Book Review: Big Magic


I have this thing about Elizabeth Gilbert. I like her. I want her to do well.I appreciate her spunk, her candor, and her willingness to be real. Mostly, I like her passion about writing.

That said, I have found the quirks and tone of her writing distracting.

I loved precisely half of Eat, Pray, Love while the other half I found… well, let’s just say it wasn’t my favorite.

I offer this as preface to say that I opened Gilbert’s latest book, Big Magic, with a skeptical bias. Not a huge bias, but a bias nonetheless.

Still, she was tackling a topic I love, namely how to live a creative life.

As you know, after reading The Artist’s Way and building Morning Pages into my routine, I am a huge advocate that everyone needs to recognize their God-given creativity. And on this point, Gilbert makes her opinion crystal clear,

“If you’re alive, you’re a creative person.”


I am tracking with her. In fact, her entire first section is about having courage and the obstacles which stand in our way of being creative.

“It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes, too.”

I like her thoughts and the way she personifies fear as a real force. She also calls out those things which often get in the way of being creative and basically says, “stop it.” (Not a direct quote, but her tone is typically blunt)

“You can clear out whatever obstacles are preventing you from living your most creative life, with the simple understanding that whatever is bad for you is probably also bad for your work.”

Gilbert writes about creativity as an “enchantment.”

“Because the truth is, I believe that creativity is a force of enchantment—not entirely human in its origins.”

The enchantment language isn’t just an odd word choice, the entire section feels suspiciously like she’s trying to avoid talking about God.

Instead, she writes about the Universe, about Magic, about the divine, and other kinds of personifications, but doesn’t say God. It’s all so very squishy and timid, which strikes me as ironic since the previous chapter was all about Courage.

“Because when it all comes together, it’s amazing. When it all comes together, the only thing you can do is bow down in gratitude, as if you have been granted an audience with the divine. Because you have."

I wish she had taken a more Artist’s Way approach where Julia Cameron (whose faith roots are still a mystery to me) says she’s going to write about God and you the reader can define that as you’d like, but that you also needed to “get over” the idea.

But I’m quibbling on this point. It’s a quirk which you may not even notice.

What you will notice is Gilbert’s relentless encouragement to do something (ANYTHING!!) to live a creative life.

For God’s sake (she doesn’t say God), PRACTICE your craft!

“It’s a simple and generous rule of life that whatever you practice, you will improve at.”

Don’t let OTHERS define you.

“The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong only to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying.”

Get OVER your self-imposed limitations.

“As the saying goes: “Argue for your limitations and you get to keep them.”

LOWER your expectations for reward!

“I think it’s a mighty act of human love to remind somebody that they can accomplish things by themselves, and that the world does not automatically owe them any reward, and that they are not as weak and hobbled as they may believe.”

There are so many tidbits of encouragement, if you’ve struggled to live a creative life, this book will blow wind in your sails.

That said…

(here’s the caveat to my full on thumbs-up, you-gotta-get-this book recommendation)

what this book is seriously lacking is in the practical realm. (The one notable exception is how much she thinks paying for art school is a waste of money)

Permission, persistence, trust, divinity – her topics are broad enough that she was flying 10,000 feet above the practical.

For all of Gilbert’s encouragement, this book is painfully short on advice.

Her thoughts are inspiring and her words are compelling, but she falls short on application.

In my opinion, this is a serious miss. I don’t think it’s fatal, but buyer beware. Read this for the inspiration, not for the “how to” and you’ll be pleased.

“Because without that source of wonder, I know that I am doomed. Without it, I will forever wander the world in a state of bottomless dissatisfaction—nothing but a howling ghost, trapped in a body made of slowly deteriorating meat.”