I just finished a book that will change my life. Seriously.
Back in 2009 I read Eat Pray Love and yes, I proclaimed that it was a life-changing book. This was not a lie, people! The way Gilbert wrote about her coming-of-a-certain-age tale was really beautiful and touching, and it was one of those books I just couldn’t put down.
And now, it has met its match in Gilbert’s latest release, Big Magic.
Firstly, a little context. I’ve recently been feeling a little creatively blocked, and not through anyones fault but my own. It’s a common turn of events: I get overly focused on my work, slowly but surely start putting aside my personal creative endeavours, begin to lose traction and become increasingly further from my goal (and habit), and then hang around bemoaning the fact that I have no creative expression. I could probably set my watch to it (if I wore one — FitBit Flex all the way, baby!).
I heard Big Magic being mentioned in a few YouTube videos that I happen to watch, and I think I also saw it online. Whatever it was, it made its way into my consciousness and began to lay eggs there. That sounds sort of gross — I should have said it began to put down roots there. But let’s move on.
So the routine I described above does have some perks: most weekends we make our way to Jason’s Food Hall, select a few delightful-looking pastries, take a seat at the curved bench and slowly sip on a delicious black coffee. As far as routines go, it’s a pretty sweet one. From there, we usually make our way upwards, towards the Times bookstore. And it is here, dear readers, that I found Big Magic.
First things first: the cover is gorgeous. It’s what really pushed me over the edge, if I’m honest. I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by it’s cover, but that’s sort of what I did. I mean, I knew about the book already, and it looked great, but dang… that’s one stunning cover.
I actually felt almost guilty purchasing the paperback version, because books are quite expensive here in Malaysia. But Gav encouraged me to get it, as I was clearly drawn to it, and I’m so glad I did.
So now that I’ve discussed the cover at length, I suppose you would like to hear about the premise of the the book? Well, it’s Gilbert’s take on creativity — in all its forms. I would say it’s a cross between a self-help book (which it explicitly says it is not) and a beautiful story, with personal anecdotes and opinions woven seamlessly throughout the piece.
To start with, Gilbert is a fantastic writer. I think the hooplah around Eat Pray Love both helped and hindered her career: helped, in an obviou$ way; hindered, by pigeonholing her into a very narrow genre, and lambasting her for painting too stereotypical a portrait of the countries and people she visited (among other things). I get it; I’m a white girl too. But there’s a tad more to it.
In fact, Gilbert openly acknowledges the pressure put on her after the release of her dizzyingly successful memoir, and how it can lead to crushing self-doubt and anxiety around creating another piece of work. She references Harper Lee, who, after writing To Kill a Mockingbird, was quoted as saying, “When you’re at the top, there’s only one way to go.”
But Gilbert is having none of that. This book is a love letter to the simple act of creation, in any form, for the pure joy it brings us. Gilbert describes creativity as an intelligent, billion-years-old life force that genuinely wants to express itself through us, and which is constantly in a state of flux and movement.
She recounts a particularly lovely story of coming up with an idea for a book, working on it for a few years and then setting it aside — and then having it reappear, in a slightly different form but with the same essence, in someone else’s life. It’s the sort of stuff you can’t make up — and which suggests that creativity indeed has a playful sense of humour.
I also love how Gilbert talks about the ridiculousness of “high” and “low” art. All art is art, she says, and we shouldn’t waste time nitpicking between difference accepted forms of creation, and instead just focus on expressing ourselves in whichever way resonates. This particular quote summed it up (and tickled my fancy):
“The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying.”
Throughout the book, Gilbert is gently veering us away from the “unstable artist” archetype and shedding light on the beauty and joy to be found in creativity. She pooh-pooh’s the idea that art is suffering; instead, she suggests heeding this as a warning that something is awry. Instead, she views art and creativity as both incredibly meaningful and ultimately meaningless (in the best possible way) — so you may as well enjoy it.
The topic of self-confidence is artfully broached. Gilbert also champions the act of putting work out there even before you think it’s “ready” — and that women are much more likely to suffer from this second-guessing than are men. I know I have been guilty of this, and often fuss over my writing before showing it to anyone… when sometimes, you just need to start with something and work from there.
Gilbert also explains how creativity loves motion, and the simple act of doing anything — even if it’s not what you think you should be doing, or even what you think you’re good at — can lead you down an unexpected path, one step at a time bringing you closer to a wonderful discovery.
All in all, Gilbert paints a down-to-earth, earnest portrait of creativity, and implores us to not take it too seriously (so that we can enjoy it all the more). I love her honest, grounded style — you can really hear her voice in your head throughout the whole book… and to write like that is a real gift.
This grand search for creativity, then, ultimately comes down to being curious, following any inklings you may have, and trusting that the universe wants you to create beautiful art — whatever that means to you. That’s about it. And if haters gonna hate, Gilbert has these wise words:
“Just smile sweetly and suggest — as politely as you possibly can — that they go make their own fucking art.
“Then stubbornly continue making yours.”
Honestly, Big Magic brought me so much joy and is the kind of book I just wish everyone would read. I cannot recommend it highly enough (and I’m already secretly dying to read it again).
Have you read Big Magic? Let me know in the comments!