The Gist: Big Magic

By Olivia Schmid || Columnist

Photo courtesy of Barnes & Noble.

What is creativity? What does it have to do with imagination? How do we make the most of this life, and drive past fear?

These questions and more are answered in the book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, written by Elizabeth Gilbert (also the author of Eat Pray Love). With insight from the author herself (and some pretty amusing stories, mind you), we learn ways we can channel creativity into our everyday lives.

I have to be honest with you all.  This book sat in my closet for three years before I finally took a crack at it. I thought this was my mom’s way of trying to get me to pursue the arts (I love performing music), and I think that’s the way many others may see it, too, but at the end of the day, we end up falsely interpreting the goal of this book. I want to make it very clear from the beginning that the message of this book is not so much “live creatively by pursuing the arts” (because pursuing the arts is not the only way to be creative)  as it is “channel your creativity through whatever life you choose to lead”.

How do we do this exactly? Gilbert pinpoints six important things we need to focus on embodying. These make up the six parts of the novel, titled Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust, and Divinity.

Gilbert claims there is a big difference between bravery and fearlessness. Bravery is doing something scary, whereas fearlessness is not even understanding what the word “scary” means—meaning you aren’t even fazed. The main point of the first part of Big Magic: Do not let your fear do anything other than merely coexist with your creativity and the rest of your life.  Let’s not focus on canceling all fear (because I’m sorry, but that’s impossible) because we might end up canceling creativity along the way. Creativity is hosted in each and every one of us, whether we pursue it or not.

Gilbert then takes us into the second part: enchantment. I don’t know about you, but enchantment is not a word that I feel is often used to describe our lives. The way Gilbert understands enchantment with respect to day to day life is fascinating.  

It all starts with what happens when you say yes to something versus when you say no to it. After all, our planet is inhabited not only by people, animals, and things; it is also inhabited with our ideas. Let’s think about it for a second. When you say no to exploring a new idea in the back of your head, nothing happens. Nothing changes, nothing gets better, nothing gets worse. It’s stagnant. On the other hand, when you say yes to an idea, suddenly that creativity comes flooding in. Gilbert pushes the reader to pursue these creative ideas and see where they take us. All great ideas in the world feel daunting and “too out there” at first; however, you are neither your inspiration’s slave nor its master. You are partnering with your imagination to make your creativity flow. 

A big part of enchantment is making sure to always express gratitude for what you can do and even attempt—especially right now, during a pandemic. Take a minute to reflect on the opportunities you have gotten, even if it isn’t what you thought they would be like right now. Remember to be gentle with yourself because before this year, who was able to say they were living through a global pandemic? Now we all can say this, so don’t go searching for answers while in moments of uncertainty because some of the best things in life happen to come from these moments.

Now let’s discuss my favorite part of Big Magic – Part 3: Permission.  I think it’s so common for us to look around to see what other people are doing before we decide what we want to do. We feed off the validation from others, and we don’t spend near enough time asking ourselves if it is what we want.

As I briefly mentioned in last weeks’ article about Jen Sincero’s You Are a Badass, you can’t go around caring what other people think of you (I mean, it’s not like you can control it).  You have to work on ignoring that suggestion box because your reasons to create are reason enough. You have to do what YOU want to do. You do not need anyone’s permission to live a creative life.

Let me say that once more. You do not need ANYONE’S permission to live a creative life. You are entitled to your own creativity and creativity in general, meaning that you are allowed to be here and have a voice and a vision of your own—no matter how “out there” it may look like to other people.  What does this mean? Get back to work and make it happen; you are more than capable of doing so. 

Gilbert references a quote by W.C. Fields, who wrote, “It isn’t what they call you; it’s what you answer to.”  You can only control what you do creatively—other people’s reactions don’t belong to you, and they don’t involve you. Half of the time their opinions have nothing to do with you, so let’s not sweat it.

Persistence (discussed in Part 4) is starting whenever you decide to start (whether you are “qualified” or not) and continuing to work through whatever challenges you face. Gilbert makes an excellent point by mentioning that the “right moment” to do something is impossible to plan, so you have to maximize your chances by trying again and again, no matter what it takes. 

I have to say the book gets particularly interesting when Gilbert begins the section on trust. She explains the difference between the “martyr” and the “trickster,” which are two kinds of mindsets we use to see the pursuit of art (either as “life is pain; the world is so solemn and unforgiving,” or “wow, life is interesting; the world is endlessly shape-shifting and changing every day.”) It’s all about the mindset. Are you noticing a common theme here?

Ask yourself, “Is there anything that I’m even a little bit interested in right now?” No matter what you do, make sure you don’t quit too soon. Trust yourself and your creative abilities to push past the hardships you’ll face. One way to test your creative trust is to put your work out in the public eye for everyone to see for themselves. And by the way, just because it’s out in the world, that does not permit you to apologize for it, explain it away, and/or be ashamed of it. Your work is a product of your creativity and a piece of yourself that you were once really excited about. Don’t let other people change that for you.

The last part of Big Magic is titled Divinity. It’s pretty brief, but one of my favorite quotes from this section is, “Sometimes what we know to be ‘meaningless’ ends up becoming holy in due time.” I’ll let you chew on that one for a while because I think it can mean a lot of different things to people.

The gist is that whether you’re looking to become a famous artist, the CEO of your own company, or what have you, Big Magic offers priceless insight on how you can channel your creative side through whatever you choose to pursue.  Too many times we do ourselves the disservice of ignoring the parts of ourselves that want to be creative and stand out in fear of what the world will have to say about it. Find the time to take a breather by doing something you enjoy, and figure out ways to implement this into your creative lifestyle. After reading this book, you’ll know exactly how to approach doing so.

If Big Magic piques your interest, make sure to check it out as well as Elizabeth Gilbert’s other very popular novel (that I also have yet to read), Eat Pray Love. Oh, and to all my ladies out there reading this… just wait until next week—it’s a doozy! 

First-year Olivia Schmid is a Staff Writer. Her email is oschmid@fandm.edu.

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