For the last few years, I’ve had a casual sort of relationship with Elizabeth Gilbert. She’s the author of several books, one of which is Eat Pray Love. I read and enjoyed that book though I didn’t love it like the millions of people around the world did, and in my opinion, the movie adaptation was just okay. The next book she wrote, Committed, a sort-of follow up to Eat Pray Love, did well enough though not on the scale of its predecessor. Really, though, no book was likely to match the massive success of Eat Pray Love. I like Committed immensely. It’s a memoir on marriage, specifically her experience in that area, as well as a broad look at the union of couples in both different cultures and time periods. She put forth many interesting and well-researched ideas and I have to say my mind was certainly opened on the subject. About three or so years later, Elizabeth released a work of fiction, The Signature of All Things, which I did not read but was received well enough in literary circles. So, as a result of her recent publishing history, my feelings toward her were warm, but in the way of a friend you only see once a year for coffee and a chat.
That all changed this September when her newest release hit the shelves. It’s called Big Magic and let me tell you, after reading that book, my world has been rocked. When it comes to Liz, I have the biggest girl-crush. That’s how close I feel to her now, I think of her as Liz. What she talks about in Big Magic has radically changed my thinking about life as a writer and about the act of writing itself. I urge anyone, whether pursuing an artistic journey or simply stumbling through life as a human being, to read this book.
There were three things in particular that resonated with me and I know I’ll be pondering them for some time to come.
The first being the subject of fear. Anyone who lives a creative life through visual art, music, dance, the written word, or anything else that they themselves make and put out in this world will at some point, or mostly at all points, be operating from a place of fear. Elizabeth puts forth the idea that the less one fights fear and simply accepts it as part and parcel of creativity, the less painful the process of producing art will be. Sit with your fear, in fact, welcome it, but do not ever allow it to be in charge. If fear is treated with respect and compassion but given all important boundaries, the creative aspect of ourselves will be free to do what it does best.
The second topic that really struck a chord in me is an idea she resurrects from the times of the Ancient Romans and Greeks and I have to admit, was not something I was familiar with. Apparently, in the way, way back, artists were said to have a genius rather than to be a genius. The thinking of the time favoured sentient beings who helped guide and mold the creative process. It’s a wonderful way of looking at things, don’t you agree? I mean, it totally takes the pressure off. If you produce something lovely and rare, good for you and good for your genius. But if you turn in a pile of garbage, hey, you can always claim that your genius was pretty sub-par. I love the distance this creates between my work and me. It makes me feel less anxious somehow.
Along with the notion of the genius or fairy or whatever one wants to call the supernatural creative partner, Elizabeth suggests that ideas themselves are living entities whose only desire is to be brought into existence. In order for this to occur, an idea must find a human, the right human, and form a partnership with that individual in order to be made manifest. I adore the image of these billions of ideas zooming around the world like so many dots on a radar screen, looking for the perfect human landing strip. The person must not only notice the idea in the first place but be willing to actually do the work of birthing it into the world. If not, the idea will often depart, hunting up the next willing recipient.
According to Elizabeth, the best way to attract both a genius creative force and a bounty of inspiring ideas is by showing the universe that you’ll be there every day with your butt in the chair, ready and able to do the work. She preaches that we must provide a hospitable environment for the entities, and signal to one and all that we are fully committed to living a creative life. With this radical shift in my thinking, I believe I can do exactly that. I can sit here and write, day after day, with much less dismay and indeed, panic, if I trust I’m doing my part to attract all the creative energy of the universe straight into my work space.
The final thing I’m taking away from Big Magic is perhaps the loveliest of all. Instead of embracing the popular fallacy that any artist worth their salt must suffer, and preferably even bleed if they are to produce anything of note, why not enjoy the process? Why not joyfully commit oneself to loving every minute of the creation of art. Yes, sometimes it’s difficult or boring or scary, but come on people, we’re not talking about digging ditches in Siberia or cleaning sewers. It’s just writing, after all. Or painting. Or music. And we choose to do it. So from now on, I shall choose to do it joyfully.
Here’s the Amazon Link in case you’d like to get your own copy: Big Magic at Amazon
PLEASE NOTE: I have no affiliation with Amazon at this time.