The Magic of BIG MAGIC, by Ayla Khosroshahi
Book Review: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert
We don’t write “book reviews” in the classical sense. Instead, when we love a book we put it on our resources page and then tell you why we love it. This is why we love Big Magic.
BIG MAGIC MADE ME WANT TO CREATE. For starters, it enticed me to write this post. The book is profound in its simplicity. Here, the mystical meets the practical. In that interplay, Gilbert explores the relationship we have with creativity, curiosity, inspiration, and the role of fear in those relationships. She writes with a sense of humour, a lightness, and gives some honest-to-goodness great advice.
Big Magic is about “living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.” Gilbert explores how we must have the right state of mind to create space for inspiration.
Before I go on, this begs the question: why is it important to create space for inspiration?
Well, for starters…
- Because the experience is beautiful. It makes you feel alive, live in full vibrant 3D colour. Experience ‘the zone’, and puts you in a ‘flow state’.
- Because we were born to do it. We are all creative and curious beings. We were made this way, not just to survive, but to thrive.
- Because it’s your contribution to the world. Your footprint, what you create is your legacy.
There is a lot we could talk about in this book, but for our MINDSHIFT Ninja purposes we are interested in doing better by thinking better. So, how does Big Magic help us think better about creativity?
Here are five ways…
- Evaluate your personal narrative
The story you tell yourself is critical to creative living beyond fear. How are you showing up to create – mentally and physically? Look at how you are living with open and honest eyes. Remind yourself you are not owed success, and this journey is your choice. So, are you committed? Do you love this? Do you feel grateful to be here? To be creating? Creative living is always possible, but it depends on your mental state, your commitment, and keeping your expectations in check. When you enter the pact of creative living you must be “childlike not childish” (p. 153). Come with a sense of wonder and realism.
- Progress not perfection
When it comes to living a creative life, Gilbert urges that “done is better than good” (p. 175). Create and move, create and finish, let curiosity lead you and move, move, move. Don’t fall for the perfectionism trap. It’s unobtainable and will impede your growth. “Perfectionism,” says Gilbert, “is fear in fancy shoes” (p. 167). Perfectionism is a million reasons why you should delay, not move forward, not finish – and it’s not helpful. Do your work, do it with love, finish it, and then let it go.
- The role of fear
Gilbert makes a clear distinction between “the fear you need and the fear you don’t need” (p. 22). There is no such thing as a fearless life, just a courageous one. The book is creative living beyond fear, not creative living without fear. For her, to journey with creativity is like taking a “road trip” where fear will always exist, but will never drive, will never direct, and will not pick the music or the snacks (p. 24). You acknowledge that the fear is there, and you respect it has a purpose. Yet, when you are creating, it has no role. Talk to your fear with respect and understanding. But also acknowledge that what you are doing – by creating – is something outside of fear’s comfort zone. So instead, you have to trust yourself and your curiosity.
- Your relationship with pleasure and pain
Big Magic compels us to evaluate our relationship with pleasure and pain. Throughout the book, Gilbert asks us to question our ego-driven sense of entitlement and desire for reward. She also asks us to question the ever-romantic notion of the tormented artist addicted to suffering. She challenges us to realise that yes, we don’t get a free pass, or easy ride, and we might not get everything we ever dreamed. But our relationship with creating doesn’t have to be depressing and ever so painful either (p. 221).
Side note: From a neuroscience/ insight generation perspective, a positive state helps the brain create – which challenges the whole tormented artist portrait. More on the The Neuroscience of Creativity here.
- Creativity is sacred and it is not sacred
The “central paradox” to Gilbert’s Big Magic is that creativity, creating, and your creations, are all wonderful and important, but at the same time not important at all. As she puts it: “We are all adults here, and I think we can handle… two mutually contradictory ideas at the same time” (p. 135). Your creative expression has to be the most important thing to you, so you can live creatively. At the same time, it cannot matter at all, which allows you to stay sane. The true trust and freedom in creative living is being able to be attached, and not attached. To hold your art as sacred, but also feel free to let it go and to continue to create, regardless of the outcome.
I love when I finish a book and am filled with delight, energy, or in this case a sense of wonder. Big Magic is magical; in its cheeky profoundness and the lighthearted way it engages in the spiritual act that is creativity. Check it out for yourself!