Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) shares her unique insight into creativity and inspiration in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. Rich with personal stories and anecdotes, Gilbert encourages readers to live creatively, let go of fear, and respect the mystery of inspiration. The book is wonderfully geared towards those of us who live (or wish to live) creative lives, but is perfectly suited for anyone with any kind of creative passion.
Big Magic was recommended by my acting coach who, frankly, couldn’t get enough of it. It came to me at a perfect time; a time when I needed to hear some of these simple, yet inspirational nuggets of wisdom. Gilbert delves into themes of pursuing passion beyond reason, embarking on deferred dreams, and making things simply for the sake of making things. As an actor and writer who took an interesting road to finding my passion, these spoke to me.
Certain aspects of the book did take me a moment to step back and go, “Ok, I guess I can buy into that.” While it could get a little “new age-y” the way Gilbert speaks about creative work as its own “entity” that wants to be made, I’ve had enough run ins with the elusive nature of inspiration to completely understand. As she puts it: “I don’t sit around waiting to write until my genius decides to pay me a visit. If anything, I have come to believe that my genius spends a lot of time waiting around for me.”
Gilbert breaks the book down in seven parts: Courage; Enchantment; Permission; Persistence; Trust; and Divinity. The through line seemed to be something I preach (and need to remind myself of) constantly: Just go do it. To that end, I thought I’d share some passages of the book that resonated the most with me.
“We must risk delight. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.”
– Walt Whitman
- Live a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.
- A creative life is an amplified life. Living in this manner is a fine art, in and of itself.
- You have treasures hidden within you – extraordinary treasures. And bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think so small.
- The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover these jewels – that’s creative living.
“I don’t know what I think until I write about it.”
– Joan Didion
- You might earn a living with your pursuits or you might not, but you can recognize that this is not really the point. And at the end of your days you can thank creativity for having blessed you with a charmed, interesting, passionate existence.
- Some people take the position of if you can’t reach the top, why bother creating at all?… What does any of that have to do with the quiet glory of merely making things, and then sharing those things with an open heart and no expectations?
- Keep busy, but most of all, be ready. Keep your eyes open. Listen. Follow your curiosity. Ask questions. Sniff around. Remain open… Work with all your heart, because if you show up for work day after day after day after day, you just might get lucky enough some random morning to burst right into bloom.
“You can recognize the people who live for others by the haunted look on the faces of others.
– Katherine Whitehorn
- Do it. Who cares? It’s your birthright as a human being, so do it with a cheerful heart.
- You do not need permission to live a creative life… If you’re supporting yourself financially and you’re not bothering anyone else, then you’re free to do whatever you want with your life.
- Your own reasons to create are reasons enough.
- Twelve North American writers have won the Nobel Prize in Literature since 1901. Not one of them had an MFA. Four of them never even got past high school.
- Stop complaining. First, it’s annoying and boring. Second, of course it’s difficult to create things. Third, nobody’s listening. They are worried about themselves. Fourth, you’re scaring away inspiration.
“So many of us believe in perfection, which ruins everything else, because the perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun.”
– Rebecca Solnit
- This is how it feels to lead a faithful creative life: You try and try and try and nothing works. But you keep trying, and you keep seeking, and then sometimes, in the least expected place and time, it finally happens. You make the connection. Out of nowhere, it all comes together.
- Go be whomever you want to be. Do whatever you want to do. Pursue whatever fascinates you and brings you to life. Create whatever you want to create – and let it be stupendously imperfect, because it’s exceedingly likely that nobody will ever notice. And that’s awesome.
- Stop treating your creativity like it’s a tired, old, unhappy marriage (a grind, a drag) and start regarding it with the fresh eyes of a passionate lover… Go hide in the stairwell and make out with your art! Don’t think of it as burdensome; think of it as sexy.
- The question is not “What are you passionate about?” The question is “What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of your work?”
“If my devils are to leave me, I’m afraid my angels will take flight as well.”
– Rainer Maria Rilke
- The question is not “What would you do if you knew that you could not fail?” The question is, what would you do even if you knew that you might very well fail? What do you love doing so much that the words failure and success essentially become irrelevant?
- You might spend your whole life following your curiosity and have absolutely nothing to show for it in the end – except one thing. You will have the satisfaction of knowing that you passed your entire existence in devotion to the noble human virtue of inquisitiveness. And that should be more than enough for anyone to say they lived a rich and splendid life.
- “Better a trickster than a martyr be.” (Caroline Casey) The trickster trusts the universe. He trusts in its chaotic, lawless, ever-fascinating ways – and for this reason, he does not suffer from undue anxiety… It’s all just a game.
- What you produce is not always sacred. What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life.
- Interesting outcomes are just awful outcomes with the volume of drama turned way down.
- You made it; you put it out there. Never apologies for it, never explain it away, never be ashamed of it.