Book 19/24: Big Magic
This was a book I’d heard of, seen around, glanced through occasionally in the bookshop, not read for an online book club that I’m not really in, heard other people’s opinions of (well one other person), and finally decided to borrow from the library.
I finished it in four days, which is probably a record for me this year, and I found it a very easy book to read. The basic idea of the book is that it looks at ways people don’t express their creativity and the things that get in the way, and gives you a gentle (or not so gentle) push to overcome your road blocks.
There’s six sections, and I found something relevant to me in most of them. I’d have to say that most of the ideas that the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, presents are ideas I’ve heard before, so a lot of the book is reinforcing what I already know (but don’t necessarily put into practice).
I like her take on this though. “Most things have already been done – but they have not been done by you . . . Everything reminds us of something. But once you put your own expression and passion behind an idea, that idea becomes yours . . . Attempts at originality can often feel quite forced and precious, but authenticity has a quiet resonance that never fails to stir me. Just say what you want to say, then, and say it with all your heart.”
I think the book succeeds in doing this very well.
I was intrigued with Ms Gilbert’s concept of ideas being “a disembodied energetic life-form” that have consciousness and are driven by the impulse to be made manifest in the world – which they must do through a human partner. She believes that ideas are basically hanging around looking for people who can manifest them, and when an idea finds someone who could bring it into the world, it appears to them – and if you’re attuned to it, you can either work with it, or not. I believe in fairies, so this seems like a perfectly reasonable explanation to me.
This is covered in the second section, “Enchantment”, in which Ms Gilbert tells a tale of how she once began to work on a novel, devoted herself to it, but due to external circumstances changing she never finished it. And how when she finally did get back to it, the spark, the idea had gone and she was unable to complete it. Some time later she was talking with a friend she’d met around the time she’d lost her novel, and it turns out her friend was writing the exact same story.
Two things interested me about this tale. First, Ms Gilbert’s belief that the idea had transmitted itself to her friend at the time they first me, and second, her reaction to finding out what her friend was writing. Instead of getting shitty that her friend was writing ‘her’ novel, and beating herself up over a lost opportunity, she chose to be excited and grateful that the idea was becoming reality, and that she’d played a part in making it happen.
Whether or not you believe in ideas having a life of their own, I think the big learning here is that being happy for someone when they do something you wish you could have done, or go somewhere you really wanted to go, or met someone you would love to have met is much better than lamenting over what could have been or feeling jealous or miserable because you ‘missed out’. Am I right?
I imagined from the tag line of the book “Creative Living Beyond Fear” that it would have a strong focus on overcoming fear and going out and doing things. Actually the chapter on fear (“Courage”) is rather short. It distinguishes between the fear within you that keeps you safe and that you need to stop you jumping off grooves or walking into traffic; and the fear that shows up when you’re trying to do something different or creative. And while this fear is unhelpful, it’s natural to have it. But she says if you try to fight it you can kill your creativity at the same time. So Ms Gilbert says she welcomes fear on her journey, but she makes it clear that she and her creativity are running the show. “You’re allowed to have a voice, but you aren’t allowed to have a vote,” she says to her fear.
She suggests that if you can’t travel along with your fear you will never go anywhere interesting or do anything interesting. This is a concept I’ve come across in a couple of other places recently, so it was nice to see it reinforced here.
The book is very easy to read and touches on a lot of very simple things that I often forget. Some of the great memory joggers for me included what Ms Gilbert says about people’s reaction to your work being theirs, not yours, so you should just go out and create for yourself and not worry about what people thing. And much along the same line, most of the time people are too busy thinking about themselves to worry about you and what you’re doing. You don’t need anyone’s blessing or permission to go out and create.
Perfectionism is a high class version of the fear of not being good enough that not only stops us finishing things, it also prevents us from starting in some cases. Ms Gilbert says no matter how much you try, someone will aways find fault with what you’ve done, so you need to finish it, put it out there and move onto the next thing.
Don’t let go of your courage the moment things stop being easy or rewarding – because that’s the moment when interesting begins.
Be curious, explore something and see where it leads.
If you get stuck, do something else. Do anything, but do something.
They were some of the messages that jumped out of this book for me. I enjoyed reading it, and found Ms Gilbert’s anecdotes from her own life that explained what she was talking about interesting. I haven’t read any of her other books, so I don’t know if this is typical of her style, and I found it very easy to read. It’s probably not for everyone, but even if some of the concepts don’t appeal, many of the messages are good things to keep in mind if you’re trying to be creative and need a bit of a push to get going.