Divinity and Trust in Big Magic

This is the final part of the summary of Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.


Dr. Robin Kimmerer, a botanist and professor, believes that people have a reciprocal relationship with the earth which makes them co-creators of life. The earth wants to bring us gifts and asks for our calling in return. Most young writers don’t love to write and have a negative relationship with it. Even established authors have a dreary relationship with writing. Beautiful works of art don’t have to manifest through suffering, it can be a joyful process. Suffering can cause artists to die or become addicted to pain. An English teacher once told Elizabeth that because she hadn’t suffered enough in life, she won’t be able to write a great book.

Elizabeth noticed that some jazz musicians of the 1950s took up heroin to emulate their heroes while some pretended to be addicts. Some artists believe that if they let go of their suffering, addiction, and fears, they would lose their identity. Elizabeth refuses to go through suffering on purpose; she doesn’t seek it out. She doesn’t feel productive when she’s depressed or anxious and she’s seen plenty of suffering that she doesn’t want to invite into her life. Elizabeth always chooses love over suffering. Elizabeth knows that creativity will always be a part of her for some reason. She creates her work in a state of stubborn gladness.

People can either be tricksters or martyrs when it comes to creative energy. Tricksters trust themselves and other people. Tricksters know that they’re in a game with the universe. Elizabeth is friends with Brene Brown who finds writing painful but is great at storytelling. Brene figured out how to capture the natural tone of her stories by speaking them out loud to friends. Tricksters get their work done lightly and with joy just as Brown did when she figured out how to do her work easily.

She submitted a short story to Esquire magazine back in 1993 and was accepted but had to cut her story by thirty percent. The new version of her story was just as good as the long version, though Elizabeth was upset at having to cut down its length at first. The publication of this short story about cowboys allowed Elizabeth to get a literary agent who has been guiding her ever since. Dignity and passion are not always the best virtues for writers. Asking people to follow their passion can be useless advice since the definition of passion is an interest that’s obsessively chased, and some people don’t know what their passion is. Finding one’s curiosity is a lot more helpful and doesn’t require a drastic life change like passion often does. Elizabeth likes artists who are curious but not necessarily passionate. Everyone will fail eventually at some creative tasks. The ego is a bad master but a good server. Elizabeth said her soul doesn’t care about rewards, failure, criticism, and praise. Her soul only wants to wander, and she rarely encounters her ego.

If you fail at a task, Elizabeth encourages you to forgive yourself and treat yourself as a beginner even if you have decades of experience. Also, don’t dwell on failures; acknowledge them but move on. Do another creative project that you’re inspired by or something new and out of the box for you. This process of doing something new opens up channels in the mind and is called combinatory play. Elizabeth mentioned that the writer Clive James once failed so badly when producing a play that he lost a lot of money and friends. He was left with himself while feeling so depressed and incapable of doing anything except sitting on the couch. One day, his daughter asked him to transform her old bike. After painting the daughter’s bike red and painted stars on it, a lot of other kids started asking him to paint their bikes too. Then after repainting many bikes, James got his creative energy back and didn’t feel the sting of failure anymore.

Are you willing to bring forth your work to the world no matter the outcome? What would you create if failure and success are irrelevant? You should do work that you love more than your ego. Elizabeth heard the story at a party about a guy who was invited to a themed costume party of aristocrats and showed up wearing a homemade lobster costume by mistake. To his surprise, the costume worked out and people laughed at it but not at him. Elizabeth feels like her work is like a lobster costume in the middle of a fancy ball, but it’s important to show up anyhow and do what you can with what you’ve got.

My Feedback

I agree with Dr. Kimmerer and Elizabeth that creative work develops much better when there’s flow and inspiration. I think it’s important to work on producing creative pieces when one feels inspired at the moment because that’s when it will be easiest and take less time to complete. I also agree that finding one’s true passion can be hard, and I’ve struggled with finding it in the past. However, I’ve always had a broad range of interests that I liked to explore. I enjoyed reading Elizabeth’s story about the lobster costume because it reminds writers that even the best feel like impostors sometimes.


Bali gained a lot of tourists in the 1960s, and many visitors were intrigued by the sacred dances. There came a point in time when the sacred temples became overcrowded with tourists who wanted to see the sacred dance. Then a Balinese person had the idea to bring the dancers to the tourists at resorts; some were happy about this change while other Westerners thought this was sacrilege since sacred dances should not be performed outside of a temple. Some high-minded Westerners tried to explain this to a Balinese priest, but he didn’t fully understand that idea since there’s no real difference between the holy and the unholy in Balinese culture. So the priests and masters decided to come up with a regular dance to avoid upsetting the Westerners. The issue was that over time these “divinity free” dances started to become more divine than the original divine dances performed at temples. The Balinese priests noticed this and decided to add the non-divine dances to the temple as prayer dances which replaced the original holy dances, so the original holy dances became meaningless. Most people were happy with these changes except for the critical Westerners who couldn’t tell the difference between the holy and unholy, the right from the wrong. It all blended into one whole.

The divine takes those who are playful seriously.

– Alina






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