Big Magic: Summary Review & Takeaways
This is a summary review of Big Magic containing key details about the book.
What is Big Magic About?
Big Magic encourages readers to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of them. The book offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration.
Who is the Author of Big Magic?
Elizabeth Gilbert is the New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love, as well as the short story collection, Pilgrims—a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway Award, and winner of the 1999 John C. Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares.
What are the main summary points of Big Magic?
Here are some key summary points from the book:
- Instead of “following your passions”, follow your curiosity. Living creatively is all about saying yes to your curiosity.
- Don’t force Big Magic. Inspiration comes and goes. However, you just can’t sit around and wait for inspiration to hit. You must keep steadily producing in order to convince your genius you’re worth its time.
- As human beings, we are meant to create.
- If something makes you feel brave and bold, gives you butterflies in your tummy, and excites your curiosity, then you know you’re on the right creative path for you.
- Stand up to your inner voice to get out of your creative rut. Get comfortable with your fears and let them join you on the road to creativity. They can be your ally, they can serve as a reminder for the things you care about.
- Inspiration can be seen as a force that goes looking for the right creator to help bring an idea to life. You want to grab that inspiration before it’s too late. If you don’t, the creative idea will eventually float on to another person who is willing to make it a reality.
- Embrace the unknown. A creative life is always going to be an uncertain life
- Let go of attachment to financial results. Forcing your art to pay for the bills will kill creativity. Instead, create for yourself. “Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart.”
- Take ongoing action to open the creative channel. Inspiration will always be drawn to motion.
- You don’t need permission. No one is going to give you permission but yourself. You must believe that you are entitled to create, no matter the number of rejections or obstacles you face.
- You're not required to save the world with your creativity. Your creative goal doesn’t have to be originality, authenticity works just as well.
- Don't take creativity seriously. Creativity doesn't mean you have to become an artist or a designer, you also don't need to earn money from it, you just need to enjoy it. So rather than trying to prove yourself as a serious professional artist, be playful.
- You will fail, therefore, measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures…
- Quit your complaining. Complaining gets you nowhere. Just do the work.
- Procrastination and perfection are just fear in disguise. “Perfection is fear dressed up in a mink coat and heels.“
- Be a trickster, not a martyr. Too often creators fall into the trap of thinking they must suffer for their art.
- You must be willing to take risks if you want to live a creative existence. But if you’re going to gamble, know that you’re gambling.
- It’s never too late to start creating. “if you're alive, you're a creative person.”
- The Central Paradox: Art is absolutely meaningless, but also deeply meaningful and sacred. “Only when we’re at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us”
- Handling frustration is fundamental for the creative process. “Frustration is not an interruption of the process, frustration is the process”
What are key takeaways from Big Magic?
Takeaway #1 Don't Let Fear Stop Your Creativity
Are you living up to your full creative potential or have you let fear take over? More than likely your education and career stemmed your curiosity and creative flow or your disappointment at creating artwork that you didn't deem good enough put a stop to your creative playtime. You don't have to take creativity seriously, creativity doesn't mean you have to become an artist or a designer, it doesn't need to take over from your day job, you don't need to be good at it, you don't need to have exhibitions, you don't need to earn money from it, you just need to enjoy it! Being creative means doing something that you enjoy, that makes you feel bold or brave and brings you excitement and can range from arts and crafts to baking, writing, even rock climbing. It's never too late to try something new, something that sparks your curiosity, just be sure not to let fear hold you back from trying it and continuing, your fears should coexist with your creativity.
Takeaway #2 Grab Ideas and Run With Them
Ideas are magical and if you don't grab them when they come along, someone else will. Don't dismiss that idea you had because you're too busy or because it's too different, allow it to take shape and grab it, before someone else runs with it and you end up regretting that you didn't try! Maybe you have the opposite problem, so many ideas but you're never able to follow through and complete any of them despite several attempts. In this instance you need to get out of your own way, don't let your inner voice whisper that you're not good enough or that this is a waste of time, go with it anyway and see what happens – If you get rejected, don't take it personally, your creativity should fulfill you first and others second.
Takeaway #3 Don't Try To Be Original – Just Be You
The thought of creating something original is enough to halt all of us in our creative tracks so don't even try, just be you – Share your magic, your story, your power, your creativity and know that being you is enough. When you have a great new idea, don't Google it to see if anyone else is doing it because you'll be crestfallen to find they are, just run with the idea anyway and make it your own, be unoriginal but heartfelt and never get caught up trying to be perfect as perfectionism is poisonous to creativity.
