Four Things we Learned from Big Magic

Elizabeth Gilbert is well-known for two very big, very different artistic ventures. The first, which you have undoubtedly heard of (if not read or watched the film adaptation of), is her personal story of searching for pleasure, devotion and worldly enjoyment. Now celebrating its 10th anniversary, Eat Pray Love has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over 200 weeks.

Shortly after her memoir came out, Gilbert gave a TED Talk on the creative genius, which has been viewed over 12 million times. Her latest news-worthy venture is her book Big Magicand it came as no surprise at all that our team devoured it. For us it served as a refreshing dose of inspiration; a water hose of “you can do it and here’s why.”

If you look at any one of our copies you’ll see dog ears, underlines and highlights, denoting nuggets of inspiration that we don’t want to forget. It’s in that same vein that we share four of our favorite takeaways from Big Magic:

Creative is Better

Gilbert says it herself almost immediately: a creative life is an amplified life. We couldn’t agree more. Whatever it is you create – be it a painting, grocery list or persuasive PowerPoint deck – the more creative you allow yourself to get, the more free you will become. And, forgive the pun, but creativity and freedom are where the magic happens.

Ideas are Life-Forms

Just like other living creatures, ideas have desires. In this case, the impulse is to be made manifest. An idea will come to you and if you don’t jump on it – seize the opportunity to bring it to life – the little life form will find someone else to bring it to fruition. Ideas are easy to miss, often because we aren’t paying attention. But if an idea comes to you and breaks into your consciousness, and you start to nourish it and pay it attention, it will stick with you.

You can’t pick up a book called Big Magic and expect it wouldn’t at least touch on the supernatural, and in Part II, Gilbert does that. And you know what? We’re believers. Pay attention.

Your Art Doesn’t Have to be Your Job

Putting the pressure on your art to pay your rent and feed your children is a foolproof way to scare it off. Gilbert doesn’t touch on this but we encourage you to think about your art as an “and,” not an “or.” You can wash windows and write short stories; you can be the chief marketing officer and practice interpretive dance. This mindset change is big, and without it, you may just be unknowingly killing your art. That is to say, if you rely on your creativity to pay your rent and it doesn’t, you end up doing away with your creativity altogether. Think “and,” not “or,” and you’ll give your creativity wings.

Forget the Critics

In perhaps her most memorable line of the book, Gilbert answers a question she poses: What if you allow yourself to be creative and people attack you? Just smile sweetly and suggest that they go make their own f*cking art.

It’s not an eloquent sentence, no, but boy does it hit the message home. If someone doesn’t like your art, who cares? If someone gives you grief, tell him to go make his own art and get right back to your creativity. You’ll be all the better and more fulfilled for it. 

We like this book. It’s full of compelling anecdotes narrated in Gilbert’s classically intelligent and humorous voice. We think it should be required reading for creators, and in fact, it is required reading for a class that Studio/E member Vikas Narula teaches at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. We happily and without hesitation recommend this read. We will add, however, that while her chapters cover everything you need to be inspired (courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust and divinity), we’d love to add a chapter on execution. That is, once you’re inspired, what’s next?

Watch for a forthcoming blog, The Unofficial Part VII of Big Magic, where we explain the Act-Learn-Build process. It will pick you up from Gilbert’s inspiration and bring you to the point of execution. From there you’re on your own. Just remember – when you happen upon an unattended idea, grab it with all your might. Take ownership, and give that idea the life it approached you for.

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