Notes from Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Rating: 5/10
Finished: 03/2017
Related Books: The War of Art.
Buy the book on Amazon here / See all my lessons from books and smart people HERE

The Short Summary of Big Magic – Creative Living Beyond Fear

Self-help meets spirituality in this book about creative living. It was a bit too airy-fairy for me at times, as I prefer non-fiction books with more actionable takeaways. That being said, it certainly contains some nuggets of gold that lends themselves to further contemplation. I recommend it for people who are (or want to be) in touch with their spiritual, creative side – not so much for pure tactical advice junkies.

Lessons learned

“I cannot know what I think until I write about it.” –Joan Didion.

The older I get, the less impressed I get by originality. These days, I’m far more moved by authenticity.

“Don’t ask how, but WHY you should write poetry – because of delight.” –Jack Gilbert, Poet.

If I am not actively creating something, then I’m probably actively destroying something, like myself, a relationship or my own peace of mind.

If you’re supporting yourself financially, and not bothering anyone else, you’re free to do whatever you want with your life.

I’ve come to understand what part of me is suffering when I fail: It’s just my ego.

The [creative] work wants to made, and it wants to be made through you.

Failure has a function: it asks you whether you really want to go on making things.

Nobody’s thinking about you. We spend our 20s and 30s trying to be perfect because we worry what people will think of us. In our 40s and 50s, we’re starting to get 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 60s and 70s, and realise this liberating truth: Nobody was ever thinking about you. They weren’t, they aren’t, they never were, they never will be. People are mostly just thinking about themselves.

Live a life more strongly driven by curiosity than fear.

My fear is boring – it’s the same thing every day.

Creativity is a path for the brave, but not for the fearless. It’s important to recognize the distinction.

Fear and createvity are conjoined twins. Creativity cannot take a step without fear marching right along side it.

Uncertainty is what we sign up for when we choose to live creative lives.

Think of creativity as an external genuis. I can say “my genius didn’t show up today”, or I can thank an external force when things go well. In any case, my ego is protected from the corrupting influence of praise, and from the corrosive effects of shame.

My creative genuis, wherever it comes from, does not keep regular hours. Let it come, and let it go.

Whatever is bad for you, is probably also bad for your work. Don’t sign up for the cult of artistic martyrdom. Work out of love instead.

Never believe you need someone else’s blessing – or even their comprehension – to make your own creative work. People’s judgments of about you are none of your business.

What if people absolutely hate what you’ve created? What if people attack you with savage vitriol, and insult your intelligence, and malign your motives, and drag your name through the mud? Just smile sweetly and suggest, as politely as you can, that they go make their own fucking art. Then stubbornly continue making yours.

I worry that students of the arts are often seeking in higher education nothing more than proof of their own legitimacy – proof that they are for real as creative people, because their degree says so.
[Sidenote: Read more about the diminishing returns of formal credentials in James Altucher’s book Choose Yourself, and in Taylor Pearson’s book The End of Jobs].

“A good plan violently executed today beats a perfect plan executed next week.” –General George Patton

Most people don’t finish things! So if you can complete something, anything, you’re already miles ahead of the pack.

You may want your work to be perfect. I just want mine to be finished.

The most evil trick about perfectionism is that it disguises itself as a virtue. I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. 

The rewards cannot come only from external results, they must come from the joy of puzzling out the work itself.

Through the mere act of creating something, anything, you might inadvertently produce work that is magnificent, eternal or important.
[Sidenote: A good example is Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, a true masterpiece that was never intended for publishing at all]. 

Everything sucks some of the time. What are you passionate enough about to endure the most disagreeable parts of the work?
[Sidenote: Mark Manson elaborates on this in his essay 7 Strange Questions That Help You Find Your Life Purpose]

A musician was asked “What happens is you never get anything out of this? How will you feel then, having wasted your life for nothing?”.
His answer: “If you can’t see what I’m already getting out of this, I’ll never be able to explain it to you”.

Fake it till you make it – dress for the novel you want to write.

“The biggest problem with people’s meditation practice, is that they quit just when it’s starting to get interesting, when it’s not easy anymore, as soon as it gets painful, boring or agitating. They quit at soon as they see something in their minds that scares or hurts them, so they miss the good part, the wild part, he transformative part, the part when you push past the difficult and enter into some raw, new unexplored universe within yourself.” –Meditation Teacher Pema Chödrön

I’ve come to understand what part of me is suffering when I fail: It’s just my ego.
[Sidenote: More on this is found in Ryan Holiday’s book The Ego Is The Enemy].

My soul desires only one thing: Wonder. And since creativity is my most efficient way to wonder, I take refuge there.

Don’t ask “what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”. Instead ask:

  • What would you do even if you know you might very well fail?
  • What do you love doing so much that the word failure and success essentially become irrelevant?

I never wanted to burden my writing with the responsibility of paying for my life. I’ve watched so many people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills.

Debt will always be the abbatoir [=slaughterhouse] of creative dreams.

Creativity is a gift to the creator, not just to the audience.

I don’t sit around waiting for passion to strike me. I keep working steadily, because I believe it is our privilege as humans to keep making things. I keep working because I trust that creativity is always looking to find me, even when I have lost sight of it.

Following a scavenger hunt of curiosity can lead to amazing, unexpected places.

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