Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

What would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail?

Have you ever wanted to create something, but you're afraid people won't like it?
Have you ever wanted to pursue a passion, but you don't want to waste your time?
Have you ever had a dream you wanted to chase, but you couldn't find the courage?

Read. This. Book.

This book was recommended to me by my dear friend, Maggie, and fittingly, I found it quite MaGiCaL. Sure, it's a bit cosmic at times, but it's also so down to earth. Author Elizabeth Gilbert cuts away the transparent excuses we make for ourselves: lack of time, lack of knowledge, lack of funding. "Why bother if you can't be the best?" "What if people think I have no talent?" "What if they misunderstand me?" "What if they ignore me?" She tears away every barrier your ego has put up and presents you with the facts: at the end of the day, you can choose not to create. You can choose not to follow your passions. You can choose fear over living. But will you be happy? "Defending [your] weakness? That's seriously the hill [you want] to die on?" (pg. 18). She reminds us of the saying: "Argue for your limitations and you get to keep them." How true. I'd rather not cling to those, thank you.

She presents it like this: we have treasures inside of us, each and every one of us. And those treasures are just hoping we will have the courage to bring them forth. When we do, when we live "a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear" (p. 9), that's when the Big Magic happens.

Don't be deceived; her book is not all lecture. It's filled with enchanting stories you want to believe, no matter how incredibly foreign they sound. She tells of creative muses coming and going on a whim, of an idea for novel leaving her and moving right on to her colleague, without any communication between the two.

Gilbert uses a great metaphor for fear. She says you must imagine you are going on a road trip with fear and creativity both. You must allow room for fear; you can't shut fear out. But fear must be in the backseat. Fear must not be allowed to make any of the decisions. And most all, fear is "absolutely forbidden to drive" (pg. 26).

The book puts more than just fear in conversation with creativity. She brings into question a lot of myths we have about creativity in our culture, myths that get in the way of genuine creative work. I've expanded on a few that really stuck out to me while I read:

3 myths on creativity that need debunking

1. The tormented artist

You know the type, the ones who "proclaim [themselves] cursed (not blessed) by [their] talents" (pg. 39). It's been glamorized for centuries. And it works great, suffering for your art. Until it doesn't work. Until it kills you.

Gilbert provides another alternative. She says to "battle your demons (through therapy, recovery, prayer, or humility) instead of battling your gifts - in part by realizing that your demons were never the ones doing the work, anyhow" (pg. 41). And she's right. Because as she reminds us, we are not slaves to our talents. We are partners. The enslaving? That's all in our minds.

2. "I'm only creative at night."

Ok, so this one is not specifically stated in the book. But what is addressed is the basis for this argument, the idea that creative work is reserved only for those "magical moments". Well, it's simply not a valid argument. And I know it because I told myself this for years. I used this excuse to stay up all night and sleep all day. I wasn't really more creative at night; it just felt more magical then because I wasn't fearing that I was missing out on whatever I would have to give up if I decided to write during the day.

Well, here's a secret Gilbert lets her readers in on: it's not always supposed to feel magical. Sometimes, it feels like hard work. It feels like a chore, rather than a privilege. And most of all, if you truly want to create something, then you have to make sacrifices for it.

You see, I love to write. And because I love to write, when I would get to the end of my day and hadn't made time to write, I would often stay up late into the night writing. But then I realized that depriving myself of sleep is only counter-productive. If I want to write, I have to give up something else I want to do. I have to give up something else that is not necessary to my health, something like watching TV or going to a party. Not sleep. Not something essential to the very well-being upon which my writing (and also my life at large) depends. That's foolish.

3. Ownership of ideas

This was the biggie for me. And it's funny because I thought it had nothing to do with fear at all, but as it turns out, it has everything to do with it. You see, we fear that whatever creativity we have might be robbed from us, as if creativity were something we somehow capture and keep locked up with us.

In reality, that is not the case at all. Creativity is a muscle. It is a part of our being. And as far as the inspiration, this is where Gilbert really blows my mind. She renders ideas as these inhabitants of a hidden world. Like ghosts, they float from person to person, looking for a muse who will welcome them in and translate them into human dialogue, so that they can be distributed to the rest of the world.

In this sense, ideas may come and visit awhile, find their host is uninterested in them, and then promptly move along to another person. This is where Gilbert tells the story of her novel she gave up on writing, only to find a friend wrote the same novel a year or so later. Same characters. Same setting. Same plot.

And was she angry? Of course not. Because her friend had no way of knowing the idea. She didn't "steal it". It wasn't even "steal-able". The idea wasn't owned. It was living.

When we think of the creative world like this, suddenly we can release the tension from our shoulders. We can lower our cheater-beaters and enter into circles of community. Because creativity is not a finite resource. Don't worry, there's enough to go around. There will always be enough, and even more.

So go forth and create! Yeah, you! You can do it. And do it fearlessly. Do it openly. Do it magically.