Book Review: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

(This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my full disclosure policy here).

Living a Creative Life is not for the Faint of Heart

Living a creative life is not easy, whether you are a photographer, journalist, fashion designer, whatever it is that relies on your innovativeness to survive (I don’t know if this is really a word, and I’m too lazy to go and look). I’m a nail technician, it is my passion, I enjoy doing it, and it makes me happy when my client leaves my chair satisfied with their nails. Contrary to belief, this is not my hobby, this is my career. The majority of people do not see it this way, but I proudly say that I am a nail technician, and I love my job.

Recently, I’ve been pursuing blogging, photography and graphic design, and I’m really loving it. I’m a very impatient person, so when I don’t see results right away, I can get discouraged for a time, but I don’t stay down for long, I usually get over myself and get back at it again. I am definitely a beginner and have no idea what I’m doing, but it’s still both exciting and frightening.

Since I started my blogging journey, I have spent 10-20 hours or more a week on Pinterest doing research and getting information and resources. I have learned so much, but it also leaves me so exhausted! I still have to work and take care of my child in the midst of all this.

On top of everything, I started to pick up reading again after years of not touching a book. In middle and high school, I spent a lot of times reading for pleasure, but when I went to college, I spent so much time studying for my classes I didn’t have time to pleasure read. So now that I’ve graduated, I have the liberty to read whatever I please. It’s awesome!

I was browsing on Pinterest for some of the top books that bloggers should read, and I came across this amazing book called Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. Now I’m not going to say, that I loved every aspect of this book, there was a lot I didn’t agree with, but this book was still an AMAZING read. She has such a strong writing voice and disposition on the subject of creative living. I was compelled to write a review on this book. So if you would like to purchase, click the image below.

 

I love how she structured this book. Instead of chapters, there were parts, and within the parts, there were different headings!

What’s Stopping You?

This section talks about courage. Obviously right? She goes over questions that most creative entrepreneurs may ask themselves during their journey, like:

You’re afraid you have no talent.

You’re afraid you’ll be rejected or criticized or ridiculed or misunderstood or—worst of all—ignored.

You’re afraid there’s no market for your creativity, and therefore no point in pursuing it.

You’re afraid somebody else already did it better.

You’re afraid everybody else already did it better.

You’re afraid somebody will steal your ideas, so it’s safer to keep them hidden forever in the dark.

You’re afraid you won’t be taken seriously.

You’re afraid your work isn’t politically, emotionally, or artistically important enough to change anyone’s life.

You’re afraid your dreams are embarrassing.

You’re afraid that someday you’ll look back on your creative endeavors as having been a giant waste of time, effort, and money.

You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of discipline.

You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of work space, or financial freedom, or empty hours in which to focus on invention or exploration.

You’re afraid you don’t have the right kind of training or degree.

You’re afraid you’re too fat. (I don’t know what this has to do with creativity, exactly, but experience has taught me that most of us are afraid we’re too fat, so let’s just put that on the anxiety list, for good measure.)

You’re afraid of being exposed as a hack, or a fool, or a dilettante, or a narcissist.

You’re afraid of upsetting your family with what you may reveal.

You’re afraid of what your peers and coworkers will say if you express your personal truth aloud.

You’re afraid of unleashing your innermost demons, and you really don’t want to encounter your innermost demons.

You’re afraid your best work is behind you.

You’re afraid you never had any best work to begin with.

You’re afraid you neglected your creativity for so long that now you can never get it back.

You’re afraid you’re too old to start. You’re afraid you’re too young to start.

You’re afraid because something went well in your life once, so obviously, nothing can ever go well again.

You’re afraid because nothing has ever gone well in your life, so why bother trying?

You’re afraid of being a one-hit wonder.

You’re afraid of being a no-hit wonder (p.13-15)”

I believe we run through all the questions about 4 to 5 times a day if we don’t surround ourselves with positivity.

Scaredy Cat

She then goes on to say, “I’ve been a frightened person my entire life. I was born terrified “(p.16). She sounds a lot like me, it’s kind of scary! I’ve always feared a lot of things, some of these things, people don’t even think to fear. Luckily for her, her mother forced her out of her awkward shyness! “Scared of the ocean? Get in that ocean! Afraid of the snow? Time to go shovel snow! Can’t answer the telephone? You are now officially in charge of answering the telephone!” (p.18). I love this, because my mom encourages me to do the same thing now. In a very nice polite way, she tells me to get off my butt and get going! Stop waiting for pseudo perfect conditions that don’t even exist.

