I read this book, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, back in 2015, highlighted a ton of it, and for whatever reason never wrote about it. I also feel like I remember being underwhelmed by it. But when I go back and read what I highlighted, I realize that it wasn’t that it was underwhelming, I just thought it was underwhelming to me personally at the time because I’ve already read so many books like this. I go through bouts of reading inspirational books. Usually when I’m feeling down.
I think I was definitely too critical. I actually don’t even know why I felt that way about the book, because it’s actually a great book. Especially if you are a creative person, or even just mildly creative, or even if you just want to be creative — you should read it.
A LOT of creative people get into funks. Often. I actually think I’ve been in a creative funk since the art classes I took in high school and college, and honestly I feel like I’m like just now coming out of it.
Before you continue reading, you need to watch this video where the author of this book, Elizabeth Gilbert, talks about your elusive creative genius. This video has stuck with me since she filmed it in 2009, and it’s still so true to this day. I actually think it foreshadows her writing this book.
I’m going to share some excerpts from the book that I found the most meaningful to me, but honestly, I highlighted SO MUCH MORE. You will just have to read it for yourself to get all the goods that this book has to offer you.
Excerpts from Big Magic are in italics my thoughts are not. Some paragraphs and sentences are shortened, this is just giving you the gist of my favorite parts. Anything in bold is my personal emphasis.
My favorite parts from Big Magic:
The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.
I like that she thinks about it this way. I definitely think everyone has something special about them. Whether it’s some sort of creative talent, or mathematical talent, maybe the talent to work with children, or make people laugh — whatever it is, we all have something that we are innately good at. That thing we were born to do. But I don’t think we always know what that thing is, so if you don’t, you have to make an effort to find it.
You’re afraid you have no talent. You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or — worst of all — ignored. You’re afraid somebody else already did it better. You’re afraid you won’t be taken seriously. You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of work space, or financial freedom, or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration. You’re afraid of being exposed as a hack, or a fool, or a dilettante, or a narcissist.
All the fears. I’ve had them all at one point in time I’m sure. For me, I’d say my biggest fear currently with my art is that no one will like it, buy it, want it. And I’ll never be able to be an artist for a living the way I want to.
I believe that inspiration will always try its best to work with you — but if you are not ready or available, it may indeed choose to leave you and to search for a different human collaborator. This happens to people a lot, actually. This is how it comes to pass that one morning you open up the newspaper and discover that somebody else has written your book, or directed your play, or released your record, or produced your movie, or founded your business, or launched your restaurant, or patented your invention — or in any way whatsoever manifested some spark of inspiration that you’d had years ago, but had never entirely cultivated, or had never gotten around to finishing. This may vex you, but it really shouldn’t, because you didn’t deliver! You didn’t show up ready enough, or fast enough, or openly enough for the idea to take hold within you and complete itself. Therefore, the idea went hunting for a new partner, and somebody else got to make the thing.
She talks about this in the video I told you to watch as well. I think it’s SO TRUE. I feel like you have to jump on your ideas and actually DO them. They might not turn out well, or like you thought — who cares — you just need to DO THEM and find out.
Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.
Wowowowow. What a line, right?!
…of course it’s difficult to create things; if it wasn’t difficult, everyone would be doing it, and it wouldn’t be special or interesting.
So true. And I
love hate it when people look at art (particularly abstract art) and say that they could do it, or their kid could do it. Ugh. No. No you couldn’t, no you didn’t.
Learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is part of the job of a creative person.
If you want to be an artist of any sort, then handling your frustration is a fundamental aspect of the work — perhaps the single most fundamental aspect of the work. Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process. The fun part (the part where it doesn’t feel like work at all) is when you’re actually creating something wonderful, and everything’s going great, and everyone loves it, and you’re flying high. But such instants are rare. You don’t just get to leap from bright moment to bright moment. How you manage yourself between those bright moments, when things aren’t going so great, is a measure of how devoted you are to your vocation, and how equipped you are for the weird demands of creative living. Holding yourself together through all the phases of creation is where the real work lies.
I actually never really thought about this but it’s a very good point.
The question is “What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?” Because if you love and want something enough — whatever it is — then you don’t really mind eating the shit sandwich that comes with it.
OMG YES. Totally! When people ask me about being a blogger or an entrepreneur, I often find myself telling them all the bad things, the unglamorous things. I just don’t want people to have this rose-colored glasses notion about what it’s like to be a blogger or an entrepreneur. I tell them, you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable, because you will always be uncomfortable. I also tell them that you have to deal with a bunch of stuff that you might not want to (at first at least, until you can hire it out or hire people to do it for you). You’re the IT department, the scheduling department, the secretary, the bookkeeper. Lots of NOT FUN stuff. Trust me, I cannot WAIT for the day that I can literally hire EVERYTHING out that I don’t like to do and know I’m not good at.
I held on to those other sources of income for so long because I never wanted to burden my writing with the responsibility of paying for my life. I knew better than to ask this of my writing, because over the years, I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills. I’ve seen artists drive themselves broke and crazy because of this insistence that they are not legitimate creators unless they can exclusively live off their creativity. And when their creativity fails them (meaning: doesn’t pay the rent), they descend into resentment, anxiety, or even bankruptcy. Worst of all, they often quit creating at all.
I’ve always felt like this is so cruel to your work — to demand a regular paycheck from it, as if creativity were a government job, or a trust fund.
So true. Something I also tell people is that once you make your passion your job, it can become less fun. Having a job or another source of income to then be able to just DO your hobby, is nice. Not having it BE your JOB makes it more enjoyable, puts less stress on it. It’s mostly those of us who are tortured so much by NOT doing that thing constantly who endure the pain that comes with it being your job.
Perfectionism stops people from completing their work, yes — but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work. Perfectionists often decide in advance that the end product is never going to be satisfactory, so they don’t even bother trying to be creative in the first place.
I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear.
I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified.
I used to say I was a perfectionist. I was to an extent. Now, not so much. Done is better than perfect. Out there is better than perfect. I’m over perfectionism.
Most people don’t finish things!
So if you can just complete something — merely complete it! — you’re already miles ahead of the pack.
This is what I tell a lot of young people looking for advice on how to get a job. SO. MANY. PEOPLE. Do not follow through on things. I’m guilty! So if you literally just DO what you SAY you are going to do, you are literally so far ahead of almost everyone else.
The gods of creativity are not obliged to explain anything to us. Own your disappointment, acknowledge it for what it is, and move on. Chop up that failure and use it for bait to try to catch another project. Someday it might all make sense to you— why you needed to go through this botched-up mess in order to land in a better place. Or maybe it will never make sense.
For me, I haven’t ever really had a problem finding inspiration. I have documents upon documents, and sketchbooks FILLED with ideas I want to do, paint, execute. There’s just never enough time to do them. But also, I know I’m not even coming close to trying hard enough. I check myself on my own excuses!!!
Well, if that isn’t enough to get you to want to read this book, then it’s just not for you. But if any of this inspired you, you’re going to want to get this book. You will devour it. You will be inspired by it.
If you’ve read it, tell me your thoughts in the comments! Did any of these excerpts strike a chord with you?