Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear | Book Notes #1

Book Cover for Big Magic:Creative Living beyond fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

Big Magic:Creative Living beyond fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

What if you engage in a hot, torrid and long-lasting love affair?

With Creativity.

How would that look like for you?

That visual is what stuck with me after devouring this book. The author, Elizabeth Gilbert (same author as Eat, Pray, Love), painted that scene in my mind so vividly that it made me giddy with excitement to be creative. She used that analogy, of seeing your creativity like a lover that you just can’t just get enough of. She writes,

“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. Even if you have only fifteen minutes a day in a stairwell alone with your creativity, take it. Go hide in that stairwell and make out with your art.”

If she is encouraging us to have an affair, it means that we are cheating on someone or in this case, something. If that is so, who or what are we cheating on? I take that to mean that we are married to survival, routine and the day to day demands of life. But once all our basic needs are met, we can engage in an exciting relationship that can make use feel alive. We can cheat on survival with creativity.

When we engage with creativity, we can choose to partner with the ideas that are just floating all around us. She describes an idea as a an entity that wants to be manifested, looking to collaborate with a human partner.

But being creative isn’t so easy, because most us are held back by fears. Fear failing, fear of not being good enough, perfect enough or original enough. She gives guidance on how we can deal with these fears.

Fear Of Not Being Perfect

If it’s not perfect, why the hell should I bother to create, shouldn’t it be either perfect or nothing? This thinking has prevented a great many people from creating, from even starting, we even have a saying that if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. Well, her counter argument to this is: Done is better than good. She explained that to mean,

“A good-enough novel violently written now is better than a perfect novel meticulously written never.”

It’s a powerful reminder that when we start a project it doesn’t have to be perfect. Because creating something perfect just puts too much pressure that can result in over thinking and just never starting. Having done something imperfectly is better than not doing anything at all.

Fear Of Not Being Original

What’s the point of creating if it all has been that before? Her brilliant and encouraging answer,

“It might have been done before, but it hasn’t been done by you!”

Simple but powerful counter argument right there.

Fear Of Failure

But what if I fail? Ah.. failure, what does it mean when we fail creatively?

Is it criticisms? If that’s the case, there’s no succeeding, because there’s no way everybody will like what you do. She tells us a juicy secret regarding other’s opinion of us: they don’t really think about you much anyway, they, like you, are busy with their own shit. They express their opinion and move on.

Is it the money then? The fear of not making enough money with your creative work? Her practical advice, don’t ask your creativity to support you, take other jobs to support yourself and your creativity.

Is it not being able to create something of importance, something that would solve humanity’s problem? No, we should not expect ourselves to, because creativity is play! Remember we are cheating on survival with play. Creativity creates “decorations for the mind”. 

What really bothers us when we fail, is that we equate our creative output to our self worth. But like Tyler Durden in fight club says, “you are not your are not the car you drive”, you are also not your creative output. We really shouldn’t put our self worth on something so volatile, it’s a losing proposition, it is better to stack the deck in our favor. But if you still insist on equating your self worth to something, she gives a great advice

“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures”

At least your dedication is under your control, and you can view failure as test if you are serious in your creative journey.

Fear Stays Anyway

But despite of all these ways of looking at fear, fear never really goes away. It’s always there, and she warns us to not kill it because it tends to take creativity with it.

“Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into the realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome. “

Fear can be a powerful force if you let it control your life, but upon closer inspection, she says fear is ultimately boring. I laughed out loud when I read this, I’ve never really seen fear as boring, in my mind it’s this enormous monster that needs to be fought with an army. But she made a case for it being boring. It’s boring because, it’s the same as everyone else’s and that it just leads to nothingness, we end up where we started if let fear drive. We don’t get a credit because we choose to concentrate our efforts on our fears. It’s really not as special as I thought it to be.

As it turns out we don’t have to battle fear anyway. If you look at her advice above it’s all meant to give space to fear and accepting it as a given.No need for a bloody battle field. We witness it in how she speaks with her fear,

“There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still—your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat, and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote.”

Beyond Fear

Creative living needs courage, because most of us just want’s to run away from fear as far as we can. If at the end of fear there is nothing, what’s at the end of creativity? Why go all the way with it?

At the end of creativity there can be sanity. The mind, if you are not careful tends to focus on what’s lacking in ourselves, our life and other people, when it’s not given something to do. Like the author’s own experience, she came this profound realization,

“It has taken me years to learn this, but it does seem to be the case if that I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something”

Creativity can be our salvation.

“Perhaps creativity’s greatest mercy is this: By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, it can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are. Best of all, at the end of your creative adventure, you have a souvenir—something that you made, something to remind you forever of your brief but transformative encounter with inspiration”

At the end of creativity there can also be transcendence, our lives could be amplified.

“And since creativity is still the most effective way for me to access wonder, I choose it. I choose to block out all the external (and internal) noise and distractions, and to come home again and again to creativity. Because without that source of wonder, I know that I am doomed. Without it, I will forever wander the world in a state of bottomless dissatisfaction—nothing but a howling ghost, trapped in a body made of slowly deteriorating meat”

Sanity and transcendence, it’s ours if we choose to be brave.

Book Summary of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

  • Treat engaging with your creativity as if you are having an affair.
  • Treat ideas like entities wanting to partner up with you.
  • Fear of not being perfect –  remember that done is better than good.
  • Fear of not being original – remember it hasn’t been done by you!
  • Fear of criticism – you’ll be judge regardless, plus people aren’t thinking about you as much as you think, they are busy with their own lives.
  • Fear of not making enough money with your art – take other jobs to support you.
  • Fear of not creating something important –  it’s not suppose to, it’s play!
  • Fear is boring.
  • Don’t equate your worth with the outcome of your creativity, enjoy the process.
  • Make space for fear instead of killing it.
  • Creativity can amplify our lives and take the obsessive focus off of ourselves.
  • Be brave if you want to live creatively.

What I thought about it

I love this book! I think she hit the nail in the head regarding our fears about creating. I found this book inspiring and practical too, as she gave new ways of looking at age old fears. I had the feeling I was talking to an old friend while reading it. Read it if you have been on the fence about starting that new creative project that you’ve been thinking about or if you are afraid of putting your work out there. Read it if you are creatively blocked or if you don’t know what your passion is, she has a great advice on how to go about that too.

Actionable Takeaways
→ steps to put what I learned into action

  1. Ask myself what creative projects I have been putting off, figure out what type of fear is behind it and apply what was learned from this book in dealing with that fear.
  2. Block out sometime for just one weekend to let myself indulge in any creative project, see how it makes me feel. See if I want to do it again.

Simple Rules
→ short, easy-to-remember rules I can set for myself to follow the principles of the book

  • Create or destroy? Choose create.
  • If I feel the urge to create, I will schedule a time to do it, treat it as play, enjoy myself and not feel guilty about it.
  • If I feel fear before creating, I will just do it anyway.

 Interested in finding out more? Here are some helpful links …