Gilbert says, “I finally realized that my fear was boring…. because it was the same thing every day” (p.19). You are going to get tired of being scared all the time. “Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome (p.23). I don’t like uncertainty at all, I mean who does? My new endeavor of blogging is causing me a lot of uncertainty, and at times I’m not even enjoying it because I’m looking to make money (and lots of it), right away. This is not the way to start your blogging journey.

Instead I should be looking at it as a creative outlet. I also have not been writing posts as often as I initially wanted because I’m always scared as to how people will react to my posts. FEAR, FEAR, FEAR, I hate you FEAR, you are pure evil! In her book, Gilbert writes an amazing letter to fear, and I think anyone who struggles with fear should read this letter daily.

“Dearest Fear:
Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life and that you take your job very seriously. Apparently, your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting, and may I just say, you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only ones who will be making any decisions along the way. I recognize that you are part of this family so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still – your suggestions will never be followed. You’re allowed to have a seat and you’re allowed to have a voice, but you are not allowed to have a vote. You’re not allowed to touch the road maps, you’re not allowed to suggest detours. You’re not allowed to fiddle with the temperature. Dude, you’re not even allowed to touch the radio. But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive” (p.25-26). I was like WOW! And she did it so tastefully, she politely told Fear that he/she was insignificant and wasn’t allowed to ruin the creative process. You should write your own letter to fear and print it out and hang it on your wall. Read it daily and let Fear know who’s boss (and post your letter in the comments if you dare). “It isn’t always comfortable or easy but it’s always worth it, because if you can’t learn to travel comfortably alongside your fear, then you’ll never be able to go anywhere interesting” (p.26).

I thought the way she worded this letter was amazing. When I find my own living space, I’m definitely mounting this letter in my bedroom!

How Can I Beat the Competition?

With all the other blogs out there, how can I compete? How can I be better? Maybe you don’t have to worry about how you can be better. Different strokes for different folks as I always say. Your blog has something that the other millions of blogs don’t have- a piece of you! There’s a piece of you in your blog that’s essential to someone’s journey. So, don’t worry about the other millions of blogs out there, there’s enough readers for everyone. “You can support other people in their creative efforts, acknowledging the truth that there’s plenty of room for everyone. (p.41).

In this section of the book she talks about inspiration as an entity that seeks you out, sometimes for a long period of time and sometimes for a short period of time. Although I don’t completely agree with this, I think it helps people come to terms with having what seems like a brilliant idea, and then losing it completely.

When the Race to the Top is Over

Another thing that she touches on was, what happens when you reach the top? Is that it for you? Do you stop creating because you fear anything else might be beneath your last work? I actually never thought of what I would do when I reach my goal, I’m always just looking towards the goal. I love her perspective on this, it’s absolutely beautiful, I had the biggest epiphany after reading this! “But such thinking assumes that there is a “top”- and that reaching the top (and staying there) is the only motive one has to create. Such thinking assumes that the mysteries of inspiration operate on the same scale that we do-on a limited human scale of success and failure, of winning and losing, of comparison and competition, of commerce and reputation, of units sold and influences wielded, such thinking assumes that you must be constantly victorious-not only against your peers, but also against an earlier version of your poor self. most dangerously of all, such thinking assumes that if you cannot win, then you must not continue to play” (p.70). Why do you create? I create because I owe it to the world to share my gift from God. I love creating, whether it is a post I write, nail art, cooking, taking pictures, I just love to make stuff. And why not? Who cares how people see your art!

This was such an eye opener for me, because everything I do stands on whether I will be successful or I will fail. Successes and failures are based on perception and they shouldn’t be the object of your focus. I’m starting to realize this now, worrying about success and failures are just catalysts for fear.

The Permit for the Permission to Create

“You do not need anyone’s permission to live a creative life” (p. 86). This is so true, she also states in this book, so long as you are living your own life and paying your own bills, you can do whatever you want to do. You don’t need permission to make a painting, or make a movie, or sing, or design clothing, you are at free liberty to create whatever you want, no matter how it will be perceived.

She goes on to talk about advanced schooling for your specialization and whether or not it is necessary. She talks about one of her friends who is a master painter who had no schooling in painting, he was self-taught. She used this example to talk about how the debt incurred from school can impede the creative process. “Which makes you question the necessity of the whole system (p.104). Going into massive debt in order to become a creator, then, can make a stress and a burden out of something that should only ever have been a joy and a release. And after having invested so much in their education, artists who don’t immediately find professional success (which is most artists) can feel like failures. Their sense of having failed can interfere with their creative self-confidence- and maybe even stop them from creating at all. Then they’re in the terrible position of having to deal not only with a sense of shame and failure, but also with steep monthly bills that will forever remind them of their shame and failure” (p.106). “‘Ascend no longer from the textbook!'” warned Walt Whitman, and I warn it too; there are many ways to learn that do not necessarily involve schoolrooms. And feel free to start sharing your perspective through creativity, even if you’re just a kid” (p.107). I am going to inspire my daughter to create without boundaries, limitations, or fear.

