Brimming with energy and humble passion, Elizabeth Gilbert’s manifesto Big Magic promises “Creative living beyond fear”. Articulate and free from vanity, Gilbert reckons with life as a maker: how to understand it, live it exuberantly, how to welcome and work with inspiration.
I discovered Gilbert’s beautiful writing not through her devastatingly popular and famous Eat, Pray, Love, but a more recent novel called The Signature of All Things: a stunning, soaring adventure of one woman leading and mirroring growth and discovery in the 20th Century. Gilbert also has two, immensely re-watchable TED talks: one on creativity, and one on failure after success. Despite the power and impact these pieces of Gilbert’s work had on me, I resisted her latest book Big Magic for some time. Maybe it was on a subject too close to my heart, too precious, something that might disappear if I looked at it directly?
Because it seems a fickle and enigmatic thing, creativity. I have long disregarded the solo male genius myth, or the idea that an artist needs pain to create something great, but there does seem to be something utterly unknowable and ungraspable not just about how we create, but why. I love the concept that Gilbert (re)introduces us to in Big Magic:
“Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form…Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.”
This helps explain the mysteries of inspiration – it cannot be understood, but only accepted. It is actual, non-rational, magic. And perhaps once that reckoning is done, the struggle can be less.
This can also mean that when something goes well, it’s not all on you; when something doesn’t go well, that’s not all on you either. It can help you stay both humble and bold. Gilbert also recognises the broadness of the creative church. Early on she defines creativity: it can be artistic, scientific, industrial, commercial, ethical, religious, political. There is a connection between the human and inspiration for everyone, in every kind of expression. I loved how unpretentious her approach is, brimming with positivity and charm. The book is organised into several parts, entitled – Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, Divinity – which even on its own could be written up in a pretty font and stuck on the wall next to an aspiring creative’s computer for inspiration.
There are flaws in this book, for sure: I think Gilbert and I have fundamentally different positions on the professionalisation of creative industries, and the idea of being financially recognised for your work, be it creative or not, in this capitalist society. She also writes from an unacknowledged position of significant privilege, potentially influencing her ideas around ‘work’ and creating.
But in all, I loved it and revisiting the book to write this blog post I am reminded about just how much I loved it. Reading it was like being immersed in a great big warm and understanding intellectual hug. Big Magic is brimming with anecdotes and moments and stories and ideas that just remind you from every possible angle to stay open, do the work, be ready for when the idea hits you. Gilbert is intelligent and passionate and kind. I can imagine re-reading it several times throughout my life when I need a reminder to say yes, to do the work, to release the struggle so you have space to for when the idea finds you.