BookPage Nonfiction Top Pick, October 2015
Years before I read Eat, Pray, Love, I clipped a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 bestseller that I still have today. “Happiness is the result of personal effort,” she wrote. “You have to participate relentlessly.” This was not news I wanted to hear at the time, but a life spent waiting for the right bluebird to cross my path wasn’t working out too well, either. I started to put a little more shoulder into my efforts, and did, in fact, find myself enjoying life more. If you’re living a creative life (and news flash—you are), the same rules apply. In her latest book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Gilbert contends that persistence and curiosity are the keys to pushing past your boundaries to live a bigger, happier life.
The writing here is so friendly and funny that Gilbert’s perspective on creative living goes down like lemonade in summer. I howled at her description of a childhood so bound by fear that a trip to the shore left her agonized by all the people who insisted on swimming (it hit a little close to home). Pace yourself and pay attention, though, and you’ll find substantive teaching about the paradoxical nature of creativity: You need to work at it with great consistency but little thought for the end result; rather than expect it to take care of you, financially or otherwise, it’s best to work in order to support your creativity; cultivating a sense of play is often the most direct path to your best and most serious work.
Gilbert tells the story of a novel she almost wrote, which then took a circuitous path away from her and landed with Ann Patchett instead. She weighs the various ways one can respond to such wonders. (Hint: It helps to view them as wonders rather than resentments.) The short story that launched her career after years of work and rejection was only accepted after a series of crucial changes. Agonizing, yes, but, “screw it. Because let’s be honest: It wasn’t the Magna Carta we were talking about here; it was just a short story about a cowgirl and her boyfriend.”
Whatever tune your creativity whistles, Big Magic will renew your love for the dance.