Book Notes: Big Magic

Book Notes: Where we read and condense books down to their main takeaways for creatives, with a look at our own notes from reading.

This is another book I resisted reading for a while, even after multiple recommendations. Eat Pray Love and it’s cult of privileged middle-aged-white-woman devotees unfairly colored my perceptions of Elizabeth Gilbert as an author. But over the years her TED talks and her podcast have won over more and more of my creative friends and I decided to give Big Magic a try. I’m glad I did. It’s the pep talk I think every artist, author, and maker-of-stuff needs from time to time, especially right now. Gilbert has a great way of reframing things you’ve heard a thousand times before (“Failure is good for you” “Everyone has self-doubt” “Fear means you’re doing something right”) in a way that’s incredibly relatable and down-to-earth. This book feels like the cup of tea and warm hug every artist needs right now.

Gilbert uses a lot of personal anecdotes and examples from her life of writing and her author friends, but they are universally applicable to any kind of creative life. One of her coping techniques becomes pretty obvious early on — she has anthropomorphized and externalized her creative struggles into characters that inhabit her creative life with her. Ideas are itinerant creatures who may sit with you for years or may crankily flit off to another creative person’s house if they’re not welcomed warmly enough. The Universe is sitting like a teenage girl next to her phone, just waiting for you to text.

If this seems a little too cute, there’s actually historical precedence for this. The entire Ancient Greek concept of inspiration and genius, was that it was a gift from the gods in the form of a little guardian spirit, or daemon, that led the person to their destiny. In ancient Greece, you weren’t a genius, you HAD a genius.

I wrote a ton of notes for this book. It’s a little paperback, and I got 3 full spreads of notes, so that alone says it’s a worthwhile read, and it’s very quick because it’s so conversational. With so many of us having trouble getting back on track after the holidays and digging into the start of 2018, this might be a good way to start.

Buy The Book Here: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

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Background on the “notes” part of Book Notes: When I am reading a book, I am a obsessive underliner (especially of non-fiction books). After I’m done, I copy anything I want to remember into my sketchbook. It’s kind of like making personal cliffs notes. This column started because many of the people who have seen my sketchbooks over the years wanted access to some of the pages on books they were interested in. Since I am reading books through the lens of an artist, I wanted to start sharing these notes and condensed reviews with other artists. If you like the tone of the notes, then you’ll know it’ll be worth it to pick up the book.

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