Summary of Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Entitlement

Entitlement is the belief that one is allowed to here and have a vision. This sense of belonging is a divine force that allows one to step outside of oneself and have a bigger perspective, bigger than one’s doubts and limitations. I think this represents a connection to one’s higher self, the self that lives in a world without limitations. The arrogance of belonging allows people to proclaim they are still alive and here. Elizabeth decided that she won’t stop creating no matter how insecure or anxious she got; she kept reminding herself that she was a writer daily.

Originality vs. Authenticity

Everything has already been done before; even the storylines used by Shakespeare were already cliches when he wrote his plays. Elizabeth is more interested in authenticity than originality.

This section reminds me of a book I read by Hollis in which she described how everything has been done before even creative things like wearing white jeans or winged eyeliner. However, we all add our own unique touch to creative trends and make them our own by being authentic so creativity doesn’t just apply to writing.

Motives

It’s better to make art to save yourself rather than others. Elizabeth says that she wrote Eat Pray Love to save herself, not to save others, but the book ended up helping a lot of people. Elizabeth encourages readers to follow and trust their fascinations and obsessions.

Schooling

Elizabeth doesn’t believe that writers need an advanced degree. She has a BA from NYU. If you can’t afford to go to an art school, Elizabeth says it’s best not to get oneself into debt. A lot of brilliant artists don’t have any art degrees.

Try This Instead

Learn from the world around you rather than from a textbook. Both young and old individuals should show their unique perspectives of life through creativity. People are inherently creative. You don’t need to legitimize your creativity because are already creative by nature.

Your Teachers

You can find teachers anywhere and they don’t have to be alive or even be real-life teachers. They can be fictional. It’s completely up to you to bring your ideas to life and how much you want to create; the teachers won’t be there to support their students eventfully after graduation. Elizabeth decided that she was going to live a very long time so she didn’t mind getting rejection letters for her work; she just kept sending out more queries. She planned to keep writing for life and know that some people who were going to reject her in the future weren’t even born yet. Elizabeth worked many jobs and was happy to keep writing even if she wasn’t making anything from her creative work initially. She saved up all her money to travel so she can gather ideas, and bought her clothes at thrift shops. She didn’t have any connections nor knew many people who even had jobs. Elizabeth gathered a group of friends who wanted to be writers as well, and they read each other’s work for many years.

Werner Herzog Chimes In

Werner, a famous filmmaker, reminded Elizabeth’s Italian filmmaker friend that the world doesn’t owe him a living and the world doesn’t have to watch his films. The friend wrote a letter to him and Werner reminded the friend about self-respect and the power of creation even if no one is watching. Werner basically gave the friend permission to keep creating films. I’ve always realized that the world doesn’t owe artists anything, but people are attracted to positive energy so certain works of art resonate highly with others. I do believe there is an audience out there for almost any type of artist.

A Trick

Elizabeth gives four pieces of advice: Stop complaining, creation is not easy, no one listens to those who complain, and complaining dampens creativity. She enjoys her creativity not to rebel, not to prove anything, nor for cathartic reasons. Elizabeth didn’t expect many people to read her book, but it ended up being divisive because people projected their unhealed traumas onto her life story. She received a lot of hate mail as well as fan mail from adoring fans after she wrote Eat Pray Love. She knows she can’t control what others think of her work and believes it’s not her job to do so.

Radiation Canaries’

Elizabeth believes every job is important, and artists aren’t any more important than other types of professionals. If there is room for art in society, it means people aren’t just focused on survival but have space for imagination. Creativity is like a gift or like frosting.

High Stakes vs. Low Stakes

In some countries such as Iran and North Korea, it could be dangerous to be creative, especially for journalists who present an alternate point of view. However, in much of the Western World, the stakes for creative expression are very low.

Tom Waits Chimes In

Many years ago, Elizabeth interviewed a musician named Tom and found out he writes new songs by waiting for them to come to mind for him. If they don’t, he lets them go freely. Waits was inspired by the carefree creativity of his kids and how easily they create songs. Waits compares creativity to making jewelry.

The Central Paradox

Art is paradoxical in that it’s meaningless and meaningful at the same time.

Persistence

When she was a teen, Elizabeth took a vow to keep writing forever. Elizabeth met a woman named Winifred at her 90th birthday party, and she remembers her as the most alive woman she’s ever met. Winifred was an expert on Mesopotamia, but she didn’t start studying the subject until she was 80 years old. This shows that one is never too old to start a creative endeavor. Elizabeth experienced many emotional blocks and limiting beliefs with her creative projects, but she kept going. She wanted to work with inspiration and engage with it.

She also had a friend who had a bad attitude about his creative work; he desperately wanted to get published and didn’t want to waste time sitting around. Learning to deal with frustration and rejection is part of being an artist or creator. One has to choose work that one is passionate enough about to endure the negative aspects of the job. Elizabeth has always kept her day job, even after she got published. Elizabeth believes that some authors don’t believe they are legitimate until they make a living with their art, but she has never wanted to burden her creativity so she kept her job. She only quit her job after her 4th book, Eat Pray Love, became successful. She believed it’s best not to fantasize about someone who will take care of your trivial concerns so you could live in a creative cocoon. She encourages financially strained creators to get a job. Even Herman Melville struggled to find the time to pen Moby-Dick and dreamed of long periods in which he could write.

Elizabeth once met a man in India whose only prized procession was an ox which he decorated. She encourages people to “paint their ox” which is a metaphor for embellishing your most prized procession with whatever materials you have. If creativity was dependent on money, then the super rich would be the most creative people but yet, they’re not. Even the most successful artists complain that they don’t have enough time to do their work peacefully. Creativity is made of courage, persistence, permission, trust, and enchantment which is available to everyone who looks deep inside themselves. A British novelist/ essaying named Tristram Shandy said he dresses up in fine attire and wears it at home to attract inspiration. Elizabeth uses the same trick to stir up creativity; she does her hair and makeup, wears perfume, and clears the clutter. She has an affair with creativity. This creative affair helps her feel unblocked every time she struggles to write. Some people are so scared their work won’t be perfect that they never begin at anything. Laziness and perfectionism might be the two worst qualities in a writer according to Robert Stone. Perfectionism is often disguised as a high fashion version of fear. Men often take leaps of faith and apply to jobs they’re under-qualified for, but women hold themselves back in many cases until they’re perfectly ready. Elizabeth believes everyone needs a creative outlet where they can live outside of their societal roles and forget about their failures and background. By the time people reach their 70s, they realize that no one was thinking of them in the first place; most people are too preoccupied with themselves. The only thing artists can control is how hard they work. Luck and talent can’t be controlled. I agree with Elizabeth that only the amount of work done can be controlled to some extent.

Creative fields rarely provide artists with financial stability so Elizabeth discourages people from viewing creativity as a career field but rather it should be pursued for the love of it. Elizabeth encourages people to view creativity as a vocation.

She once lived in Wyoming and met a master of elk-calling, a guy who imitated elk mating calls, and went to the woods with a friend while playing the tape of the elk calls. At first, she thought this elk master and the sounds were hilarious until she encountered a real elk who heard the sounds of the tape. Her friend threw out the boom box as far as he could and the elk departed. Elizabeth tried to publish this story but got rejected, however, it was the best rejection letter she got since it came with a nice personal note on the bottom. She was very happy about this letter; it felt like she won the Pulitzer prize since the editor himself wrote it. What’s amazing is that a few years later when Elizabeth had an agent she was able to get her elk short story published in the very magazine that rejected her! I was happy to hear that her short story finally got published. It sounded spiritual to me 🙂

Alina

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