I am not a fan of what I call “self-help” books. I never have been. Until I read The Happiness Project and my viewpoint was changed. Now, as a sort of challenge to myself, I try to read one or two a year; every once in awhile, I find one that really speaks to me, and Big Magic spoke to me. The book is broken into several sections, each one focusing on a part of the creative life: Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, and Divinity. Within each section, Gilbert has composed several smaller pieces that function like short essays that justify her position. The small sections make Big Magic feel like a quick read, but the depth leaves you feeling like you learned something. That’s a hard balance to strike.
As I progressed through my reading, I kept going back to the novel I wrote two summers ago and the feelings that I had writing it. Having that frame of reference, having experienced the telling of that story, made the concepts in Big Magic that much more meaningful to me. Her no nonsense attitude made the writing light, but the lightness of the writing didn’t diminish the importance of the message.
She challenges her readers to live “a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear” (9). It is amazing how many of us creative types are so wrapped up in so many different layers of fear: fear of the unknown, fear of rejection, fear of failure. You name it, if it involves our creativity, we probably fear it. Not only does she advise readers to let their curiosity guide them, she also suggests not putting any monetary pressure on creativity.
“such thinking assumes there is a ‘top’- and that reaching that top (and staying there) is the only motive one has to create. Such thinking assumes that the mysteries of inspiration operate on the same scale that we do- on a limited human scale of success and failure, of winning and losing, of comparison and competition, of commerce and reputation, of units sold and influence wielded. Such thinking assumes that you must be constantly victorious- not only against your peers,but also against an earlier version of your own poor self. Most dangerously of all, such thinking assumes that if you cannot win, then you must not continue to play” (70).
Instead of valuing the ever elusive and dependent-upon-other’s idea of success, she values curiosity. She values living the creative life because a life not creative is just not right. She values the work. Whether her creativity comes to meet her or not, she works “either way, you see- assisted or unassisted- because that is what you must do in order to live a creative life. I work steadily, and I always thank the process. Whether I am touched by grace or not, I thank creativity for allowing me to engage with it at all” (75). Success is just such a huge pressure to put onto your work, she says not to do it. Harper Lee, famous author of To Kill A Mockingbird, is one of those authors who let her creativity define her. I wish, and so does Gilbert, that she had written ten more books, even if they were crappy and didn’t meet the critical success of TKAM, because then she would have been pursuing that creative life– and who knows what she might have created because of it.
The creative life is best spent doing just that- creating. One of the most impactful things I read was about not expecting your creativity to pay the bills. When you do that, you’re putting too much pressure on creativity. Creativity is best when folded into the everyday.
Sometimes you just need a metaphorical kick in the pants. Sometimes you need someone to remind you of why you live that creative life in the first place. Sometimes you just need your eyes opened. This book is a great tool for just that.