Big Magic

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

Not many books I’ve read about writing and staying inspired have confronted the fear factor, so I was eager to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. At long last, the library copy became available, and I have the book in my hands.

What I like about what I’ve read so far is that Gilbert expands creativity beyond the page and talks about “creative living . . . a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.”

One of the things I love about being a writer is license to be curious, because while I may escape to my studio every day to face the same blank page, I’m also tasked with learning new information, meeting new people, asking questions, being curious.

Gilbert acknowledges that courage is necessary for creativity. Some days, sitting at my desk is scary and I wish with all my heart that I’d become a lawyer. Meanwhile, I have friends who are lawyers who ask me, “How do you do it?” meaning get up and go to work without someone else providing the expectations, the office and the paycheck.

Most of the time I reply, “How do you do it?” meaning pull on a suit, commute to an office, and follow instructions.

Sometimes I wish I had an office job. (pixabay)

Sometimes I wish I had an office job. (pixabay)

Sometimes I wish I had an office job just for the camaraderie, coffee breaks and photocopier. I imagine life would be easier if I had someone else telling me what to do and handing me a weekly paycheck. But these are just details, and they’re not mine.

I’ve chosen the blank page, which some days feels like standing in front of a firing squad, and some days feels like floating weightless through outer space. Most days, it’s a mixture of the two. As Gilbert says, “It seems to me that my fear and my creativity are basically conjoined twins – as evidenced by the fact that creativity cannot take a single step forward without fear marching right alongside it.”

Having established that “Bravery, means doing something scary,” Gilbert discusses the magic of inspiration and recounts the remarkable story of abandoning a novel on which she’d been working long enough to develop significant and specific portions of the characterization, plot and setting, only to discover that Ann Pachett was just starting a book with similar characterization, plot and setting.

There's no limit on creativity. (pixabay)

There’s no limit on creativity. (pixabay)

What I like about this story is not so much Gilbert’s explanation of inspiration floating around until someone catches it, but her refutation that 1) creativity demands suffering, and 2) the amount of inspiration and creativity in the universe is limited. Both these ideas are commonplace – and untrue.

Where I write joyfully when I overcome fear.

Where I write joyfully when I overcome fear.

It is entirely possible to be creative and joyful! In fact, being creative brings joy to the maker and the receiver(s) of creation, whether it be the cooking of a good meal or the writing of a good story. We live in an expanding universe – there’s no limit on creativity. Gilbert writes, “The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying.”

Reading that sentence was Big Magic for me, so I closed the book and returned gleefully to my desk.


Into the Wilderness, is an award-winning love story set in Vermont in 1964.

Into the Wilderness, is Luskin’s award-winning love story set in Vermont in 1964.

Deborah Lee Luskin blogs weekly at Living in Place.

16 thoughts on “Big Magic

  1. I really enjoyed Big Magic. I think my biggest inspiration from that book is her concept that ideas are living beings, passed from one creator to the next, and we make a contract with them so they can manifest. Her story about her Amazon Jungle book being passed from her to another author was fascinating!

    • Yes, I love that story, and the idea that we’re really channels for ideas that pass through us – if we allow them. I like that she says inspiration is all around us all the time and it’s up to us to accept it. That said, there’s an awful lot of perspiration involved in crafting the inspiration into being, too.
      Thanks for reading and commenting on this post.

  2. Thanks for the review. I’ve been seeing lots of positive blog posts about this book and agree with the idea that courage is required for creativity.

    I haven’t read the book yet (obvs) but I can understand that facing the void where you have to pull something into creation from nothing, can be terrifying. Add to that the fact that so many of those around us will not have the first clue that a person can be compelled to write even when we all know writing is hard and sometimes painful.

    It’s a calling that is chronically misunderstood which makes it all the harder I feel.

    I’ll have to take the time out to read Big Magic soon.

  3. Terrifying, lonely, and compelling and joyful. All of the above. And you’re right: the compulsion is not well understood in our culture, which generally measures value in terms of money. And then there are the people who say, “I’m meaning to write a book,” and “I’ve got a great idea for a book you should write.” But these are other matters, and I’m concentrating these days on generosity and joy, writing my heart out and loving it.
    Thanks for your comment!

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  5. Pingback: Big Magic — Live to Write – Write to Live | JCU // Creative Writing Workshop

  6. It was interesting that your post was about Big Magic. Recently, on the journey to a writing group, the lady giving me a lift was raving about that book & recommended that I read it. It would seem that I’m being directed towards it. I think that a trip to the library is on tomorrows’ agenda!

    • Elizabeth Gilbert would certainly say that you’re getting a strong message from the universe – and it’s up to us to catch them when they come our way, or they will pass us by. Please let me know what you think after you’ve read the book. And thanks for reading this.

    • You’re most welcome. I waited a long time for a library copy – which only loans for two weeks, which means as soon as it arrives, I had to read it . . .Please let me know what you think when you’ve read it. And thanks for reading!

    • You’re most welcome! I’d be interested to know what you think after you’ve read it, so please stay in touch!

  7. I’m currently facing the daunting decision of whether to return to office work or ‘dare’ to continue writing. I’m looking forward to reading this book but also very much enjoyed your post on it. Thank you!

  8. Thanks for reading the post. I invite you to let me know what you think after you read it, and if/how it’s helpful unleashing your creativity. All best.

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