This is officially one of my all-time favorite books, even though it just came out late last year. I should divulge that I’m a huge fan of Elizabeth Gilbert. I wasn’t actually blown away by Eat, Pray, Love like a lot of people were — I didn’t read it until it was already a huge phenomenon, and maybe it just didn’t live up to the hype — but then I saw her in person discussing her next book, Committed, and I just loved her message of chasing your joy and being authentic, of not waiting for other people to make you feel fulfilled or happy. I love how Gilbert has continued to use her huge online platform to continue spreading that message.
Her latest book, Big Magic, is about having the courage to pursue your creative dreams, and how creativity is intrinsically linked with authenticity. I can see myself re-reading this one on a regular basis because it’s so full of little bits of wisdom. The only negative thing I can say about this book is that it wasn’t long enough. As she did in Committed, Gilbert hits on themes that are particularly challenging for many women — that it’s okay to pursue your own passions, that you’re not hurting your family if you’re not giving them all of your time and energy, that it actually sets a good example for your children if you model behavior that honors your own needs as a human being.
The book is largely geared towards writers, but is relevant for anyone wanting to live a more creative, authentic life. Gilbert also has accompanying podcast, Magic Lessons, that is also wonderful and expands on many of topics introduced here. On her podcast, she talks to real people who are feeling stuck in their creative lives and helps motivate them to follow their dreams — whether that’s writing a novel, starting a podcast, or resuming a neglected creative outlet such as painting.
One of the recurring themes that I really appreciated in the book is the idea that you don’t have to burden your creativity with supporting you financially. A lot of people think that if you’re a writer, then you should write for a living. And maybe that’ll happen eventually for some, but maybe it won’t. Gilbert says she still had a “day job” until the success of Eat, Pray, Love, which was her third book. Expecting your art to also be your livelihood can drain it of its spontaneity and joy.
Fear is another recurring theme. It’s right there in the subtitle: “Creative living beyond fear.” So many of us are afraid of honoring our creative selves — afraid of failure, afraid what other people will think, afraid we’ll be laughed at, afraid we aren’t a good enough writer or painter or whatever. On Magic Lessons, Gilbert tells one of her subjects — who is afraid of writing her own story because of the difficult truths it will also reveal about her family — that the story you write doesn’t have to be the story you share with the world. You don’t have to share anything with the world at all. Your art — whatever form it tasks — is for yourself. Just do it because you love it. Do it because it brings you joy. Write or paint or dance or sing just for you. Appreciate the creative process for what it is — an act of creation and expansion — not for what you hope the finished product to bring to you.
Image by Jack + Mo