Book review #1 : Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert (2015)

Big magic : ideals are alive !

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I just finished reading a book called « Big Magic », by Elizabeth Gilbert, the writer of « Eat, Pray, Love », so let me share my thoughts. This book caught my eye on Amazon because it was said to tackle the actual process of creation, and I was curious to discover more about this mysterious thing – creation. And oh boy, it did tackle this, and in quite an efficient way on top of that.

Thanks to her accessible style but also her humorous and personal comments, Elizabeth Gilbert guides us into the process of creation, especially creative writing. I did not know what to expect when I ordered the book. I still did not know what to expect when I started it. In fact, even though I have not ready a plethora of books on the subject, I find « Big magic » to be kind of unique. I admire the fact that it manages to focus solely on creative life, yet still manages to go on for 276 pages while never being boring.

One of her idea is notably how ideas, or inspiration if you prefer, are “flying” around, waiting to bump into people’s mind. She has a particular way to describe how ideas are alive. They come, and they go if you do not use them properly. Sometimes, it is a good thing to be able to say “no” to an idea (you’re already working on something, you’re moving out…), but some other times you might be missing out on the chance of a lifetime.

“What is creativity ?

-The relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration.”

Don’t forget : everyone shares the same concerns

Throughout seven chapters (« Courage », « Enchantment », « Permission », « Persistence », « Trust », and « Divinity »), Elizabeth Gilbert becomes our guide, our mentor, our life coach. I personally wanted to read it for I’m seeking to improve my writing, but I feel like it is a good life lesson for everyone. It helps us putting things in perspective. When you have a best seller author telling you how she got rejected over and over again, how she could not manage to finish certain books, how she failed, you realize that everyone is the same. Even though you know that, it is good to be reminded of it.

Everyone shares fear of rejection, fear of failure, fear of lacking talent, fear of not being good enough, fear of not having the best idea, fear of not being able to go through with a project. I could go on and on about all of my insecurities. About our insecurities. And this is totally normal. In the field of creation in particular (whether it is writing, painting, drawing, playing an instrument…), there seems to be an inherent component to every individual : the strive for perfection. Because you are trying to create something unique, something you thought of, it has the responsibility to be a symbol of your ideas, your beliefs, and therefore it has to be perfect because you will not be able to start to same project again. Everything is unique and non reproducible.

Perfectionism will not help you finish your project

However, reasoning in terms of perfection is using flawed logic. Perfectionism is dangerous. On the one hand, you strive for perfection at the beginning of a project, which can prevent you from actually starting it for fear you will not be able to carry it out, because it is too much work, because people will not like it, because it will never be the same in reality as it is in your mind… On the other end of the creative process, you have the perfectionism that does not want you to let go of your piece of work. It is not done yet. You could change that sentence, add some paint here… You end up always having something to change about it, and you will never be 100% satisfied with your work of art. Isn’t that frustrating ?

Keeping thinking that “it still misses something” is annoying. It renders you unable to finish your project and feel accomplished, but it also prevent you from tackling something else. Your mind cannot but keep buzzing about the perfectibility of your work. But sit down and think, and I mean really think : what if you would just let go ? What if you would say “well, I feel like something’s missing, but whatever. I’m going to take the leap anyway”. Would the world end ? Would something terrible happen ? I don’t think so.

Perspective, and fear

Why won’t the world collapse ? Well, maybe because it does not miss anything. Maybe your work is whole in its own way – a different way than you initially thought it, and that is what is bothering you. In other words, this is just a matter of perspective and fear.

First, perspective, because in fact people will always find that something could have been better while other will claim your work changed their life. Sure, when you show your project to someone, like a relative, they might say that it is great, and that you should not change it anymore. You might take this as politeness. But maybe your work is good, and the only obstacle preventing you from achieving the birth of your project is you.

Then, it is all about fear. Your brain is keeping you captive of your fear that your project will fail the way it looks now. You think must change it. But in fact you don’t have to.

This remind me of one of Gilbert’s story in her book where she explains how she had been writing a book for more than a year or so, and she was not satisfied with one of her character. She knew something was wrong with her, but was unable to pinpoint exactly what to change. When her manuscript was submitted to a panel of readers for their opinions, readers who had read her previous books, a majority complained about this character : that she was not complete, that she lacked insight, that she was a bit weird and off. And what did Elizabeth Gilbert do ? Nothing. She could have worked on her book again, but to be able to do that she would have had to find what was wrong with her character. Then, it meant reviewing a 800 page-long book. From the beginning. After having worked on it for more than a year. So she just acknowledged the complaints, and published the book as it was anyway. What happened ? Again, nothing. The world continued to spin, and she received both criticisms, and compliments about her work.

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Don’t overthink it.

I really think that being successful in finalizing a project – not it being successful, simply finishing it – is mostly about overcoming mental barriers. You will never know when you are about to produce the work of your life. Elizabeth Gilbert did not feel different while writing “Eat, Pray, Love”, which became a best-seller, than while writing “Stern Men” or “The Signature of All Things”. Sometimes, you just have to take the leap, try, and maybe fail. Take for this article for instance. It is not a big project, however, here I am proofreading it before posting it, and I know I could do something longer, deeper, more analytical. But I would spend hours on it if I listened to myself. I know could do better. But I decide that I won’t. Maybe it is just better that I tackled this out of the blue, and write my feelings as I really feel them, rather than how I think them. Maybe in fact it is going to end up being more authentic than if I had work hours on it, with a plan and side notes.  At least like that the book is fresh in my mind. And what if I need to add something ? I can edit. I can write again. And if I’m being honest, this would even be a positive outcome as I’ve created this blog for the purpose of writing.

This may sounds cliché, but failing will definitely makes you stronger. We can all learn from our mistakes. The only thing is that you must not start overthinking them and become stuck in a loop. Just accept the situation if you cannot change it, and breathe. Now pass your attention onto the next thing. Be curious. Change your mind. Or take a break. You, and only you have the possibility to choose between focusing on your mistakes or looking at your opportunities. Why would you impose suffering on your own person when you are free to feel whatever you want ? Just gather your courage, persist, trust yourself. The magic will happen.

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