gail schimmel

The blog of writer Gail Schimmel: A bit of writing, a bit of parenting, a bit of thinking and some book reviews

The “Big Magic” of creativity


I have just read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic – a book about “creative living beyond fear”.

How I nearly didn’t read it

I nearly didn’t read it. I nearly didn’t read it for two reasons. The first is that my friend Vanessa had told me about the thing that she found the most compelling from Big Magic, which is that ideas are out there, looking for channels, and that we must make ourselves open to receive those ideas or they will move on to someone else. I didn’t like that notion one bit. I am not very mystical and I am not at all religious, and this struck me as very mystical and religious sort of thinking. Writers, I believe, work damn hard and really, that working hard is the pivot of creation. That sitting down every day and slogging at it, whether an idea lands on your shoulder or not. (As it turns out, Elizabeth Gilbert basically agrees with me on this.)

I also nearly didn’t read it because I did not like – or even finish – Eat, Pray, Love. I wasn’t sure if I could take more of Gilbert’s introspection.

But then I decided to read it

On the other hand, I passionately loved Gilbert’s Signature of All Things. I think it is a magnificent novel. If you scroll through the archives, you will find I even reviewed it – a thing I seldom get it together to do. The other reason that I decided to read it was that it was getting good reviews from other creative people. I am nothing, if not a sheep. So when Vanessa asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I asked her for Big Magic.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

It is full of different things

I think the magical thing about Big Magic (other than giving me a sudden need to use headings) is that it has lots of different but equally compelling ideas. And I think that depending on where our own personal struggle with creativity has been, we will find a particular idea more compelling. For Vanessa, the floating ideas were important. I grew to like them, but for me, there was a more important lesson (and many minor lessons that I will no doubt come back to).

Your creativity doesn’t have to be your day job

Gilbert basically says that it is unfair to place the burden of earning your crust on the shoulders of your creativity. She says it’s okay to have a day job.

For me, this is something I have struggled with as a writer who is actually a lawyer who is actually a writer.

My father was an artist. He did not have a day job. He did not understand people who had day jobs. It did not occur to him to have a day job. The closest he came to a day job was teaching a course in silkscreening and painting some paintings that he thought might have more mass appeal under nom-de-plume (or nom-de-brush). The fact that money was always an issue was not something that worried him. “We eat. Don’t we?” he said – because as a child of wartime Amsterdam he thought that this was a pretty great achievement in terms of comfort. Which it is, but mostly we ate because my mother had a job.

And then modern thinking on the subject says, “Follow Your North Star And The Money Will Follow”. And that has driven me mad. Should I stop lawyering to write full time, safe in the knowledge that the money will follow? Bearing in mind that the most I have ever made in one royalty check takes me a week of lawyering (part time) to make? Is it in fact my own fault that I don’t make more money from writing because I fail to “trust the process”? That’s what a lot of modern self help thinking is telling me.

Elizabeth Gilbert has given me permission to reject that for the crap it is. I like my comfortable lifestyle and I like sending our children to the best schools and until fate intervenes and makes my writing more lucrative, I will love my ability to earn my money alongside my need to create. And for that permission, and many others, I thank Ms Gilbert from the depth of my heart.

If you’re a bit creative – and we all are – have a read of this book. Probably my lesson is not yours. Probably yours is better. Open yourself up to it by giving Big Magic a read.




2 thoughts on “The “Big Magic” of creativity

  1. I love your blog. Your last entry on the friendship paradigm was ingenious and insightful. I need less ivy and more colour. I think you need to add weeds. Will screen new applicants accordingly;)

    I downloaded the sample of the BIG MAGIC onto my kindle. I heard it might be helpful. I’ve been saving it for the new year when, surprise surprise, the fearless creative me will finally rise. EG’s excessive introspection is annoying and hugely self-indulgent but also charming. She explains the essence of the creative process quite nicely, if not a bit too romantically. Some practicality about where such an economically unviable enterprise fits into real life might help. But also easy advice coming from someone who had enough resources to flit about the globe finding herself for a year and was then richly rewarded for doing so.

    You either do it or you don’t, and you either can or you can’t, and if you did and you could, you either get lucky or you don’t.

    Here’s hoping for some Big Magic.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s