Saturday, October 31, 2015

Big Magic

Elizabeth Gilbert says in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, "The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them."

This belief in the Universe and its connection with creativity is a recurring theme in this book on creativity and inspiration. Indeed, that's what she refers to as Big Magic.

She believes that "creativity is a force of enchantment--not entirely human in its origins." Also, "Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life form. ... And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner." She even provides "proof" for this belief - an idea that supposedly jumped from her to another writer because she didn't give it enough time.

A bit hard to take in? Same here. But who are we to judge what helps her write?

And to do her credit, the rest of the book is a bit more realistic. The book apparently grew out of her famous TED talk on creativity, and it's a compilation of her thoughts and research on the subject. It's divided into six parts, each dealing with one of the six ingredients she thinks essential to creative living - Courage, Enchantment, Permission, Persistence, Trust and Divinity.

Gilbert's idea of creative living goes beyond the usual "artistic pursuits" such as writing or painting. Do something, she says, ANYTHING that takes you out of the mundane and the ordinary. "By completely absorbing our attention for a short and magical spell, [creativity] can relieve us temporarily from the dreadful burden of being who we are."

Despite her belief that ideas have a life of their own, she places great importance on hard work. Creativity is a fickle partner, she says. If you keep waiting for creativity to show up before you do your thing, then you will end up waiting for ever. You need to work steadily, day after day, even when you would rather be doing anything else. In her own words, "I sit at my desk, and I work like a farmer, and that's how it gets done."

In fact, for her, the outcome is less important than the process itself.
What you produce is not necessarily always sacred, I realized, just because you think it's sacred. What is sacred is the time that you spend working on the project, and what that time does to expand your imagination, and what that expanded imagination does to transform your life.
Her language is, as usual, conversational and free-flowing. Each part of the book is divided into short chapters, and she includes plenty of inspirational stories to illustrate her point.

I think different parts will appeal to different people. The parts on Courage and Persistence, for example, appealed to me. The one on Enchantment (in which she talks about the whole Ideas as Disembodied Beings concept) - not so much.

But perhaps different parts will appeal to the same person at different points in the creative process as well. If you're feeling stuck, for example, and the ol' Muse just isn't making an appearance, you could probably go back and read some of the chapters in Persistence. But if you're stuck at the beginning, aware that you want to do something beyond your daily routine, but not sure what, then the chapter on Trust will help you out.

Overall, a short accessible how-to guide to creativity, and a good behind-the-scenes peek into the thoughts of a writer.
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