You may have heard of Elizabeth Gilbert. Prize-winning short stories and novels notwithstanding, Gilbert is best known for her gazillion seller, Eat, Pray, Love.
That book was magic for her career. But according to her, the success really didn’t matter. Because whether it succeeded or not (and she didn’t expect that it would on such a grand scale), Gilbert is ecstatically happy to be living the writer’s life she loves. She considers that life to be full of magic.
Gilbert’s latest book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, is designed for anyone who feels the pull of living and loving the creative life, and needs a little advice beyond prayer to reach it.
The Big Magic of the Creative Life
Gilbert explains what she means by Big Magic. Inside all of us there’s this strange, amazing, fantastic treasure. It could be talent for writing, or marketing, or singing, or building, or drawing, or maybe just living differently, out of the rut, out of what others tell us we should do. Pursuing that life, living that life, that’s magic.
She defines it in her book: “The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all. The hunt to uncover those jewels, that’s creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place — that’s what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one. The often surprising results of that hunt — Big Magic.”
Overcoming the Obstacle of Fear
As Gilbert will readily admit, the creative life can be filled with obstacles. People let those obstacles hold them back.
Take fear, for example. You don’t live your creative life because you’re afraid that you have no talent. You’ll be rejected, ridiculed, misunderstood, ignored. Someone will do it better. Everyone will do it better. You won’t be taken seriously. You’re wasting your time.
Gilbert asks you to get past that fear. She calls fear boring. Fear just says no. Fear just says stop. As the old saying goes, argue for your limitations and you get to keep them.
She recognizes that fear is normal, natural. It tells you you’re challenging yourself. She suggests you do what she does — acknowledge that it will always be along for the ride, but never let it drive!
Overcoming the Obstacle of Time
Big Magic obstacle number two? Time. As in, if I only had time, I would write. If I only had time I would do this or that or conquer the world.
Gilbert addresses the issue of time with a straightforward recommendation. Make time. Find time. She points to John Updike, who said that you’d be amazed at how many amazing books were written in one hour a day sessions. She unfurls the famous, heartbreaking letter from Herman Melville to his buddy Nathaniel Hawthorne: “I simply cannot find time to work on the book about the whale, because I am so pulled hither and thither by circumstances.” Herman found a way. Call me impressed.
When there’s love, passion, daring, Gilbert points out, people find a way. She recommends that you have an affair with your creativity. Sneak away, even for a few stealthy moments, like passionate lovers in a stairwell making every moment count. Live your creative passion. You’ll be amazed. With passion and commitment, there’s a way to find the time.
Making the Commitment
Not only that, but promise to always keep those fires burning. When young, Gilbert herself actually made a ceremonial vow to the universe that she would be a writer for the rest of her days.
Gilbert notes that she didn’t say she would be a successful writer or bestselling author. She made the commitment to be a writer. Through ups and downs, success and failure, all kinds of criticism and praise — she stresses that she has stayed committed. She is a writer. This is who she is and what she does and her life has meaning and joy because of it.
She urges you to make that kind of commitment. You don’t need a ritual or a ring or a vow — you need commitment. Keep going. Finish jobs. Hang on, even through the difficulties. Because being a writer — that’s what you do.
Bringing Out the Trickster
Yes, difficulties can be really intense. Gilbert makes sure to recognize that. But she suggests that you can lighten their effect. You need to have a certain trickster kind of attitude about it. Yes, take your work seriously, that goes without saying. But don’t be in it for the seriousness of it per se.
You don’t have to “suffer” for your art, or do self-destructive things. You don’t have to be some sort of ascetic monk either. Realize that you are doing what you love to do, and there is joy in that. Realize also that not everyone will love your work, people have their own issues, whatever — you should be having fun. That’s when you find you’re living a life of Big Magic.
Bringing Out the Big Magic
Gilbert stresses that there’s an almost magical element that comes into play, once you start living the creative life. Not just in the sense of enjoying the process, but in the arrival of ideas. She explains that once you commit yourself, and actually sit down and do your work, ideas, images, connections just seem to come to you. Sometimes it can feel as if you are a channel for that Big Magic, that it comes through you.
Athletes get “in the zone” in which the magic of their sporting abilities seems to flow of itself. Similarly, when you put in your work, the work can often seem to just keep going through you.
When we sit down every day, keep at it, something mysterious starts to happen. We become like a magnetized rod that attracts metal pieces. Ideas come. Connections come. Insights come.
Your Writing Dream is Attainable Magic
In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert stresses that living your creative life is attainable, achievable, and so worth it. As she puts it, “A creative life is an amplified life. A bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, a hell of a lot more interesting life.”
Whether it’s being a B2B copywriter, a content writer, a creative writer, a chef, a singer, a daredevil stuntperson — the trick is to dare to do it. Reach for that magic. Overcome the obstacles of fear, time, etc. Sit down and do the work and let the magic come to you.
Wake up from your hesitation. Grab onto the magic.