Thursday, August 25, 2016

Big Magic: Review and Thoughts

Oh, hey, if you came by today looking for that Book Blab live stream I promised you, well, it's not happening today. A combination of technical difficulties (like the entire Blab social media platform being dissolved... ugh, technology!) and scheduling conflicts means we are regrouping. But we're still excited about this episode, so we'll figure something out and get it posted in the near future. Keep an eye out.

So, remember when I made that goal to start writing a book this year? Well, in preparation, I decided to read some motivational/inspiring/instructive books on writing. I started off with Elizabeth Gilbert's book Big Magic, which came out last year, I think?

Now, here's where I confess that I've not read anything else by Gilbert. I never read Eat, Pray, Love, and I suspect I wouldn't like it if I ever did read it. In fact, I suspect I wouldn't really like any of her other novels and I don't have plans to read them.

But  Big Magic? I totally loved. Yes, it's a bit woo-woo and probably not for everyone. But while I didn't agree with everything, I agreed with so much of Gilbert's advice that I found myself wishing I had the paper copy of the book (I listened to it on audio) so I could highlight or copy out quotes.

She claims this book is meant to be about all types of creative endeavors, and technically that's true. But Gilbert herself is a writer, so I'd say about 90% of her stories/examples/advice apply directly to the craft of writing (and I found myself wanting to give this book to all my friends in the MFA program, but, considering Gilbert's disdain for formal graduate education of creative arts, I figured it might be a bit offensive). However, I LOVED Gilbert's belief that creativity is not just limited to a select segment of the human population that get to label themselves "artists," but is actually a universal and intrinsic part of being human. We all feel the need to create, whether it be a 1,000 page novel, or simply a fun dinner on a boring Tuesday.

Some other pieces of Gilbert's philosophies on creativity that I loved and completely agree with:

Art is both extremely important, but also, absolutely not important at all. She calls this a paradox of the creative arts, and it's so true. Yes, art and writing and all those things are completely necessary for the human soul and quality of life and all of that, but in the end? It's not exactly finding a cure for cancer. She framed this as a piece of advice for how creative people should treat their art. Yes, it's important, and it's okay to dedicate your life to it and pour your whole soul into it, but also? No one will die if you're not good. Especially not you. There's no need to destroy  your life, happiness, relationships, soul, sanity, or whatever, over your art. Which leads me to her next piece of advice that I loved:

Creativity does not require you to suffer. Oh, how I LOVED hearing a successful creative writer say this, because doesn't it seem like the only successful artists/authors/creatives these days are starving, or depressed, or addicted to drugs, or committing suicide, or suffering in some other way for the sake of their art? And all of their work reflects this suffering? I actually feel like I wrote a post once about how I will never be a successful writer because my life is too happy (I couldn't find said post, so maybe I just thought about writing it?), and I believe I have seen studies before linking creativity and negativity, but Gilbert's philosophy completely bucks this popular trend. She claims that creativity may ask for devotion and dedication, but it does NOT require suffering. In fact, she claims that destructive life behavior is actually counter-productive to a creative life. She talks about how the best way to consistently create good creative work is to take care of yourself first. Get enough sleep. Exercise. Eat healthy. Maintain healthy relationships. Be a well-rounded, productive, contributing, mentally healthy person, and you will live a longer life and produce more work. I found this encouraging because for me it was like, yes! I can be a normal, happy person, and still write!

Your art owes you nothing, not financial support, not success, nothing. So don't expect it to. I loved, loved, loved this piece of advice too, especially from someone who is making a living off of her writing. She just talked about how unfair it is to put pressure on yourself to make your creative work support you financially. This is a recipe for stress, depression, and major financial difficulties. As someone who rejected writing as a career because of it's financial instability, I highly appreciated this piece of advice. I love how in Gilbert's own life she kept her day job and wrote on the side for years and years (before she became successful enough to live off her writing). This is just such a sensible piece of advice, I completely agree. I will write for the rest of my life, and maybe even try to get published at some point, but I will never expect to make an income or a living out of it, nor find any measure of "success." For me, writing and creativity are more personally motivated anyway.

Follow your curiosity. So, Gilbert spends the majority of her book (it felt like) talking about those "big magic" moments when inspiration just knocks you over the head with this great big idea. Yeah, most of the time that is not me. So I really appreciated her story about getting into gardening, and that leading to research about where her plants came from, and eventually that led her to an idea for a book. Not necessarily her best selling, most successful book, but a book nonetheless. She just followed what interested her for a while, no ulterior motives, and eventually it led to an idea she could work with. This was absolutely advice I appreciated, because I don't necessarily feel like I have any brilliant big ideas, but I'm definitely curious about a lot of things, and that's a start.

I especially appreciated some of this advice in the context not of my writing hobby, but my own current career trajectory. I still feel like pursing a Ph. D. in literature is a bit meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but it's also important! It's both! It may require some suffering to accomplish, but at least I'm not expecting it to financially support me. And it may not be offering some great service to humanity, but it is something I'm intensely interested in and curious about, and that's okay! It's okay for me to do something just because it's interesting to me. So, viewing my Ph. D. as a creative endeavor, Gilbert's advice actually helped me find a little more purpose and self-justification, and inspiration, for my academic pursuits (funnily enough).

Anyway, there was plenty of other advice and fun stories in this book, but some of it was a little out there so proceed with caution. Gilbert's got some crazy mystical notions about how creativity works, but I could totally swallow it. I would probably give it different rules and names, so I didn't agree with everything, but in general I thoroughly enjoyed this book (which is why I find it strange that it didn't inspire to go actually read anything else she's written). I also really enjoyed listening to the podcast Gilbert released in conjunction with this book, that was pretty fun too. I would definitely recommend this to anyone who in any way considers themselves a "creative" type, or drawn to creative endeavors. Or maybe even someone who doesn't consider their self as creative (because everyone is at least a little creative, in some way). (Content warning: some language.)

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