6 Lessons on Creativity from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic

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by Rebecca Cantor

I have never read Elizabeth Gilbert’s work before. Actually, that’s not true–I’ve never finished her work. I tried to read Eat Pray Love while pregnant with my son and on bed rest, but even without the freedom to leave my couch, I couldn’t get through that novel.

And yet. I am currently reading her newest book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, a non-fiction look at creativity and the artist’s life, and I see its value. In fact, I recommend this book if these are the messages you need to hear right now:

1. The creative process can be exciting and even fun.

Suffering is not required and should not be encouraged in others.

2. Do not pay for a creative education.

At least, do not go into debt for a creative education. Read, write, read, write, read, write. That’s it.

3. Do not rely on your creativity to pay your bills.

If you are one of the lucky FEW who can rely on your art to make money, enough money to sustain you and yours, congratulations. But for most of us, trying to get by with just our art adds undue stress to what should be a challenge but a joy.

4. Above all else, you need to keep writing and sending out your work.

The people you are sending your work to are just people. And it takes some luck, some magic, to catch them in the right mood to receive your work the way you hope they will.

5. Once your work leaves your desk, it belongs to the reader, the director, the audience.

Don’t try to control how your work is received.

6. If writing is no longer fulfilling. If it is painful. If you describe your work as torture to others. Stop writing.

Look for something else to fulfill you for the next three or four years. If you still feel the need to write after substantial time has passed, WRITE. But write without complaining.

The creative process is rough. Writing is hard. But we don’t need to be miserable while we create. And we don’t get a free pass to be rotten to the people around us just because we’re creative. Big Magic is a lovely reminder to artists that they should fall in love with their art, listen for their muse, but not demand that the process work out the way they hope every time.

Gilbert is passionate about her craft, and much of her advice is refreshing and off beat. Her magic-based theory on inspiration, which derives in large part from a kiss she shared with fellow author Ann Patchett, is worth the read.

~

Rebecca Cantor is a poet and writing program director who writes about names and naming, teaching, writing, literature and women, among other subjects.  www.rebeccacantor.com

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