but that timeless memoir of personal discovery is not the only story Gilbert has to share with her audience.

In “Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear,” Gilbert uses anecdotal stories to share the words of wisdom she has learned throughout her passion for writing.

“Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.”- Elizabeth Gilbert

Gilbert gives insight to her readers about the damaging effects fear can have on your ability to live a creative life.

She goes on to discuss persistence, the idea of Big Magic, being brave, and being open to inspiration from the world around us.

Key Points

  • Face Your Fears

In order to live a creative life, you must uncover the hidden treasures within yourself and let them lead the way.

“The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.”- Elizabeth Gilbert

You must be driven by curiosity and must always ask questions rather than living in fear of failure.

Living with curiosity will make you happier, diversify your perspective on the world, and give you a much more interesting story to tell.

You must never think you are too young or too old to follow your dream. Everyone has their own timeline. Everyone is capable of living a creative life and pursuing the things they are passionate about.

Fear kills creativity. It doesn’t just hinder the process, it can sometimes stop it before it even starts.

Oftentimes a person can overcome their fear to do something creative such as write a novel, but once that is done fear may stop them from letting others read it.

Leave motivational post-its and images for yourself in your creative workspace. This is a helpful way to prevent fear creeping in and taking over your creative process.

  • The Paradoxes of Creativity

Although fear can hurt the creative process, it is also necessary for the creative process. This is one of the paradoxes of the creative world.

Creators must embrace their fears, rather than ignore them when it comes to their works. That’s because this can help secure their motivation for the piece. Without the fear, the piece isn’t what it originally was. To keep the organic idea intact, you must embrace the fear that comes along with it.

Another paradox of creativity are that it is work and a privilege. It may seem like a lot of time to spend on a passion, but that passion is a privilege to have.

“Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all. We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. We are terrified, and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us. Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise—you can make anything. So please calm down now and get back to work, okay? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”- Elizabeth Gilbert

Also, creativity is both playful and serious at the same time. You are seriously striving toward some masterpiece, yet it can be fun and entertaining while doing so.

Creativity should be extremely meaningful while also being meaningless at the same time. This is because the process and the end product should be meaningful to the creator, but no pressure should be added to the creator about how meaningful it will be to their audience. The creator should accept that their piece may be meaningless to the outside world.

These creative paradoxes make the process of creating difficult to understand. It requires creators to use all aspects of themselves in order to get the job done.

For example, if a painter cannot be playful and have fun while painting on a canvas, their end result may be contrived.

  • Creativity is Magical

Creativity is magical in all senses of the word. It is supernatural, mystical, and divine. It is an otherworldly experience for many creators.

For example, a specific idea for a novel can jump from one author’s head to another when the first author loses intimacy with the idea. This loss sends the idea to another author’s brain so they can get writing.

This example is something that happened to Gilbert herself. And since then she has believed that ideas are alive and their own individual beings who then cling to creators.

A huge part of the reason why creativity is magical is that no one quite understands it, not even the scientists of the world.

The term ‘divine inspiration’ is often referenced with the idea that creativity is magic. Divine inspiration describes the inexplicable event of how ideas come to be and how they are expressed by their creators.

Magic, of course, is what we label things that we cannot explain. And one of those things is creativity because it births so many genius ideas.

Oftentimes creators, themselves, cannot explain how they stumbled upon their best ideas. But that is what keeps creativity so magical.

  • All About Ideas

Ideas are their own beings. They are not attached to humans. But, a creator, through their own consciousness can manifest themselves in creative works. This creative piece could be anything from a business idea to a painting.

Ideas approach humans and the human has the right to either accept or reject that specific idea.

If a person rejects the idea, the idea moves onto someone new.

If a person accepts the idea, they must nurture it and see it through to the end, or they may end up losing it to another creator.

It’s important that a person not sit and wait patiently for inspiration to strike. They should simply be open to new ideas and those ideas will come to them.

People are constantly being thrown ideas on a daily basis. But it may be hard to conjure them up once you are sitting and ready to work.

In order to combat this, you must take note of ideas when they come to you. You must be aware of their presence. That is why it is always a good idea to have a pad of paper handy. That way, you can jot down any ideas that introduce themselves to you.

