Tonight, I’m going to do something I alluded to wanting to do in an earlier post: Talk about books I’m reading… Enjoy
I just finished read “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Gilbert is the author of “Eat Pray Love,” which became a feature film starring Julia Roberts (“Eat Pray Love” is about someone who leaves behind the life she knew on her own quest for happiness, something I definitely appreciate). Much like Steven Pressfield’s “War of Art” (but decidedly more upbeat in tone), “Big Magic” is a great book for creative people. Personally, I got a TON of great gems from it.
I wanted to share a few of them, followed by my own comments (after all, this is my blog, and at the end of the day it is ALL ABOUT ME [insert raspberry face emoji here]):
About how Gilbert’s parents influenced her:
[M]y parents did whatever the hell they wanted to do with their lives, and they did it with a rather fabulous sense of insouciance**. (p82)
In this section, Gilbert gives some details about her parents, including how her dad decided to become a Christmas-tree farmer and moved their family to a farm; and how her mother “could build, sew, grow, knit, mend, patch, paint, or decoupage*** anything her family ever needed” (p84).
I think it was my parents’ example of quietly impudent self-assertion that gave me the idea that I could be a writer, or at least that I could go out there and try. (p85)
It also never occurred to me to ask an authority figure for permission to become a writer. I’d never seen anybody in my family ask permission to do anything. (p85)
It seems that both of them gave Gilbert a sense of confidence that she could be her own person, and live the life she wanted. As she says, “You do not need anybody’s permission to live a creative life” (p84). Right-fucking-on!
On having an attitude of Creative Entitlement:
[I]n order to live this way–free to create, free to explore–you must possess a fierce sense of personal entitlement, which I hope you will learn to cultivate.
I recognize that the word ‘entitlement’ has dreadfully negative connotations, but I’d like to appropriate it here and put it to good use, because you will never be able to create anything interesting out of your life if you don’t believe that you’re entitled to at least try… Creative entitlement simply means believing that you are allowed to be here, and that–merely by being here–you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own. (p92)
When I read this passage, I was struck (not for the only time in this book) by how genuinely profound it was, and how useful it would be for me to tattoo this message on my forehead or something so that I would see it every time I look in the mirror. Sadly, I’ve struggled with stupid bouts of self-doubt for most of my creative life. Rather than being mad at myself about it, however, these days I prefer to take in wisdom from people who’ve mastered great attitudes like this. Thought is a powerful thing, and I figure that by meditating on this and sharing it with you, I can become more like this.
On dealing with rejection:
I sent my work out to publications, and I collected rejection letters in return. I kept up with my writing, despite the rejections… I sent more and more work out. I was rejected, rejected, rejected, rejected.
I disliked the rejection letters. Who wouldn’t? But I took the long view: My intention was to spend my entire life in communion with writing, period… That being the case, editors could reject me all they wanted; I wasn’t going anywhere. (p111-2)
Reading this was probably one of the most awesome parts of the book for me, as I have always had a particular weakness when it comes to rejection… a rejection aversion that has often approached complete and total paranoia of it. I’m not proud of it. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I write this blog. I definitely appreciate Gilbert’s words on this, and I am 1000% sure that this attitude ultimately helped her become successful as a writer.
On having a day job:
The whole time I was practicing to be a writer, I always had a day job.
Even after I got published, I didn’t quit my day job, just to be on the safe side. In fact, I didn’t quit my day job (or my day jobs, I should say) until I had already written three books–and those three books were all published by major houses and were all reviewed nicely in the New York Times.
I held on to those other sources of income for so long because I never wanted to burden my writing with the responsibility of paying for my life. I knew better than to ask this of my writing, because over the years, I have watched so many people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills.
I’ve always felt like this is so cruel to your work–to demand a regular paycheck from it, as if creativity were a government job, or a trust fund.
This is a passage that I would probably have had a REAL problem with only a few years ago. I used to believe that unless I was getting paid full-time for my creative work, I was a failure. But now that I am a happily married man supporting a wife and two cats, I am EXTREMELY grateful for my “day job” (i.e. piano teaching), which affords me money, creative service to others, the chance to be with my family, and the freedom to keep being creative. I had never heard this topic put quite the way Gilbert does, but I sort of gave a sigh of relief when I read it.
On completing creative projects:
[T]he truth of the matter is, most people don’t finish things! Look around you, the evidence is everywhere: People don’t finish. They begin ambitious projects with the best of intentions, but then they get stuck in a mire of insecurity and doubt and hairsplitting… and they stop.
So if you can just complete something–merely complete it!–you’re already miles ahead of the pack, right there.
You may want your work to be perfect, in other words; I just want mind to be finished.
Ms. Gilbert, I have only this to say: Holy shit! That quote is awesome. Because I am guilty of this sin of incompletion! Fortunately, I no longer take the honest truth like a dagger to the soul. Now it is more like a toothpick to the finger at the checkout counter of the restaurant of life… yes, I will still use that to clean my teeth, thank you!
A few more gems for good measure:
If destiny didn’t want me to be a writer, I figure, it shouldn’t have made me one.
Do not let your ego run the show, because it will ruin the show.
In summary, reading “Big Magic” was like taking a pleasant drive down Creative Liberation Street and through Happy-Artist-ville on a guided tour led by the most affable (and credible) of artists. In addition to the quotes above, Gilbert encourages us to lighten up about ourselves as artists, and to ENJOY creating. These sort of messages pretty much cancel out a vast swath of programming I received from an early age about what it means to be an artist. To be fair, I have been actively working to shift this old crappy thinking for a long time, yet “Big Magic” does a fine job of succinctly articulating principles of healthy artistic living. And I am grateful for having read it.
**”Insouciance” is defined as “casual lack of concern, indifference.” Yes, I had to look it up… and I think of myself as having a big vocabulary but didn’t know this one, so I thought maybe you would appreciate the definition too!
***Decoupage (yes, had to look this up too)… “The art or craft of decorating objects with paper cut-outs.”
2 Thoughts to “Thoughts on “Big Magic”: Elizabeth Gilbert schools us on the art of creative liberation”
You definitely picked out the jewels of Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert in those quotes. I appreciate your comments as much as her words; they complement each other, like partners in a dance. You add another, needed dimension to her “guided tour of Happy-Artist-Ville” (Go, Chris!)
Thanks, mom. I’m glad you are enjoying the book, especially since we lent it to you 😉
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