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Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Pile of disco balls in a dark room with light reflecting off of them

Big Magic. Doesn’t just the title pique your interest? Just wait until you read the book! We’ve reached the third installment of my series on books that changed my life! Today’s topic: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. If you missed parts one or two of this series, check them out here: 

Three books that changed my life: Part 1.

Three books that changed my life: Part 2.

Quick summary of Big Magic

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, everyone can be creative. All you have to do is create something. That could be painting a mural or sewing an elaborate ball gown, but it could also be puzzling together a line of code, or something equally techy. You might recognize Elizabeth Gilbert’s name because she wrote Eat, Pray, Love.

Big Magic basically took everything I’ve always been taught about the “right” way to approach creativity and flipped it like a pancake. There are definitely points that I don’t agree with, but in general Big Magic changed how I operate as an artist and see creativity from a place of abundance, not scarcity and fear.

The concept of “big magic” is a through-line of the book and I feel a little like I’m spoiling the conclusion of an epic saga if I explain what it is, but generally “big magic” is the invisible force at work behind creativity and life in general. It gets a little woo-woo, but she tells a story about a novel of hers that never came to be that gave me full-body chills. You’ll just have to read (or listen) for yourself.

Highlights

Have an affair

No, Elizabeth Gilbert is not promoting cheating or unfaithfulness, she’s saying to treat your art like it’s a passionate secret affair. It’s all about putting in the effort; The idea is to get sexy and present yourself as seductive to your craft rather than just showing up to your pen and paper with teeth unbrushed, legs unshaven, and overall unenthused. She compares it to how people having affairs somehow always seem to find times and places to make out even for 15 minutes. They make the time. So put on your best shade of vicious trollop lipstick and start crafting, bitch.

Genius

In ancient Rome, people were not called geniuses, but were said to have a genius. Instead of having the pressure of being a genius or not, it was something that an artist or philosopher was visited by to offer assistance. Thinking of it this way can protect you from feeling so much pressure to create something other people or even just you yourself see as outstanding. Maybe your genius just isn’t visiting you right now.

What’s your favorite flavor of shit sandwich?

By this she means that pretty much every-thing is going to suck in someway at some point, so in life it’s a good idea to identify your favorite flavor of shit sandwich, or what you’re willing to put up with to reach your goals and feel fulfilled.

Tricksters & Martyrs

“Better a trickster than a martyr be.” How medieval sounding. When it comes to creating, Elizabeth Gilbert believes that these are two of the most common camps to fall into. Being a martyr fits into the paradigm of romanticizing “the grind” and seeing burnout as a badge of honor. She also references the stereotype of the “tormented artist,” or the belief that you have to trade your own physical and mental health for the sake of making art for others.

Trickster has a somewhat negative connotation to me, but in this instance, the focus is on gaming the system in a way that’s not screwing other people over. The trickster takes the structure of how things are “supposed to” be done and says “F that, I’m gonna do my own thing.” Be a trickster, not a martyr, dude.

Bits of wisdom

  • “Possessing a creative mind, after all, is something like having a border collie for a pet: It needs work, or else it will cause you an outrageous amount of trouble. Give your mind a job to do, or else it will find a job to do, and you might not like the job it invents”
  • “You must learn how to become a deeply disciplined half-ass. It starts by forgetting about perfect. We don’t have time for perfect.”

Have you read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert? Let’s chat about it!! For more book recommendations check out books to read this summer or audiobooks to listen to based on your fave TV show.

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