What are key lessons from Big Magic
Lesson #1. Don’t Let Fear Stop You From Living a Creative Life
Many of us grew up being told that getting a good education and landing a serious job were the keys to happiness. Additionally, many of us experienced failure at creating art. This has led to countless creative spirits not living up to their full potential.
Deciding to pursue your creativity now can feel scary, but it shouldn’t as living creatively doesn’t mean a life of poverty and struggle, nor dedicating your mind, body, and soul to your craft, it just means living a life that’s led by curiosity instead of fear. Surely you can do that?
From painting to poetry, cooking to rock climbing there are no rules on what activity is or isn’t classed as creative Others might see your creative pursuit as crazy but if it makes you feel brave and bold, gives you butterflies in your tummy, and excites your curiosity you know you’re on the right creative path for you.
Have an idea of what your creative passion might be but still feel reluctant to do what it is you love? Perhaps you think you’re not good enough, that you’ve left it too long or too late, that there’s ‘no point’, that you don’t have enough time or money, or that no one will care what you have to say? That’s fear talking. Your brain is stopping you from doing what you really want to do.
Letting go of your fears is far easier said than done, that’s why Elizabeth recommends getting comfortable with your fears, letting them join you on the road to creativity as they can remind you of the things you care about. You see, when you live a creative life, your passions can peacefully coexist with your fears.
Lesson #2. Grab Ideas and Run With Them Before It’s Too Late
Ideas are mystical things that live, breathe, and grow around us, existing so that someone out there in the world can realize them. You’re likely familiar with the feeling you get when an idea comes to you, it doesn’t let go but you keep pushing it to one side thinking ‘later’, ‘one day’, ‘not now’. It’s really important that you accept and grab that idea before it’s too late - Turn the TV off, turn your phone off, shelve the items on your to do list and work on the idea. If you don’t, the idea will eventually float on to another person who is willing to make it a reality.
Elizabeth saw this problem happen with a friend and fellow author, let’s call her Helen. Inspired by her Brazilian husband, Helen had the idea of writing a novel set in the Amazon jungle but for one reason or another, the idea didn’t come to fruition. At this time, Helen became friends with author Ann Patchett. Funnily enough, Ann had started to write a novel set in the Amazon with the storyline almost identical to Helen’s idea. Both writers were stunned having not spoken to each other never mind swapping ideas. They came to the conclusion, as did Elizabeth, that the idea simply drifted on until it found someone receptive to making it a reality.
Lesson #3. Create No Matter How Scared You Are Of Failing
Struggle to get started but don’t finish your creative idea? The problem is most likely you as creatives are well known for being their own worst enemy, letting their inner voice that tells them ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘it was a silly idea’ take hold.
Stand up to your inner voice to get out of your creative rut - Say out loud ‘I am a writer’ or ‘I am a talented artist’ and let yourself and the world know that you’re following your passion. Always remember, you are entitled to create so give yourself permission to do so, nothing can stop you, not even rejection which, though a bitter pill to swallow, you should never take personally since the people judging your work are only human and what they deem bad one day, they might deem great the next as Elizabeth found out first hand. She had sent a piece off to a magazine early on in her career, before she had any work published, and was rejected by the editor-in-chief who said the story was good but fell short. Years later, after Elizabeth had some bestsellers under her belt, her agent sent the same story to the same magazine - The same editor-in-chief said that the story was brilliant and that it reminded her of something special!!
Your creative goal doesn’t have to be originality, authenticity works just as well. After all, your art is a cathartic way of serving yourself, not your critics and if it helps you to process your problems or concerns, isn’t that all that matters? Remember the saying ‘Don’t try to be someone you’re not’, the same thing applies to your creativity - be you, create for you, and the recognition will follow if it’s meant to be.
Lesson #4. Don’t Take Creativity Seriously.
Creatives often struggle with the need to be taken seriously, many getting academic qualifications for this reason. But you don’t need a degree to do what you love, you just need life experience. For example, Elizabeth Gilbert used her life experience to write her bestselling novel Eat, Pray, Love - Her story of finding joy after divorce found through her life experiences rather than a classroom.
So get out in the world, and rather than trying to prove yourself as a serious professional artist, be playful. Whether you’re creating art that’s amusing, angry, intimate, comforting or downright strange, know that it’s absolutely fine for some people to hate what you do as others will love it.
Put simply, you don't have to take creativity seriously, creativity doesn't mean you have to become an artist or a designer, it doesn't need to take over from your day job, you don't need to be good at it, you don't need to have exhibitions, you don't need to earn money from it, you just need to enjoy it! Being creative means doing something that you enjoy, that makes you feel bold or brave and brings you excitement and can range from arts and crafts to baking, writing, even rock climbing. It's never too late to try something new, something that sparks your curiosity, just be sure not to let fear hold you back from trying it and continuing, your fears should coexist with your creativity.
