Recommended Reading: Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Big Magic”

big magic

“Do you have the courage?  Do you have the courage to bring forth this work?  The treasures that are hidden inside you are hoping you will say yes.”

– Poet Jack Gilbert, offering writing advice to a student at the University of Tennessee (from Big Magic)

While I could not get through Eat, Pray, Love in book or movie form, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote one of the best things I’ve ever read about perseverance when it comes to writing: you shouldn’t pre-reject yourself (here it is along with a lot of other good stuff).  While my writing output has fluctuated in the decade since I read that page, that one idea has always stuck with me.  Don’t pre-reject yourself.

Reading Gilbert’s Big Magic, I realized I was finally ready to take that lesson to heart.  This wasn’t a book I’d read and put back on the freebie shelf for another bookseller to love, this was a book I’d read repeatedly, any time I felt my work ethic dropping off.  That’s how good this book is; it’s ideas are so special, so effortlessly inspirational, that I’m willing to push new work aside in favor of rereading it.

You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures.  You can battle your demons instead of battling your gifts – in part by realizing that your demons were never the ones doing the work, anyhow.

-Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Ever since I read Big Magic, followed by Diana Abu-Jaber’s Life Without a Recipe, I’ve found myself writing more consistently.  Gilbert talks about having an affair with your muse.  You know how adulterous couples always manage to find time for hot sex?  No matter how busy their lives are, they’ll steel a few moments in a broom closet or a parked car.  You can do that with your art; and stealing extra time to create feels good.

“I believe our creativity grows like sidewalk weeds out of the cracks between our pathologies – not from the pathologies themselves.”

– Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Diana Abu-Jaber and I were in a writer’s group a few years back, so I got to read the first few chapters of Life Without a Recipe as printouts.  Abu-Jaber’s memoir was the perfect companion piece to Big Magic.  Abu-Jaber had a lot going on in her life – divorces, deaths, adoption, babies – yet she ultimately emerged with this beautiful piece of work.  It felt like validation for everything I’d been reading in Big Magic.  Keep dancing with your muse and she’ll reward you.  Sit out too many dances and she’ll move on to a different partner.

“Don’t let go of your courage the moment things stop being easy or rewarding.

Because that moment?

That’s the moment when interesting begins.”

– Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

When we scheduled Elizabeth Gilbert to present Big Magic at the Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, I was told it would be a huge event.  I’m always told every event will be huge.  I looked at sales for the six other events we’d done with Elizabeth Gilbert over the years, considered the venue, and huged them numbers up.  The order our Marketing and Events Coordinator suggested instead made me laugh out loud.  This was an Elizabeth Gilbert signing, not the midnight release party for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Our Marketing and Events Coordinator had read Big Magic; I hadn’t.

In the twelve years I’ve worked at Books & Books, we’ve hosted celebrities (Kate Hudson, Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer), sports figures (Ray Lewis, Shaq, Jerry Rice), pop stars (J-Lo, Ricky Martin, Cee-Lo), politicians (Bill and Hillary Clinton), chefs (Ina Garten, Tyler Florence, Chrissy Teigen) and even some literary rock stars (Neil Gaiman, Chuck Palahniuk, Junot Diaz).  These events were show-stoppers, the kind of draws which we always joke will keep the doors open for another month.  None of these events came close to the numbers we did for Big Magic.

You’d be right if you said that a literary sensation like Eat, Pray, Love can’t be duplicated, that lightning doesn’t strike twice in one career.  Big Magic is an entirely new level.  The publishing world might need more hits like it to stay solvent, but the world itself needs more ideas like it to stay sane.

I don’t care if I sound like a cult member, because this one (call it the Cult of Creativity) is worth joining.




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