“So, take your insecurities and your fears and hold them by the ankles and shake yourself free of all your cumbersome ideas about what you require (and how much you need to pay) in order to become creatively legitimate. Because I’m telling you that you are already creatively legitimate, by nature of your mere existence here among us (p.108)”.

Eliminating Expectations

The first title in this section was called Taking Vows. She literally took vows to her creative lifestyle. Gilbert says, ” My vows were strangely specific and, I would still argue, pretty realistic. I didn’t make a promise that I would be a successful writer, because I sensed that success was not under my control. Nor did I promise that I would be a great writer, because I didn’t know if I could be great. Nor did I give myself any time limits for the work, like, ‘If I’m not published by thirty, I’ll give up on this dream and go find another line of work’. In fact, I didn’t put any conditions or restrictions on my path at all. My deadline was: never. Instead I simply vowed… that I would write, forever, regardless of the result” (p.140). I know a lot about having expectations for literally everything. Sometimes having expectations can be a prison with no windows for your mind. I struggle with this a lot, I always have an expectation for everything, and when things don’t go the way I expect, it is utterly devastating for me. But there’s hope, realizing that living aa creative life is a journey, your internal timeline is erased and you realize you have all the time in the world to create.

I love to write, even though I’m sure this post is chop full of grammatical errors and such, I don’t care, focus on the content, focus on what I’m saying to you. I started this blog because I wanted to make money. My first priority was to make money and have beautiful pictures and graphics and have this really awesome professional looking website in under 3 months (there goes those unrealistic expectations again, they are just so rude, you know?).

I am blessed that one of my passions pays all my bills. I have to remind myself that having a blog, making great content, having amazing pictures, is all a process. A process that will not happen under 3 months. I always feel like I’m on a time crunch, like I have to learn all the mysteries of life in a short period of time. Always feeling like I have to do things in half the time.

Trusting the Process

Finding your “why?” takes time. Gilbert says, “Generally speaking, the work did go badly, too. I really didn’t know what I was doing. I felt sometimes like I was trying to carve scrimshaw (Scrimshaw is the name given to scrollwork, engravings, and carvings done in bone or ivory) while wearing oven mitts. Everything took forever. I had no chops, no game. It could take me a whole year to just finish one tiny short story. Most of the time, all I was doing was imitating my favorite authors, anyhow. I went through a Hemmingway stage (who doesn’t?), but I also went through a pretty serious Annie Proulx stage and a rather embarrassing Cormac McCarthy stage. But that’s what you have to do at the beginning, everybody imitates before they can innovate” (p.142). I am going through this period right now, and I know everybody who writes goes through this period in their writing career, or whatever trade it is that they have.

That’s why it’s important to trust the process, like my friend Alex always tells me. Gilbert goes on to say “…when one is learning how to write poetry-one should not expect it to be immediately good” (p.148). You have to press on even if your writing doesn’t match up with bloggers who have been writing for YEARSSSSSSSS! Trust me I understand your frustration. “If you want to be an artist of any sort, it seemed to me, then handling your frustrations a fundamental aspect of the work-perhaps the single most fundamental aspect of the work…. How you manage yourself between those bright moments, when things aren’t going so great, is a measure of how devoted you are to your vocation, and how equipped you are for the weird demands of creative living. Holding yourself through all the phases of creation is where the real work lies” (p.149). Are you ready to just DO IT? Just create things without boundaries, without mental limitations and just do it because you love it? Or will you give up because it’s not meeting your limiting expectations? Just create things because you love to create. You always hear about how Facebook was just a social experiment, none of them knew how big it was going to explode, and look at it now. And then again it might not, but who cares? Let go of your expectations.

I made a vow to myself that one day during my journey I’m going to get go of my expectations and just create, I’m going to create things and share it with the world, and whether they like it or not I’m going to keep creating. Gilberts says, “The essential ingredients (which happens to be the sections in this book) for creativity remain exactly the same for everybody; courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust- and those elements are universally accessible” (p.158).

