Dec. 18 2015

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert



I’m generally wary of titles that fall under the genre of inspirational reading, advice or self-help. But this one I found genuinely useful.

Maybe there’s something to the inspirational category. After all, I also really liked J.K. Rowling’s Very Good Lives which falls into a similar category.

I’ve never read any of her other books, not even Eat, Pray, Love. But I have watched her TED Talks on Creativity and picked up the book because I really liked those. It was a good call – the book is essentially an extension of what she starts to delve into in her TED Talks.

Unlike Very Good Lives, which is a verbatim book of Rowling’s 2008 Harvard Commencement speech, Big Magic does a lot to expand and add to the concepts she started fleshing out in her TED Talks.


  • ‘Creative Genius’ (a.k.a. it’s not your fault if the juice doesn’t show up);
  • Hard Work (a.k.a. but you better show up);
  • Why Some Writers and Creatives Never Make It (a.k.a. they give up before they even begin due to frustration); and,
  • How You May Make It (a.k.a. I’m not promising you anything, kid).

There are some great anecdotes in here. This is a psalm book of creativity. It has high re-readability. I can see myself picking this up in the future and reading a chapter or two here and there.

There’s a lot of focus on grace and being humble. It talks a lot about creativity as a sort of spiritual practice, but still one where you have to expect to show up and work 9-5.

There’s one point where she talks about sitting around in her sweatpants, trying to write (I hear ya’) when she realizes, ‘Of course inspiration isn’t coming to me. Look at me. Would I come to me?’ and she then showers and puts on some perfume to sit down and work.

This is a woman who says she doesn’t wear perfume to dinner. But yet she’ll wear it to write.

I like that.

Thinking of picking up her book because you don’t feel good enough to create art? Get it! She’ll pat you on the back and comfort you for about two seconds before kicking you out the door and telling you to get to work. No sniveling, miserable artists in this studio. Amen to that.

Since ’tis the season, I don’t mind saying I think this would be a good Christmas gift for anyone creative in your life. Whether it’s an anti-capitalist first year art student or a seasoned advertising pro. Even your artsy kids. Get the knowledge in ’em while they’re young!

In this book, Gilbert is like a ranger in the creative wilderness. Telling us how to deal with fear, discover buried treasure in ourselves and have humility.

I still don’t know if I’ll ever read Eat, Pray, Love but I’m glad I read this!


I really really loved this book. It was those wonderful anecdotes that illustrated her concepts made it for me. That story of the poet who would have a moment of inspiration and scramble to write the poem down before it escaped her and how she would write it BACKWARDS, like she was literally pulling the poem back by the tail… amazing. For some reason that one little story from the book really resonated with me felt like a bigger metaphor.

I’m so glad you also enjoyed it, I also step in cautiously to the “inspirational self-help” category of books, but this one really was lovely.

I love that. The pulling the poem by the tail. And also her Tom Waits story! How in his older age he angsts less about making the work and instead is just like, “Okay art, get at me”.

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