Summary of Big Magic Elizabeth Gilbert

Part 1. Courage

Elizabeth took the same job as a poet named Jack Gilbert in 2005 while at work in Tennessee. The poet would frequently disappear after the publication of a poetry collection that the world had fallen in love with. Jack was a great poet and teacher, and he encouraged his students to be brave and courageous. He told a girl taking his class to have the courage to bring forth the treasures within.

Elizabeth Gilbert believes that everyone has jewels within and going on a hunt for those jewels inside leads to an enchanted life. The surprise of that hunt is what she calls “Big Magic.” Creative living is a life driven by curiosity rather than fear.

Elizabeth’s friend, Susan, took up figure skating again after quitting twenty-five years ago, and she began to feel more alive and joyful again. It helped Susan feel beautiful and transcendent. Creativity can be very scary for a lot of people. Here are some types of creative fears:

  • fear of lacking talent, time, discipline, or finances
  • fear of criticism, obscurity, rejection, misunderstanding, or impostor syndrome
  • fear of not being as good as others and of being too young/too old

And these fears are not limited to these. There are many more out there. Elizabeth has always been a frightened child. During adolescence, Elizabeth decided she didn’t want to fight for her own limitations anymore. She also realized her fear is boring and it prevented her from living life fully.

One can be brave but not fearless necessarily. Fear protects people from doing stupid things and getting in trouble, but creativity requires bravery. Elizabeth says that fear and creativity are linked together so whatever happens to fear affects creativity. Elizabeth even has a speech prepared for her fear since it follows her around. You have great things to uncover within yourself and you don’t have all the time in the world. Your life is precious so get used to traveling with fear so you can think big.

My analysis and take-away:

It says in the Gospel of Thomas that “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth from within you will save you, what you do not bring forth from within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” This applies to creativity in that there are lots of treasures within you to be unearthed. This also applies to the next chapter and the genius within that wants to emerge. Go out there and do what makes you feel bold and alive. Elizabeth’s mother was tough and wouldn’t take her sensitivity drama. I’ve been wanting to take a road trip myself, literally, so the metaphor Elizabeth uses really speaks to me in the speech she writes to her fear as it goes along with her on the trip.

Part. 2 Enchantment

Elizabeth was looking for her next creative ideas after penning Eat Pray Love. She felt inspired after her sweetheart, Felipe, told her about a 1960’s highway project that got swallowed by the Amazon rain forest a few months after heavy rains. Elizabeth felt inspired after hearing that story. She thinks creativity is magical and magic. Ideas have consciousness, and they look for humans that can be used as channels of expression. An idea will visit a person a few times or even many times for years if the person is a willing channel for its expression.

According to Elizabeth, the Tormented Artist type or creative suffering is a common creative contract in the western world. The tormented artist may lead to a short life of creative glamour. A healthier way to go about being creative is by partnering with creativity instead of battling it and by creating healthier relationships with others and with oneself.

Elizabeth was inspired to write a novel about Brazil in the 1960s. However, Elizabeth got sidetracked when Felipe was detained at the border and would not be allowed to stay in America unless the pair got married. Elizabeth eventually wrote a book called Committed which took away time from writing the book about Brazil. When she finally sat down to write her novel two years later, she found the essence of her story gone and was no longer inspired to write it. Elizabeth decided to let go of the old idea and catch a new one.

Just as the inspiration for her old idea was extinguished, Elizabeth met the writer Ann Patchett who seemed meek but was inspiring and strong when she gave her speech. Ann and Elizabeth became good friends and wrote letters to each other to keep in touch since they lived in different states. When they met for the second time, they both realized that they had the same idea for a novel about the Amazon jungle. Elizabeth thought it was Big Magic and didn’t think Ann stole her idea. This incident made Elizabeth believe that ideas are alive and seek to emerge through someone. Ideas make themselves manifest in those who are ready, open, and fast enough to collaborate with the idea. Elizabeth said that she has lost count of the number of people who said they would have written Eat Pray Love someday. Elizabeth has lost a lot of her ideas and found someone else out there had already taken on her ideas. For example, Elizabeth missed the opportunity to do a show or a creative project with the Osbournes.

Elizabeth realized that she experienced something called multiple discovery with Ann because the two came up with the same idea at the same time, independently. Multiple discoveries happen all the time in society. Elizabeth says that most of her creativity doesn’t come from Big Magic but from disciplined labor. Romans didn’t believe that gifted people were geniuses but that they had a genius which means a spiritual guide or a state of flow. During the Renaissance, creativity was credited to or blamed on the artists, and artists felt the weight of this transfer of creativity from the divine to the mortal. Elizabeth points out the dangers of competing with yourself and others. She encourages creators to make art with no expectations. She also wishes that Harper Lee kept writing. Elizabeth says her genius doesn’t keep a set schedule. Elizabeth says she once dreamed up a short story and it felt like Big Magic to her. Her genius shows up when it knows she’s serious about her work and consistently shows up. Elizabeth knows she wants to spend her days collaborating with creativity.

My Take-away:

I love how Elizabeth uses personification to illustrate fear and ideas that want to be made manifest. She’s had many unusual creative synchronizations in her life, and is this possible for others as long as they are open and receptive. I learned a lot about creativity during the Renaissance and ancient Roman times in this chapter.

-Alina

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