Book Notes: BIG MAGIC, by Elizabeth Gilbert

This is my book notes of Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, which contains quotes from the book and my own thoughts reminding me of its key lessons and important passages.

  • Jack Gilbert: “Do you have the courage? Do you have the courage to bring forth this work? The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.” 
  • We are all walking repositories of buried treasure. 
  • The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. Big Magic is the surprising results of that hunt to uncover those jewels. 
  • Creative living is about living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear.
  • A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. 
  • Creative living is a path for the brave; when courage dies, creativity dies with it. 
  • Defending my weakness is a really weird battle for me to be fighting. “Argue for your limitations and you get to keep them.” Why would I want to keep my limitations? 
  • The fear you need: If you didn’t have any fear, you would lead a short, crazy, stupid life. 
  • The fear you don’t need: In the realm of creative expression (but fear will always show up when you’re trying to be inventive or innovative; the uncertainty, unknown outcome). 
  • Make space for fear. If you can’t travel comfortably alongside your fear, then you’ll never be able to go anywhere interesting or do anything interesting. 
  • The creative process is both magical and magic. 
  • The only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual. 
  • Ideas spend eternity swirling around us, searching for available and willing human partners. 
  • When an idea thinks it has found somebody who might be able to bring it into the world, the idea will pay you a visit; try to get your attention. But when it finally realizes that you’re oblivious to its message, it will move on to someone else. 
  • If you do receive the presence of the idea, it will start to do its work on you, sending you inspiration, organize coincidences and portents across your path. Everything you see and touch will remind you of the idea. 
  • You have two options for how to respond to the idea: Say “yes” or “no”. 
  • When you say “no”: Nothing happens at all, but do be gentle when sending an idea away. You don’t want word to get around the universe that you’re difficult to work with. (Reasons for saying no: perhaps you’re already engaged with another idea or project; perhaps you’re certain this idea has knocked on the wrong door) 
  • When you say “yes”: You have officially entered into a contract with inspiration. Cooperate fully, humbly, and joyfully with inspiration. 
  • You are neither a slave or a master to inspiration, but something far more interesting -- its partner -- working together toward something intriguing and worthwhile. 
  • The other side of the contract (neglected idea): If inspiration is allowed to unexpectedly enter you, it is also allowed to unexpectedly exit you. When that happens, move on swiftly with humility and grace. Grief efficiently if you must. 
  • Be ready. Keep your eyes open. Listen. Follow your curiosity. Ask questions. Sniff around. Remain open. Trust in the miraculous truth that new and marvelous ideas are looking for human collaborators every single day. 
  • Let ideas know you’re available. 
  • Ideas are alive; ideas do seek the most available human collaborator; ideas do have a conscious will; ideas do move from soul to soul; ideas will always try to seek the swiftest and most efficient conduit to the earth. 
  • Both the Greeks and the Romans believed in the idea of an external daemon of creativity -- your genius (guardian deity) -- the conduit of your inspiration. 
  • The idea of an external genius helps keep the artist’s ego in check, distancing him somewhat from the burden of taking either full credit or full blame for the outcome of his work. You cannot expect it to be there for you all the time. 
  • Don’t lose the ability to take ourselves lightly or to create freely. 
  • Just make things, share them with an open heart and with no expectations. 
  • Sir Arthur Eddington: “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.” The best part is: I don’t need to know what. 
  • All I know for certain is that this is how I want to spend my life -- collaborating to the best of my ability with forces of inspiration that I can neither see, nor prove, nor command, nor understand. 
  • Do your own thing; follow your own path. 
  • Act like a total cooperator but shape your own world exactly to your liking. 
  • If you’re supporting yourself financially and you’re not bothering anyone else, then you’re free to do whatever you want with your life. 
  • Decide this: Just go make stuff. 
  • You do not need anybody’s permission to live a creative life. 
  • We make things because we like making things. 
  • We’re only here on earth for a short time, so decorate ourselves as playfully as I can, while we still have time. (My body is temporary; spend as much time as I can creating delightful things out of my existence) 
  • Follow your own fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart. 