Lesson #5. Forcing Your Art To Pay Your Rent Will Kill Your Creativity
Artists who enjoy a whimsical, carefree life full of parties with no ‘proper’ job is a fantasy. When artist’s try to live out this fantasy they kill their own creativity since they have to rely on their art to pay the bills. There’s an alternative way - Have an affair with your art by keeping your day job just like authors Toni Morrison and J. K. Rowling did with their writing. This isn’t a cop-out, and doesn’t mean you’re not committed to your art; rather, it can inspire more passion in your creative pursuits as you’ll need to ‘steal away’ from your everyday life for a couple of hours to give yourself the time, and peace, to create. This ‘escape time’ can become something you look forward to and something that keeps you inspired when daily life becomes a drag. By working on your craft this way, you also give yourself a safety net - nothing is riding on you making a success of your art, you have nothing to lose, therefore there are no high expectations that suck your creativity dry through fear of failure.
As Elizabeth mentions in Big Magic: “To yell at your creativity, saying, “You must earn money for me!” is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that."
Lesson #6. Adopt The Mindset Of The Trickster Not The Martyr
Oscar Wilde once said “the artistic life is a long, lovely suicide.” He believed that to live an authentic creative life there must be self-inflicted suffering and though many artists still today martyr themselves for their creative passion, it doesn’t have to be this way.
Take off the martyr hat and play the part of the trickster instead - Unlike the martyr who adheres rigidly to his principles no matter what, the trickster is light hearted and able to adapt and change no matter what comes up.
Brené Brown learned the trickster’s valuable ways by allowing trust to enter into her writing process when she was struggling with the martyr’s way. She had always found storytelling easy but when it came to writing a novel, she found it a painful process. Deciding to give writing the novel one last try using the trickster’s way, she asked 2 colleagues to listen to her and take notes as she told the stories that would feature in her book. Once she had finished, she took the notes which featured the most important details off and went off to her laptop to turn the notes into stories. She had finally freed herself from agonizing over the perfect plotline and was able to write faster, experiencing fewer writing blocks which meant she could finally begin the creative art of storytelling once more.
How can you make your craft enjoyable again rather than a difficult chore that needs completing?
- Print length: 288 Pages
- Audiobook: 5 hrs and 6 mins
- Genre: Nonfiction, Self Help, Writing
What are the chapters in Big Magic?
Chapter One - Courage
Chapter Two - Enchantment
Chapter Three - Permission
Chapter Four - Persistence
Chapter Five - Trust
Chapter Six - Divinity
What are good quotes from Big Magic?
"The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them... So this, I believe, is the central question upon which all creative living hinges: Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?"
"You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures... What do you love doing so much that the words failure and success essentially become irrelevant?"
"A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself."
"It’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at."
"You're not required to save the world with your creativity. Your art not only doesn't have to be original, in other words, it also doesn't have to be important. For example, whenever anyone tells me that they want to write a book in order to help other people I always think 'Oh, please don't. Please don't try to help me.' I mean it's very kind of you to help people, but please don't make it your sole creative motive because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls... "
"to yell at your creativity, saying, “You must earn money for me!” is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that."
"We all spend our twenties and thirties trying so hard to be perfect, because we’re so worried about what people will think of us. Then we get into our forties and fifties, and we finally start to be free, because we decide that we don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of us. But you won’t be completely free until you reach your sixties and seventies, when you finally realize this liberating truth—nobody was ever thinking about you, anyhow."
"perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat"
"Creativity is sacred, and it is not sacred. What we make matters enormously, and it doesn’t matter at all. We toil alone, and we are accompanied by spirits. We are terrified, and we are brave. Art is a crushing chore and a wonderful privilege. Only when we are at our most playful can divinity finally get serious with us. Make space for all these paradoxes to be equally true inside your soul, and I promise—you can make anything. So please calm down now and get back to work, okay? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes."
"Own your disappointment, acknowledge it for what it is, and move on."
"If you’re alive, you’re a creative person."
"You can clear out whatever obstacles are preventing you from living your most creative life, with the simple understanding that whatever is bad for you is probably also bad for your work."
― Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
What do critics say?
Here's what one of the prominent reviewers had to say about the book: “Elizabeth Gilbert is my new spirit animal… I have profoundly changed my approach to creating since I read this book." — Huffington Post
* The summary points above have been concluded from the book and other public sources. The editor of this summary review made every effort to maintain information accuracy, including any published quotes, chapters, or takeaways
Tal Gur is an author, founder, and impact-driven entrepreneur at heart. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living, has led him to found Elevate Society.