13 Things Creative People Can Learn From Elizabeth Gilbert’s ‘Big Magic’

Dear Elizabeth Gilbert,

Thank you for Big Magic. It really is….well, magic.

I was lucky enough to download your audiobook and listen to you read it out loud, and now I’m not going to lie, I kind of want you to be my mom. Listening to advice from you as someone who is just starting their writing career is the greatest.

Thank you for the kick in the ass.

For those of you who haven’t read it, you definitely should.  Gilbert has so much wisdom to share on the inner battles of creative living,and this should be required reading for every artist. In the hopes that you will be inspired and give Big Magic a read, here are some things that I personally got out of it that have been helping me:

1) Nobody Really Owns Any Creative Ideas
We don’t have ownership over our ideas, especially if we don’t work at them. Gilbert explains that ideas are alive, and you’re given a gift from the universe when you’re struck with them. If you or I are lucky enough to get hit with one, then we need to honor it, and enter a contract with it.  If you get an idea, carry it out as far as you possibly can, section off the appropriate time to work on it, do your research, and work diligently. That means every day. Gilbert writes that when she got the idea for Eat, Pray, Love she never let it out of her sight. When she published it, tons of people told her that she literally published their life story, and stole the book that they were writing.  She finished the contract with that idea first. She didn’t work on it because she thought it would make her famous, she actually had no idea it was going to be as successful as it was. What she did know, was that it had to be written.   

2) Your Creativity Is Bigger Than You
Gilbert defines creativity as “the relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration.” Curiosity is the most important aspect of creativity. People have been creative since the dawn of time, and we have very little to do with it. She explains that at some point, art became all about how much of a genius the artist was. When saying an artist is a genius, or when I’m looking to be called a genius or anything that feeds my ego with my work, that immediately becomes the opposite of the point.  I got a great reminder that I’m not writing to get recognized or accumulate accolades, I’m doing it because I have the creative need to do it.


3) Your Creative Work Is Not Your Own Personal Baby
If I make my projects my babies, I’ll start taking everything personally. If somebody asks me to make a change, I won’t be able to. It’s work, not a baby. It has to be adaptable and open to feedback from others. I have to be able to cut it down, to shape it, and to work with it, and not just keep it all for myself. It isn’t MY baby. I’ve been guilty of this in the past with a lot of my work, and sometimes still am, but when I remind myself that my work isn’t my baby, it takes a lot of the pressure off. 

4) Make Sure You Have A Job to Support Your Creativity If You Aren’t Lucky Enough To Have It Be The Only Thing That Feeds You
Don’t use not having money as an excuse to not make work.  Elizabeth Gilbert has worked every job under the sun, and wrote at the same time. Don’t have so much pride that you expect your creative work to fully support you all the time, you’ll just be disappointed, especially in the early years.  This is a great reminder to support your creative work like you would another person, don’t just take from it, feed it.

5) Don’t Use Rejection As A Reason To Not Make Work

If you’re going to pursue a career in creativity, you’re going to have to deal with a lot of rejection. Get comfortable with taking nos. Gilbert is adamant about not letting every no slap your in the face. Keep going, keep writing. It takes a lot of no’s to get one yes.

7) Dress For Success, Even If You’re Writing In Your Own Living Room
I usually hate it when people say things like this, but I tried it for a little while. I used to say that statements like this were superficial, and that you don’t need to look like anything to be a writer, you just have to write. While writing is definitely important to being a writer, it really does help to make yourself feel good at the same time. Gilbert suggests going on a date with your work. I haven’t gone that far (I haven’t yet worn a push up bra while writing), but I will say that putting on work clothes really does sometimes help me stay motivated.

8) Being Creative Doesn’t Mean Being Well Known

The point isn’t to get recognized.  I find that when I tell someone I do something artistic, they like to ask why I’m not famous yes. Well, the truth is, I might never be known for my art, and if I’m doing it for that reason, I should stop now. It takes a lot of work to get recognized, and you don’t always get recognized for hard work. Also, Big Magic made me realize that if I do somehow get well known, it’s possible I won’t like it, and will want to make myself unknown again so that I can write in peace, like the poet Jack Gilbert (one of her inspirations, no relation).

9) People Are Going To Interpret Your Work However They Want To, You Don’t Have Control Over It. Stop Panicking About How Much Everybody Likes You and Your Work

Gilbert explains that people aren’t always going to like what you do, and that you don’t need everyone to like what you do. That’s part of creative living. Additionally, people are going to read what they want from your work. She described a woman who read Eat, Pray, Love and walked up to her at a book signing, telling her that Eat, Pray, Love inspired her to leave her husband who was abusive, like Gilbert’s ex husband in the book. The thing is, if you’ve read Eat, Pray, Love, you know that Gilbert never says this about her ex and why they got a divorce, but Gilbert explains that it doesn’t matter.  That woman read her book her saw that, and she has no control over it. Hell, I don’t even know if my own interpretation of her work right here is what she necessarily had in mind while writing it!  We don’t have control over what people feel and see when they look at our work, so being worried about that at all is a moot point.

11) Not Everything You Write Is Going To Be Good, And You Can’t Force It To Be Good.  If It Doesn’t Work, It Doesn’t Work

I’ve written some bad things. I’ve written some good things. If I expect everything to be good, it will stop me from making anything. I need to write some crap in order to write, and I can’t expect it all to be the greatest thing ever written. 

12) Be a Trickster Not A Martyr

The starving, struggling artist does not need to be a thing any longer. It’s much more beneficial to my work if I stop trying to fake struggle because I think that I’m supposed to, and just do my job. Have fun with your art, or else there’s no point to any of it really.

13) Stop Freaking Out And Go Back To Work.

The final sentence of Big Magic is “so please calm down now and get back to work”

I will Elizabeth Gilbert, I will. Thanks.

Give it a read. You won’t be sorry


Buy it on Amazon here

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