My first book of 2019 will be Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. (Liz Gilbert of Eat Pray Love fame!)
3.9 stars on Goodreads
75% on Litsy
Green Light: to be determined, but very hyped
I wanted to start here because this book had been tossed out for recommended reading on one of my favorite podcasts a while back.
All I know about it is that Gilbert tells you how to get out of your own way and be creative. Creative people have these hang-ups and perhaps unrealistic expectations of what we want to produce.
From what I gather, all that kind of stuff is addressed here. It is a manual on getting over those self-imposed road blocks. I’m not sure how; I think there’s a little bit of her own story, a little religion, a little mediation, some practical advice. The reviews printed in the book made me tear up they were so lovely.
My creative hang-ups are odd. I used to actually think if I wasn’t writing while drinking, I’d never get out my full, raw truth. I’d be too scared while writing sober. I used to think if I didn’t have divine inspiration that nothing I did would be worthwhile. I had to wait for a muse of some kind.
This next one isn’t so weird; I know many who struggle here.
I think I’m a poser. There’s this looming fear that I’m not actually a creative person at all; I’m just pretending to be. First off, I’m a fraud because I’m not a professional creator. Second off, nothing I create is tangible anyway. I’m not painting or sculpting or making ‘art’. There’s no sewing, no staining, tapestry, canvas… Just words. It’s difficult to prove a creative soul if, at the end of the day, I don’t have anything to shine a light on or hand off.
That’s something I’ve been working on, trying to give myself a break.
I also don’t drink and write all that often anymore.
I am working on journaling daily instead of waiting around until I feel like writing.
I’m over the moon to see what new advice Liz has for me. Eat Pray Love is a book I visit every few years and I’ve gained so much from that tiny peek into Gilbert’s mind. If her travel writing is so inspiring and heartfelt, I can only imagine that this book, made specifically for the creative readewill be even more so.
Here’s hoping Big Magic is just the kind of magic I need in 2019! Check back later for my thoughts once I’ve finished.
Have a book on creativity to recommend? Leave a note in the comments!
Post Read Update:
Green Light Rating: Five out of five green lights.
Big Magic was the perfect book to begin my year of creative reading. It was just the kick in the pants I needed to hit the ground running into a year of productivity. Actually, it was more like a gentle pat on the bum and a guiding hand on my shoulder that pushed me slowly, but firmly into my best artistic life. Since finishing, I have been in an exponentially better mood and creative mindset. I feel more confident and ready to create. There’s been a few times when I doubted my creative calling, but that’s obviously more my deeply ingrained habit than anything Liz Gilbert, creative goddess though she is, could eliminate instantly. Thoughts like this are fewer and farther between now, and that’s a credit to this book. Big Magic has creative tips, inspiration, myths dispelled, and infinite tattoo ideas. I mean, yall, I wrote down a lot of tattoo ideas. I think I’ll just list them later on and never explain. If you read the book, let me know what tattoo ideas you walk away with. I guarantee you will have a few.
The tips in this book were phenomenal. Gilbert toes this thin, nearly invisible line between angering the reader with advice that’s too real and calling the reader to action with the same real advice. Anytime you get guidance, it can feel like a call out; especially if it’s accurate. One of the biggest themes in this book is: Do not play the victim. Stop complaining and just do your art; you may be afraid or poor or not feel up to it, but you must persist. I complain all the time. I complain about the Instagram algorithm, how I can’t drag my photos on WordPress exactly where I want them, how I work all day and have too much stress and don’t have the energy to create after a shit day like that. Give me a break man! My first instinct when people listen to the above tirade and then suggest I stop complaining is to tell them to go to hell. They don’t know my life and I have every right to feel slighted by the universe. However, when Liz told me to turn the complaining down a notch, I thought, “Well shit. I don’t have time to complain, I’ve got too much to creating to do!” I didn’t feel defensive or insulted. I realized that being so negative takes energy away from art that I want so badly to do. I didn’t feel attacked or called out because Gilbert has a wonderful way of giving advice that’s not high and mighty and doesn’t make the reader feel stupid for not thinking of it themselves.
Perhaps it doesn’t feel like she’s berating me because she doesn’t stop with the ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that’ advice – anyone can do that; she gives tips, tells you how. Gilbert shares things that actually worked for her. The advice I’ll be using the most is in the form of a change in perspective. Some things are simply out of my control, perspective and mindset are not.
The first real alternate mindset she talked about was to invite your fear along when you create. Most people stop when afraid; they stop talking or creating and shut down. Gilbert said to let that fear in. This is a fundamental shift in cognitive reasoning for me. I am afraid of everything, and I found a fear sister in Liz. She’s got whole pages of stories devoted to her irrational fears of everything too. She’s also got a two page spread of the reasons people are afraid to create. I was going to put the picture here, but I don’t want you to see how many reasons I’ve checked off.
When you put your soul out there, like your true soul, it is terrifying. When you create, you are basically saying, “This is my heart and my insides and everything I have within me placed lovingly into a piece of work that I am showing you.” Of course creators hope viewers will be gentle. We hope even more that they will love it (and by extension love us). I always wanted to be fearless and have that no-cares-here attitude. If you try too hard to not be scared though, that’s where all your energy is going; not to artwork, but to fighting fear. Gilbert talks about how unrealistic that is to have no fear. Fear is necessary; or else we’d all be jumping off cliffs and trying to hug bears on the reg. She talks about inviting fear along. Fear is a normal emotion just like love, anger, or excitement. It has a place in this world and in your life. It belongs on the journey; not sitting shot gun, certainly not driving, but somewhere in the back seat or the trunk.
