20 things I learned from “Big Magic”
I read Liz Gilbert’s new book Big Magic in a few days. I wish I’d slowed down and read it more slowly because I enjoyed reading it so much. If you read my blog regularly you’ll know that I love discussing creativity: why we have it, where we get it, what we do with it. And this whole book is one big pep-talk on how to get shit done. Liz breaks down many myths, such as: Do I need to quit my job to write a bestseller? Do I need to go to a posh art school? Do I need to be fearless? Do I need to treat my manuscript like my baby? The answer to all of these is no. You’ll find out why in the book.
I wanted to break down some things I learned along the way. Then I urge you to buy the book and read the whole thing in full and savour every last bit of it. Big Magic was the permission slip I needed so reinforce what I already knew: that I will always need to live a creative life.
1. It’s OK to be scared
In one of the opening chapters Liz makes a list of all the reasons you are probably afraid of the work you are wanting to put into the world. A whole list which you will probably resonate with. Like “you’re afraid you have no talent” and “you’re afraid you’ll be criticised or rejected.” She then explains Why Fear is Boring. She also writes an open letter to Fear which is one of my favourite parts of the book.
2. Ideas are like magic
I never thought of it like this, but it’s so true. I love how philosophical Liz Gilbert gets in this book: “the creative process is both magical and magic. I believe our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas”. Her description of ideas just made me so excited about getting creative and gets my hands dirty. I love the way she describes letting ideas come to you – and welcoming in the idea with open arms.
3. Sometimes ideas go away
She explains that sometimes ideas just don’t work as much as you try to poke and prod them. It can also happen when you take breaks from projects, she explains it as this: “my idea had grown tired of waiting, and it had left me.” She explains that you have to enter into a contract with your project, and try not to miss the idea wanting to work with you.
4. Sometimes people do your idea first
“…you open up the newspaper and discover that somebody else has written your book, or directed your play, or released your record, or produced your movie, or founded your business….” Liz reflects on some of the responses she received about Eat, Pray, Love that people would come up to her and say “that book was supposed to be mine.” But Liz says that when the idea had come to her, she “did not let it out of her sight for a moment- not until the book was good and finished.” Moral of the story being: a) yes people might “take” your ideas or b) think you stole theirs BUT make sure you get there first by not letting your idea out of your sight. Own it.
5. Writing is only sometimes like fairy-dust
Liz goes into the process of writing. How sometimes it just comes out like a sprinkle of fairy dust and on those days you are very very lucky. But sometimes it is like pushing a boulder up a hill – and often you have to go through the motions of both.
6. Keep on creating
I found a chapter on how being labelled a “genius” can be crippling to creative people VERY interesting. Liz talks about Harper Lee never really writing again after To Kill A Mockingbird. Apparently when Lee was asked if she was writing another book and replied “When you’re at the top, there’s only one way to go.” Liz finds this really sad and says “I wish Harper Lee had kept writing” and goes on to explain why.
7. The power of writer buddies
Liz Gilbert writes about her relationship with other writer Ann Patchett and it’s lovely to hear about their relationship and how much they learn from eachother. Made me feel lucky to have mine.
8. You don’t need permission
This is such a lovely part of the book. Liz talks about permission and how you don’t need a permission slip from the principle’s office. You’re not at school any more. You can do it. Give yourself permission.
9. Define yourself
Liz wants you to declare your intent. You must stand up tall and say what you are. “You must feel entitled to stay in that conversation.” The word “entitled” is used often by Liz in the context of creativity. Although this word has a bad vibe to it because being “entitled” in other contexts is bad, you are allowed to feel entitled when it comes to your creativity. Feeling entitled to be able to write, just because you want to.
10. Don’t beat yourself up about being “original”
Yes, your idea has probably been done before. Most things have. Don’t let it stop you. “By the time Shakespeare was finished with his run on life, he’d pretty much covered every storyline there is, but that hasn’t stopped nearly five centuries of writers from exploring the same storylines over and over again.” I loved this bit.
11. You don’t need to go to “art school”
Liz Gilbert never got a degree in writing. She makes a strong case for why you shouldn’t be paranoid about not having an art degree. It shouldn’t hold you back.
12. Teachers are everywhere
I loved this bit: your teachers are everywhere. “They live on the shelves of your library, they live on the walls of museums, they live in recordings made decades ago.”
13. Don’t complain
Under the chapter called “Werner Herzog chimes in” – basically if you chose a creative career, the world doesn’t owe you anything. You have to make shit happen.
14. You can be a writer and have a day job
Liz talks about how she had many different day jobs while practicing her writing. Even after she got published she didn’t quit her day job. This chapter is mega interesting for anyone that romanticises about being a well-paid writer. She talks about how it all happened, but basically until Eat Pray Love she still worked. Most people write their books while working at a day job.
15. You will fail. And that’s OK
Hearing someone say it is inevitable that you will fail along the way is very refreshing.
16. Don’t be passionate, be curious
This chapter was brilliant, about why being passionate isn’t as powerful as staying curious.
17. No one cares about what you’re doing (in a good way)
It means you can carry on doing what you’re doing with no pressure.
18. Stop calling your book your “baby”
Liz Gilbert hates this analogy and her reasoning is very interesting indeed. (I love it when Liz gets a bit ranty.)
19. Have your own definition of success
I loved this chapter on what “success” is in a creative field. It should be about the work. Success is doing what you love. “When it’s for love, you will always do it anyhow.”
20. Some people are Martyrs and some are Tricksters
You know those people who criticise artists for everything? The trolls on Twitter who don’t let anyone play? They are Martyrs. And you know those ones who flit around creating things just for the fun of it? They are Tricksters. I know which one I’d rather be.
BUY THIS BOOK Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear! It changed my outlook on a lot of things.
“In love with Emma Gannon’s Ctrl Alt Delete. So funny & smart, and reminding me of some of my own cringe teen Internet exploits!”– Anna James, former literary editor of ELLE
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“Emma Gannon is a bright spark of light in the world. I seriously dig everything she makes”– Elizabeth Gilbert, bestselling author of Big Magic