Big Magic book review

Creative Inspiration: Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Last year, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. I’d been hearing how wonderful and inspiring it was for creative driven people. I’d even heard that it was life-changing. But it took me a long time to get around to it.

Honestly, when I hear something is life-changing, I tend to shy away. I have a natural distrust of things that make that claim.

(I should pause here and say that Gilbert herself wasn’t the one calling the book life-changing. In fact, in the book, she writes, “Please don’t make [helping people] your sole creative motive, because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls.”)

What finally won me over was a conversation I had with one of my closest friends, Susanna Kaapu. She’s an artist and photographer, and even though our creativity is expressed in different forms, we tend to think exactly the same way about the process itself. So when she told me that Big Magic had really helped her, I paid attention. Susanna told me – promised me – that I would find the book valuable.

And, she wasn’t wasn’t wrong!

Collaborate with your creative idea

Big Magic was full of great passages and thoughts that resonated with me – I definitely would have highlighted them had it not been the library’s copy. Here’s one part that I especially enjoyed:

Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.
When an idea thinks it has found somebody . . . who might be able to bring it into the world, the idea will pay you a visit. It will try to get your attention . . . You will start to notice all sorts of signs pointing you toward the idea . . . The idea will not leave you alone until it has your fullest attention.
And then, in a quiet moment, it will ask, “Do you want to work with me?”

The idea of collaborating with an idea during the creative process was amazing to me. I mean, why shouldn’t the idea itself help with some of the work? Reframing creativity as a partnership brings it slightly closer to earth, and that’s a good thing. It helps me to understand exactly why sitting down to work on a regular basis can result in fantastic things. The idea wants you just as much as you want it.

When I read Big Magic, I was editing my first novel and didn’t have a chance to practice the creative collaboration firsthand. But now I’m about eight months into writing my second novel, and I’m definitely treating it as a collaboration. After all, the idea for this novel actually predated my first one – by about four years, in fact! So it’s obvious to me that this idea deserved my  complete cooperation.

The creative collaboration in action

No creative process is smooth sailing. But treating my writing project as a collaboration with the idea itself truly has reset the way I think about writing in general. I no longer wait for inspiration to strike. Even if I sit down and write notes about the novel, or one paragraph of a chapter, or complete a character worksheet, I’m honouring the pact I made with my story. And, as a result, it keeps talking to me. It’s very exciting stuff.

You don’t have to be fearless

I know that the above passage might sound a little “woo” to some. But one thing I liked about Big Magic was that it didn’t rely on the sort of platitudes that seem rife in today’s world. For example, I liked this down-to-earth passage, which you definitely won’t see on a notebook or a coffee mug:

Now you probably think I’m going to tell you that you must become fearless in order to live a more creative life. But I’m not going to tell you that, because I don’t happen to believe it’s true. Creativity is a path for the brave, yes, but it is not a path for the fearless, and it’s important to recognize the distinction.

What about you? Have you read Big Magic? What are your thoughts on collaborating with your creative idea?

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