Ideas often come to a person when their mind is relaxed. That’s probably why most people get great ideas in the shower or in the middle of the night, half-asleep.

  • You Don’t Need Permission

Creativity is a part of human nature and has been forever. All people are born creative.

However, we don’t all feel we are creative because oftentimes fear blocks our creative processes.

People need to personally allow themselves to be creative by owning their duty and right to creatively express their ideas.

As a creator, you don’t need to ask for permission. Though many people sometimes do. They often look to their family, friends, and coworkers for approval. This is because a lot of people were brought up to think that the creative arts were just a time-waster and a hobby.

But, by combating that old-school idea and living a creative life, you will gain happiness, satisfaction, and reach your hidden dreams.

To live a creative life, you must define yourself in those terms. For example, if you are a songwriter, you must call yourself a songwriter. The same goes for any other creative craft. This will help you to feel proud and overcome your fear of failure in your field. It will also help you to get your work done!

  • Be Positive About Creativity

When we think of artists, a lot of times we think of the struggling, depressed, genius artists of the past such as Edgar Allen Poe and Sylvia Plath.

“Be the weirdo who dares to enjoy.”- Elizabeth Gilbert

But, there are ways to be an artist and also live a happy and fulfilling life. When a person accepts their creativity, rather than struggles with it, the results are oftentimes more magical. Not to mention, it’s a much more positive way to live.

People thrive in the creative world when they are able to maintain their mental health and relationships while still dedicating time to their passion.

If you live as a tortured dark artist, you will inevitably neglect the people around you by spending all your time miserably trying to create.

Tortured artists struggle with mental health which then goes on to affect their physical health.

  • Always Be Persistent

It’s important to examine your psychological patterns to see what is stifling your creativity in order to fix the problem and push through the creative process.

Rejection and self-doubt go hand-in-hand and oftentimes people quit their creative process when these issues arise.

However, people need to learn to overcome and persist through doubt, failed attempts, and other psychological blockages.

Life often gets in the way of the creative process. Many creators work long days and are too tired to work on their passion projects once they get home.

Similarly, family obligations, household chores, and distractions such as social media and TV get in the way of the creative process.

As a creator, your duty is to make time for your creative process no matter what. Treat it as a priority, even if it means waking up a few minutes earlier every day.

In regards to criticism and the outside perspective, as an artist, you must persist no matter what the consensus about your work is.

As long as you like your piece and you get joy from creating, that is all that matters.

  • Do Not Strive For Perfection

The idea of perfect is a mental trap. Striving for perfection can oftentimes stop people from actually finishing their work.

If an artist believes they are not good enough, they will lose motivation to keep going. And this can happen during any part of the creative process.

It doesn’t matter if the outside world loves your work or hates it. And furthermore, whether they understand it or not.

Perfectionism is a manifestation of fear. And because of that creators can have a hard time completing a piece. They fear that it is not good enough.

“Done is better than good.”- Elizabeth Gilbert

Persistency must see beyond perfectionism. Sometimes it’s not about getting it perfect, but about getting it good enough to move onto the next creative endeavor.

  • You Don’t Have To Make It A Career

Having a creative career is not always stable and reliable.

Even for artists who are making a living doing what they love, there are downsides such as dealing with agents and publishers, unfavorable tour schedules, and self-marketing.

A creative career also tends to spark self-doubt. A creator often wonders if they are good enough and compares themselves to other people in the market.

“But to yell at your creativity, saying, “You must earn money for me!” is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that.”- Elizabeth Gilbert

Oftentimes when someone takes their passion and makes a career out of it, the fun is lost for them. It becomes stressful, just like any other job.

Making creativity a job and a responsibility can put a lot of pressure on a creator to do good work in order to provide for their family, put food on the table, pay the bills, etc.

However, some people thrive in creative careers. Everyone has a different creative journey.

The Main Take-Away

In the field of creativity you must always persist, never ask for permission, and forget about perfectionism, which is fear manifesting itself. Fear has a tendency to suffocate creativity. By overcoming fears, you will be able to open up to the magical ideas that are waiting to be captured by a creator like you!


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