The other idea that I firmly latched onto was about not needing permission to create. Feeling like you need the okay from someone or something may stem from fear as well, since permission is often tied to the outcome. If art is not well-received at the end, then it’s not art and that person isn’t an artist and should stop trying. By putting focus on the journey, not the outcome, we can shift our thinking from, “If this isn’t good, then I don’t deserve to create,” to, “Shit, I’m having fun here, I am enjoying every second of this, I don’t really mind if no one else sees it it likes it.” We need to create for the joy of creating. If you love it, do it! Don’t worry about making sure it’s good enough for any arbitrary measuring stick or any peanut gallery that has too high of expectations. You don’t even have to make sure it’s good enough for you. Focus on the process, the learning and growing that happens when you create. We are all part of this world; our simple existence is reason enough and permission enough to live creatively. We need no formal permission or invitation to this life. We are already here. More on this idea soon.
The best part of Big Magic for me was that it reminded me of a famous letter between creators that I read all the time. I have long had this obsession with a letter by the artist Sol LeWitt. He writes to a friend and fellow artist, Eva Hesse and gives her some tough love on being an artist. It’s a long, angry letter that’s got a real undercurrent of support. Eva is having doubts and Sol calls her out, shouts, tells her to basically get over herself and just do the work she needs to do. Liz says this to us, in a longer format, and much kinder, but the sentiment is the same. Maybe it’s just because I’m so intimately familiar with that letter that I see it everywhere, or maybe it’s truly advice that every artist needs to hear.
Gilbert reminded me of LeWitt and Hesse the first time when she stated that it is important to leave your art at some point, let it go. *Cue Frozen soundtrack, is this an old joke yet? I feel like it’s old… Sol says to Eva, “Once you do something, it is done and that is that. After a while you can see some are better than others, but also you can see what direction you are going.” No matter what you paint, write, or sculpt you will have to stop at some point. You cannot devote your entire life to one piece. You cannot go back and redo everything or anything after a certain point. Make it as great as you can and then complete it. Gilbert says that if you don’t love what you’ve made, if it is not your proudest piece, “Don’t rage at the gods above. All that is nothing but distraction. Grieve if you must but grieve efficiently. […] Find something else to work on – anything, immediately – and get at it.” Dwelling on past mistakes only serves as a detriment for future endeavors. This causes the thought to creep in that next one will be bad too. Dwelling on past successes only brings about the worry that the next one won’t be as good. Either way, best to leave it and move on. Also, like Sol said, you will grow and change and only by looking back on all work, both good and bad, will you be able to see that.
Another mirrored point of advice is to do art for art’s sake; for you and your soul, not for the world. This is similar to the point above about enjoying the process, not the result. That shift needs to happen first. Then you can let the pressures that art can bring fall away. Art is so subjective that it is impossible for everyone to get it or like it. As long as you like it, it is art and it is worthy of being called such. Also, art can be so moving that when people do love it, it can save lives. However, the reality that it will not save everyone’s life or even reach the person whose life it could save renders the idea of doing art for that purpose, to save the world folly. Sol says, “You are not responsible for the world, you are only responsible for your work. So do it.” Gilbert echoes this sentiment when she says that we are not required to save the world with our art. Furthermore, that heaviness will only cause too much strain and render any project too scary to complete. There’d be too much at stake. Create for yourself, because it is what you crave, it is what lights a fire in you. “Your own reasons to create are reason enough. […] Follow your fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart. The rest of it will take care of itself.”
I always felt like Gilbert was speaking straight to me. I needed those tips on fear and purpose. I needed to know that I didn’t need a permission slip. She does gives us one in the book, but she knew it wasn’t necessary. But, no one can say now that they don’t have one. I felt seen to my core when Gilbert laid out some commonly held beliefs and then smashed them in front of me. She talked about how you don’t actually have to be a drunk or have a terrible life to create. You can create from a place of happiness. The tortured artist is a romantic character, not a real person. People create beauty despite their sadness not because of it. You do not need to be sad first in order to be good at art. This was important. I usually drink when writing and feel that my best poetry has come when I’m sad. I thought that is how it worked, but it’s not. The smashed myth I clung to most dearly though, was that you don’t need a degree to do this. Long have I bemoaned that fact that I went to school for mere Communications and not WRITING. Not creative writing nor poetry nor anything else, just Communications. I say just, but I loved school. I loved my teachers, I loved my degree, but I always thought I needed a writing one. I took a lot of classes on a lot of subjects but didn’t feel like I left with the training needed to write a novel, book of poetry, book of essays, or short stories. Going back to school was always on my list. Always. How else could I write? Yet, here I am writing. Here you are reading. I’d love this blog to get a larger audience, of course I would. I’m going to do the writing anyway though. I like thinking about books, I like sharing books, and I like journaling. All that is here for me in this space – I am doing all that I like here right now. Without a degree. I don’t need any more school for this. I will get better the more I practice not the more money I spend on a classroom. That was really important for me, like you wouldn’t believe. Not only did I not need permission in the form of pressure to be the best writer or else not write, I also didn’t need permission in the form of another degree. Here I am without either of those things, living my best creative life.
Gilbert tells a wonderful story. She gives incredible advice. This whole book was a wakeup call, a guide, a friend, a map, and an escape. I have been recommending it wildly! It’s necessary reading, I think for any creative person. You will learn something, maybe a small tip on persistence, or attitude. You will laugh at a story perhaps about figure skating or reclusive poets. You will say, “Me too!” I assure you, you will. Many times. You will definitely leave with tattoo ideas. Mine are the following: jewels, treasure chest, gems, violets, jester hat, lobster. Yes, lobster.
I shall await confirmation. Let’s get lobster tattoos together. Text me.