  • If you’re working on your craft every day on your own, with steady discipline and love, then you are already for real as a creator, and you don’t need to pay anybody to affirm that for you. 
  • You must be willing to take risks if you want to live a creative existence. But if you’re going to gamble, know that you are gambling. 
  • Great teachers live on the shelves of your library; they live on the walls of museums; they live in recordings made decades ago. Your teachers don’t even need to be alive to educate you masterfully. 
  • Werner Herzog: “Quit your complaining. It’s not the world’s fault that you wanted to be an artist. It’s not the world’s job to enjoy the films you make, and it’s certainly not the world’s obligation to pay for your dreams. [...], but stop whining and get to work.”
  • Of course it’s difficult to create things; if it wasn’t difficult, everyone would be doing it, and it wouldn’t be special or interesting. 
  • Say this: I enjoy my creativity.
  • W. C. Fields: “It ain’t what they call you; it’s what you answer to.” 
  • It doesn’t discourage me in the least to know that my life’s work is arguably useless. All it does is make me want to play. 
  • It’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at. 
  • You can start whenever you decide to start. 
  • Stay with the process and don’t panic, and you will pass safely through each stage of anxiety and on to the next level. 
  • When one is learning how to write poetry (or sketch or …), one should not expect it to be immediately good. 
  • Frustration is not an interruption of your process; frustration is the process. 
  • 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 together through all the phases of creation is where the real work lies. 
  • Mark Manson: “What are you passionate enough about that you can endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?” (e.g. rejections, long hours i.e. the shit sandwich) 
  • There’s no dishonor in having a job. I’m willing to work hard so that my creativity can play lightly. Be willing to make all kinds of sacrifices (e.g. wake up early in the morning and do what you need to do to nurture your creativity). 
  • Have an affair (with your creativity): Don’t think of it all as burdensome; think of it all as sexy. 
  • Seduce the Big Magic: Make an effort to present yourself to inspiration like somebody you might actually want to have an affair with. 
  • To stay in your game, you must let go of your fantasy of perfection. 
  • Rebecca Solnit: “So many of us believe in perfection, which ruins everything else, because the perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun.” 
  • Complete your work. Finish it. It doesn’t have to be perfect. 
  • Devotional discipline: Measure my worth by focusing on my devotion to the work above all. Talent and luck would never be under my control but discipline is, and in recognizing that, the best plan would be to work my ass off. 
  • Do what you love to do and do it with both seriousness and lightness. At least then you know you’ve tried and whatever the outcome, you have traveled a noble path. 
  • Creative living can be an amazing vocation, if you have the love and courage and persistence to see it that way. 
  • Do you love [fill in the blank]?
    Do you believe that [fill in the blank] loves you in return? 
  • I can either live a drama or I can invent a drama (but I do not have the capacity to do both at the same time). Emotional pain makes me the opposite of a deep person; it renders my life narrow and thin and isolated. 
  • Love over suffering, always. 
  • "Why would your creativity not love you? It came to you, didn’t it? It drew itself near. It worked itself into you, asking for your attention and your devotion. It filled you with the desire to make and do interesting things. Creativity wanted a relationship with you. That must be for a reason, right? Do you honestly believe that creativity went through all the trouble of breaking into your consciousness only because it wanted to kill you?"
  • I trust that my work loves me as much as I love it -- that it wants to play with me as much as I want to play with it. 
  • Make my creativity into a really interesting cabinet of curiosities. 
  • The work wants to be made and it wants to be made through you. 
  • Be like Bugs Bunny!
  • Your creative work is not your baby; if anything, you are its baby. Maturing you in a different way each time and making you into what you are now. 
  • The moment when interesting begins: Be careful not to quit too soon. Don’t rush through the experiences and circumstances that have the most capacity to transform us. Don’t let go of your courage the moment things stop being easy or rewarding. (Think “The Dip”) 
  • If you have 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 craft for fifty years. Forget about the last project, and go searching with an open heart for the next one. 
  • "Combinatory play" (Einstein): The act of opening up one mental channel by dabbling in another. (Do something else when having difficulty with a thing currently worked on; if you can’t do what you long to do, go do something else.) 
  • Inspiration will always be drawn to motion.