Perfectionism

Now onto one of my favorite topics, perfectionism, she opened my eyes to what my perfectionism is doing to me, and not for me. “But in order to stay in the game, you must let go of your fantasy of perfection… Perfectionism stops people from completing their work, yes— but even worse, it often stops people from beginning their work… I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angel that says, again and again, ‘I am not good enough and I will never be good enough’ (p.167). And boy oh boy is Gilbert right. Before I started this blog, I sat on it for months thinking of everything that could go wrong instead of just doing it! And this transfers to many aspects of my life. Then when I finally got it up and running, I was doing good, and I was writing every day, and I wasn’t seeing the money coming in like I had planned.

I started to get discouraged and wonder “Why in the world am I doing this?”. Then I started to make excuses, “Well my graphics aren’t where they are supposed to be, they don’t look professional enough. Then I didn’t know what to write about, because I thought that all of my ideas were stupid and that no one would want to read it. I sat there and tortured myself with all this negativity. My mom, my bestie, my love, and my heart said I needed to just put it out there anyway. She loves gardening, and she watches a lot of the videos on YouTube. She says that most of the time the people who make videos about gardening don’t have a fancy YouTube intro, or outro, they just introduce themselves and start talking about what it is they have to share. She says I need to let go of trying to be perfect and keep moving. My motto is keep moving and success will come. And I wasn’t even being true to my own motto. I’m so glad that I listened to her and kept writing because I feel like this new journey I’m on is going to teach me some things.


Gilbert states, “Sometimes I have no idea where my passion has gone off to. I don’t always feel actively inspired, nor do I always feel certain about what to do next. But 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 for as long as we live, and because I enjoy making things… So how do you find the inspiration to work when your passion has flagged?… I believe that curiosity is the secret. Curiosity is the truth and the way of creative living. Curiosity is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end (p.237). I go through spurts of being uninspired aswell, but shes right, “just keep swimming”! The inspiration will come if you keep moving.

It’s Okay to Fail

“You will fail. it sucks and I hate to say it but it’s true. You will take creative risk, and often they will not pan out. (p.248). I struggle with this a lot when I set out to do something I expect it to be perfect the first time around. and I know I’m not the only one who thinks that way. but I can tell you how unhealthy it is. and I know I said it a million times, but it goes back to having these unrealistic expectations. you don’t know how it’s going to turnout, so don’t expect anything. one of the pastors I listen to Stanley always says that it’s never a problem only a possibility. failing is a lesson it’s a way to learn what you did wrong or maybe listen to teach you that you won’t always be on top. And that’s okay,but failing is not necessarily a bad thing, only if you look at it as a bad thing. I’ve learned some of the greatest lessons in my life from failures or perceived failures rather. I’m ready to keep creating, no matter what it takes.

“So how do you shake off failure and shame in order to keep living a creative life? First of all, forgive yourself. If you made something and it didn’t work out Let It Go, remember that you’re nothing but a beginner– even if you’ve been working on your car for 50 years. forget about the last project, and go searching with an open heart for the next one” (p. 251).

” ‘ Failure has a function. It acts you whether you really want to go on making things’. … the final— and sometimes most difficult- active creative trust is to put your work out there into the world once you have completed it” (p.257). Fierce trust, demands that you put forth the work anyhow, because you’re stressed knows that the outcome does not matter. the outcome cannot matter. Fierce trust asks you to stand strong within this truth. ‘You are worthy, dear one Kama regardless of the outcome. You will keep sharing your work, regardless of the outcome. You were born to create, regardless of the outcome. You will never lose trust in the creative process, even when you don’t understand the outcome’ (p.259). I need almost every single word in this book. It has definitely opened my eyes and chipped away a piece of my old mindset.

If you struggle with any of the things I talked about in this book review, you must buy this book. It is worth every penny, and it’s not too expensive either.  This book brought me one step closer to freedom. I am learning how to let go, I am building up my confidence and I’m starting to let go of control. I know it’s going to be a process, but I trust that little by little, I will come into myself.

Me and my daughter did a photoshoot for this book review. I was inspired by the title alone, BIG MAGIC. So we decided to sprinkle all of you with some fairy dust, to help all your creative dreams come true!

(Disclosure: Some of the links in the post above are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be a quality product for my readers. Read my full disclosure policy here).

 

 

 

 

 

Join the newsletter

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.

Powered by ConvertKit

3 comments

  1. Wow , great review.
    Only the book can top this review.
    You can read the books, and I will read the reviews from you .
    I was propelled to keep reading

  2. Wow my beautiful J… you beautiful soul. I’m not sure if I should cry or smile. It’s happy tears though… you left me speechless and thirsty for more.
    But above all I’m proud.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *