Elizabeth Gilbert has been a writer since way before Eat, Pray, Love made her a household name.
In Big Magic, Gilbert tells you exactly how she pleases the lady love that is creativity. It is essentially your guide on how to live a creative life — a life run on the fuel of curiosity rather than fear.
(pssst…if you didn’t already know, Gilbert is a cheerleader for curiosity over everything, even over passion)
Loved that? Great.
Let’s check if you’d love the ideas in Big Magic as well.
What is the idea?
Hey, if you thought you need to be a creative artist choosing not to burn his passion for corporations, ya don’t.
You don’t even have to be in the creative economy or an influencer or anyone remotely doing a creative side hustle. Nope. The net is wide open for you, me, and everyone in between.
The primary concept of the book is that teaching you how you can live your life creatively — no matter what you do (or don’t do) for a living.
The book is divided into 6 parts: Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, and Divinity. I know, they sound vague. And the advice is a little generalistic too (what do you expect when the net is so wide, though?).
In each section, Gilbert’s self-help doesn’t ever sound like self-help (or honestly does the job of a self-help book — more on that later). She sprinkles name-dropping-famous-people’s stories, her own processes & creative hurdles, and the specific Gilbert-y humor that she’s known for.
Gilbert talks to her fear, for instance, instead of fighting it and suggests you do so too:
“It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes, too.”
The book is full of advice that helps you unleash your creative potential. And yes, it as sappy as it sounds. But if you are into audiobooks at all, I’d recommend picking that up instead of the paperback because Gilbert’s narration adds a flavor that no amount of absorbent reading can soak.
“So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?”
While Gilbert was intimate and shared personal stories in Eat, Pray, Love, Big Magic is narrowly personal. It is a crash course into Gilbert’s creative journey and not the autobiography (or love letter).
But this doesn’t mean that all the advice in this book is oversaid or cheesy. In its bigger strokes, Big Magic hits the nail in the head. Doing something just for its own sake, discarding perfectionism, and not holding your creativity to unachievable standards are all pieces of good advice.
“I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more that a deep existential angst the says, again and again, ‘I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.”
What are the themes and writing styles?
Gilbert is great at making you engaged in her web of stories — even if they hardly go anywhere. If nothing, you’ll get an insight into how Gilbert is and why she’d make an excellent brunch buddy.
While the material is certainly not for everyone, Elizabeth Gilbert’s storytelling, humor, grace, and sincerity would be appealing to a wide net of readers.
Apart from this, the book can be incoherent. There’s also some friction in the flow and it’s hard to decipher how’d you land from page 11 to page 100 with a clear path. It’s all quite muddy and mashed up together.
But these aren’t the only flaws with this self-help book.
Shortcomings of “Big Magic”
#1 thing that I detest about Big Magic is that it just feels like an extended pep talk. On each page, the reader is reminded that this is a self-help motivational book meant to “inspire” you and make you ask out creativity on a date because it’s been a real will-they-won’t-they till now.
Listen, I get that it’s hard to write a self-help or inspirational book that’s not containing any sappy or cheesy overwashed advice. But Big Magic is saturated with these with no real substance. Nada. There’s not a single practical, real-life-applicable advice I can find in this book.
Yes, the mushy-mushy good stuff is fun to read. But what about the “magical work ethic” that Gilbert has? How did she build it? How does she get to it every day? What about chores? What about the leak in my pipe and the plumber that won’t show? How do I take creativity along for the ride when I am just deciding whether to buy broccoli or Pringles for dinner?
As if that wasn’t bad enough, the book is internally inconsistent. One instant, Gilbert is a depressive and stressful person. But the next minute, she is someone who has a stubborn gladness ruling her life.
Lastly, Gilbert made it a point to let the readers know that things like plumbing and cleaning are necessary. The jobs in the arts and creative sector aren’t. This defeats the purpose of the whole book for me (apart from being totally untrue).
As much as I love Gilbert, I wouldn’t recommend this book. If you desperately want to, I’d suggest going for the audiobook or the book summary.
It’s not just the shortcomings of the book that make me tell you to “Stahp! Pick something else” but also because I recommend reading fewer self-help books. This one, my friend, doesn’t cut the mark for being useful enough or interesting enough.
Big Magic is a great pep talk. I just believe it can be shortened to 3-4 pages. Max. Inspiration and creativity combined is an offer no one would refuse to take — I just doubt this book’s on your route to get it.
I wouldn’t suggest it — but go with your gut if this is what you feel you should read at the moment.