Big Magic By Elizabeth Gilbert

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Goodreads Synopsis: Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work,  embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.

Find on Amazon and Goodreads. 

I’d been looking forward to reading this book for awhile, I heard nothing but good things about it.

My overall feeling for this book is that it just isn’t as good as I’d hoped it would be.  I’d hoped to find an inspiring book about creativity and I just didn’t. For me Gilbert came off very self-centered, and so right off the bat I found it hard to read.

My dislike of this book comes down to three things.

  1. Gilbert talks about degrees in creative areas as practically worthless. Which I get that not everyone needs to get a degree to be able to write, that’s absolutely true. But a degree isn’t worthless to everyone. Some people need it, some people want it. It’s not a black and white issue.
  2. I was really offended by the way Gilbert talked about the suffering artist. I absolutely agree that to be a writer, or anything else creative, you do not need to have had a terrible like to be a valid artist. The suffering artist is definitely a troupe that needs to go away for good. And I agree that there is no need to go searching for terrible situations just to be able to writer about it later. But to me it also felt like she was being unkind to those of us who actually have anxiety, or depression or whatever, and choose to draw inspiration or talk about what we’re going through. Writing has always been very helpful for processing what I’m going through.  And Gilbert seemed to be very dismissive of this.
  3. Big Magic was saturated with Gilbert’s religious view point. Which I am fine with to a certain point, but it also felt very preachy to me.

I know a lot of people love this book, and found it very inspirational, and I’m very happy for those people.  I just wasn’t one of those people.  In the end I gave this book 3 stars, because there were some things I found helpful.  I really like this quote,  “You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.”  I absolutely believe this is true, and I encourage everyone to read this book and pick out the pieces that work for them.

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5 thoughts on “Big Magic By Elizabeth Gilbert”

  1. I’ve heard a lot about this book, including some of the same criticism that you mention here, but I think I’m still going to read it just because I’m curious… and because, even if I disagree with it and find myself holding an argument with the author inside of my own head, that’s always an interesting thing to do! Points #2 and #2 are definitely things that would make me uncomfortable to read about, and… yeah, #1 is something that I’ve had to contend with in my job. (I work a few hours a week talking to prospective students and their parents, and some of these high school kids are just so passionate about majoring in English but their parents aren’t supportive of earning a degree in something creative. Blehhh.)

  2. I’m so glad you read it! I agree with your thoughts about it. The religious parts had me rolling my eyes (not because she is religious about creativity, but because of her pushiness and over-the-top descriptions). And I agree that she was extremely dismissive of degrees in creative arts – I’d argue that it’s more of a problem with higher education being so expensive in the US, as opposed to her argument that they are inherently worthless.

    And I love your point about the “suffering” artist: “But to me it also felt like she was being unkind to those of us who actually have anxiety, or depression or whatever, and choose to draw inspiration or talk about what we’re going through.” That is so true, and I didn’t think about how what she said would invalidate experiences like yours. Of course, drawing from your suffering to make art IS VALID. And she was too harsh about it. If her point had been more along the lines of, “Suffering can create beautiful art, but we need to focus on appreciating the art and on the health/wellbeing of the artist, not glorify the suffering that created it.” That would be a better point I think.

    I think I was able to see past a lot of the problematic parts to get inspiration from it. I especially found it helpful to think about being more fearless and accepting that I will make mistakes or possibly create something bad, but that’s totally ok and sometimes part of the process of creating.

    1. Ah, you know that’s a good point about her ideas on degrees, I definitely can see that.
      Yes, that would have been a much better point, perhaps that was what she meant to say. 🙂
      I’m so glad that the book was helpful for you! It was a good idea for a “how-to” book.
      Perhaps my problem was one of not reading it at the right time in my life, because I think the message of creating fearlessly is a good one.

      1. It seems like one of those books where you have to read it at the right time. It’s not truly fantastic, it just has some good nuggets, and I think I read it at a particularly good time when I was really receptive to what was in it. Same with “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” I was really ready to de-clutter and be less sentimental about things when I read that, so I was really receptive to the info and it was easier to overlook what I didn’t like.

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