Elizabeth Gilbert is one of my idols.
I first read Eat Pray Love about six years ago and I remember thinking, Ugh, why do some many people like this book? It is so self-indulgent and overdone and who does this woman think she is? I tossed it aside, thought and talked about it with derision for years. Something about it stayed in my mind though, and a few months ago, I began to think I should reread it. Then, when I lost my baby at the end of the summer, I felt like I needed something to lose myself in. I couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything, couldn’t seem to focus on a task or a book or a project, so I decided to try out audiobooks. (I had always thought of them with derision, too, like, Audiobooks aren’t really reading! Why have I spent so much of my time being so derisive?! What a waste!) I scrolled through the available books in the library’s digital catalogue and there it was, on the first page: Eat Pray Love. Like it was waiting for me. It was a sign. So I downloaded it. I lay there in the dark, listening to Liz Gilbert’s voice, and it felt, somehow, like she knew me. Like she had seen into the deepest parts of my soul, felt what I felt, and wrote it down on paper. I lapped up every word like a woman who has been deprived of water. At one point, as I lay listening one night and Bryan puttered around our room, he went still, listening too. Then he said, wryly, “Oh no, I don’t see why you relate to this woman at all.”
After that, I completely revised my entire opinion of Eat Pray Love and Liz Gilbert herself.
When I heard that she had a new book out on the subject of creativity, I was intrigued. Being a writer, creativity has always fascinated me. Not just how to get more of it, but simply how it works. Why do we have it? What does it all mean? I knew that Liz Gilbert was going to have some interesting thoughts on the matter.
Boy, does she ever.
My favorite one is this: ideas are sentient little beings running around, looking for the perfect person to bring them into corporeal being. Inspiration may visit you, thinking you are the artist for them, only to be rebuffed in some way: maybe you think the idea is dumb, or you aren’t the right person for it. Inspiration may visit you, and then realize that you aren’t ready for it, or aren’t serious about it, and so it leaves you. And sometimes it inspiration visits you, and you are ready for each other, and it is a wonderful relationship that results in art.
I love this idea. I love the idea that we are receptacles for inspiration, that we are not wholly responsible for generating our art, that part of being an artist is communing with some otherworldly muse that bestows its gifts upon you, rather than dredging all your ideas up from the centre of your cells, which, after all, have to be a kind of finite supply.
Her book is full of anecdotes (the Ann Patchett one will blow your mind, seriously) and quotes and thoughts on how to live a more creative life but it is mostly this: permission to just be an artist. To just make whatever the hell you want to make, despite the fear, despite the critics, despite the outmoded and dangerous idea of the Tormented Artist. To accept the gifts that your muse is dying to give you. To live the creative life that you have always dreamed of. It is optimistic but not saccharine. It comes from a playful and light-hearted view of creativity (which is not to say that all created things should be light-hearted and playful, but that the process of making them should be enjoyable, rather than painful). There is a kind of wonderful mysticism in her ideas about creativity as well that I find glorious and inspirational.
If you are a creative person (and I truly believe that every single one of us is, in some way, a creative person) then I think you will find that many aspects of Big Magic ring true for you. Here are a few great ones for you to nibble on for now:
What is creative living? Any life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.
Possessing a creative mind is like having a border collie for a pet; if you don’t give it a job to do, it will find a job to do – and you might not like the job it invents.
Your ego is a wonderful servant but a terrible master – because the only thing your ego ever wants is reward, reward, and more reward. Always remember this: you are not only an ego; you are also a soul.
Fear is always triggered by creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome. And fear hates uncertain outcome. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It is, however, something to be dealt with.
And there are about ten thousand more where that came from.