I’d heard great things about Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert, a non-fiction book about creativity. Gilbert is most well-known for her memoir Eat, Pray, Love which was made into a movie starring Julia Roberts. However, I’ve neither read the memoir nor seen the movie. (Perhaps I will now).
A couple months ago, I was at the bookstore and I cracked open Big Magic to read a few pages. I liked Gilbert’s voice – fresh, conversational, frank – and so I decided to buy it. I’d heard others refer to this book as “inspiring” so ultimately, I was expecting something along the lines of those motivational self-help books that I sort of like and I sort of hate. I say “hate” because I feel like it’s kind of a chore to read when someone is preaching at me, even if I also think it’s a good message.
I was happily surprised to discover that this book wasn’t like that at all. Gilbert never feels preachy. Reading this book is more like reading a bunch of super smart, sort of funny, extremely insightful letters from a dear friend.
I would not classify Big Magic as a self-help book. If you are trying to figure out how to set goals and accomplish things, this will not help you do that. If you are trying to figure out how to overcome performance anxiety, this book does not provide techniques for that. However, if you are a creative person (or you wish to unleash your hidden creativity), this book will speak to you and it may awaken ideas and desires and courage that is inside you. And if you are a creative person who sometimes feels discouraged or who hasn’t found quote unquote success, this book will remind you to let go of all of that and focus on being the creative soul that you are.
I think everyone can find something in this book to relate to. You don’t have to be a writer or an actor or a painter or a musician to appreciate it. Creativity comes in so many forms, and this book talks about the creativity inside all of us and where it originates from and how it manifests itself. Of course, there is no black or white explanation for any of this, but this book is full of musings and examples and stories. At the bare minimum, some of these musings will surely resonate with you.
One of my personal favorite stories that Gilbert recounted was one about the poet Ruth Stone:
“[Ruth] told me that when she was a child growing up on a farm in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields when she would sometimes hear a poem coming toward her – hear it rushing across the landscape at her, like a galloping horse. Whenever this happened, she knew exactly what she had to do next: She would ‘run like hell’ toward the house, trying to stay ahead of the poem, hoping to get to a piece of paper and pencil fast enough to catch it.”
I loved this explanation because for me, there are rare and special occasions where the words flow into me and back out without effort. I have always described it as waves crashing over me. There have been instances where I’ve been out jogging and my mind is relaxed and free, and suddenly the words have overtaken me. I’ve turned for home, in a race with the words to get back to my house and my computer before they left me. I’ve also climbed out of bed at 2AM to pour out the words that are filling my mind. When this happens, it’s a gift. It’s infrequent, and most of the time I don’t write so effortlessly. But when I do, it feels transcendent.
Now this book isn’t trying to say that in order to create, you have to be seized with those big magic moments. In fact, it says the opposite. Whether you are fortunate enough to have those moments of inspiration or whether you just roll up your sleeves and get to work, the point is that we all have the divine right to be creative.
Many times, this book spoke to me profoundly. Because it reads like a series of essays, it’s easy to set aside and come back to at any point. Therefore, I read it over a couple months in between other fiction reads in order to savor the stories and messages. There were essays in Big Magic that brought me to tears, there were ones that made me laugh, and there were a few that I found boring or I didn’t entirely agree with. In other words, there was a whole lot of stuff here. Plenty for me and probably something for you too.
I will leave you with Gilbert’s own words: “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?”
I hope you do! xoxo
Hallie Shepherd is a writer, actress, and film producer. Follow her on Instagram where she celebrates the stories we tell.