Big Magic Summary
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Big Magic Summary and Review | Elizabeth Gilbert

Creative Living Beyond Fear

Life gets busy. Has Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert been gathering dust on your bookshelf? Instead, learn the key insights now.

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Big Magic is an exploration of how creative people can excel in a world that belittles creativity. Elizabeth Gilbert outlines how important it is that we don’t try and fit our creative energy into the narrow field that society expects us to fit in. Therefore, we shouldn’t mix creative pleasures with work. Plus, we should not aim to obtain academic qualifications to justify our creativity. Our creativity should be utilized without fear and expectations. We should not be martyrs for our creativity, and we should work collaboratively if it saves us pain. Big Magic is about enjoying creativity in a world that frequently belittles it.

About Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert is an American author and journalist. Her most notable piece of work is eat, pray, love. This book has sold millions of copies and was subsequently turned into a feature-length film. Elizabeth attended NYU to study political sciences and subsequently became a journalist who wrote for publications such as SPIN Magazine, GQ Magazine, and The New York Times. 

“A creative life is an amplified life. It’s a bigger life, a happier life, an expanded life, and a hell of a lot more interesting life. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you—is a fine art, in and of itself.”

– Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

StoryShot #1: Don’t Let Fear Stop You From Living Creatively

“Dearest Fear: Creativity and I are about to go on a road trip together. I understand you’ll be joining us, because you always do. I acknowledge that you believe you have an important job to do in my life, and that you take your job seriously. Apparently your job is to induce complete panic whenever I’m about to do anything interesting—and, may I say, you are superb at your job. So by all means, keep doing your job, if you feel you must. But I will also be doing my job on this road trip, which is to work hard and stay focused. And Creativity will be doing its job, which is to remain stimulating and inspiring. There’s plenty of room in this vehicle for all of us, so make yourself at home, but understand this: Creativity and I are the only”

– Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

From a young age, we are taught that a good education and a serious job are essential for a happy life. However, this has left millions of creative individuals wondering where they can obtain true happiness. Subsequently, several creative individuals are stuck in dead-end jobs that are not utilizing their creative skills. 

Pursuing your creative skills will be a difficult choice because of the way society socializes us. However, Elizabeth Gilbert suggests that this does not have to be the case. You do not have to be a world-famous artist to be fulfilled in your creative endeavors. Instead, you have to learn to live with curiosity instead of fear. 

Elizabeth does not rigidly define creativity. Instead, creativity is any pursuit that excites your curiosity. Therefore, it can be any activity that makes you feel bold or brave. This can range from painting to archery. 

The emotion that is holding you back from pursuing these creative activities is fear. This fear can manifest in many different ways. Here are some of the typical fear-fueled reasons for not pursuing a creative endeavor:

  • Worried you don’t have sufficient ability
  • Worried that it is too late for you to start this activity
  • Worried that no one will care what you have to say or do
  • Worried that you don’t have the time or money to invest in this activity


The best way to overcome these fears is to accept them. Many authors suggest we should just let go of our fears. Elizabeth challenges this view and instead suggests we should get comfortable with our fears; they are natural. They should not stop us from engaging with activities that utilize our creative energy. Instead, they should coexist with your activities. You will eventually stop noticing these fears when you engage with creative activities. 


StoryShot #2: Grasp Ideas When They Emerge

“I believe that our planet is inhabited not only by animals and plants and bacteria and viruses, but also by ideas. Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us—albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner. It is only through a human’s efforts that an idea can be escorted out of the ether and into the realm of the actual.”

– Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Ideas are continually emerging in our world. However, they are only realized if somebody is willing to take a risk and run with them. Elizabeth explains how you can identify when an idea is ready to be grasped. She describes a time when you feel a thought is taking hold, and you can’t let go of it. This idea will crop up in multiple moments in your day and pesters you during your quiet moments. If this is the case, then you have an idea that is worth grasping. You now have to accept it and not let distractions get in your way.

If you are not willing to accept this idea, somebody else will make it a reality. Elizabeth describes ideas as magical things that are part of the world, just like humans, animals, and plants. She provided an example of a time when she was considering the idea of writing a novel set in the Amazon jungle. She did not run with this idea, though, and moved on with other projects. Soon after this, Elizabeth became friends with novelist Ann Patchett. Remarkably, Ann had recently begun writing a novel set in the Amazon with a very similar storyline. Both her and Ann accepted that this idea was ready to be grasped by someone; Elizabeth neglected it, so it floated away to be realized by someone else. 


StoryShot #3: Give Yourself Permission to Be Creative

We frequently struggle to be creative. We blame the environment around us or the circumstances of the day. However, there are sources of inspiration around us, and we all have the potential to be creative. Therefore, the issue is not the environment around us but ourselves. We are our own biggest obstacle. It can sometimes be easier to mock our ability and suggest to ourselves that our creative ideas are not unique or special. 

To overcome these obstacles, we have to permit ourselves to be creative. Our inner voices are stopping us from giving permission. Therefore, say aloud statements like ‘I am a writer’ or ‘I am creative’. Announcing your creative potential will help you, and the universe, accept that you are allowed to follow whatever creative passion you have. If you can adopt this approach, then failures will no longer prevent you from working creatively.

Rejection can be one of the most significant barriers to creativity. However, we must learn not to take rejection personally. It is part of life and something inevitable. The author provides an example of how creative work is for you rather than other people. If others reject your creative products, it is most likely a failure in their ability to understand your creative ability. Elizabeth described how she had sent off a piece to Story Magazine before she had a published piece of work to her name. The editor-in-chief swiftly rejected this story. Years later, with a few bestsellers under her belt, Elizabeth sent the same story to the same editor-in-chief. This time the editor thought the work was outstanding. Nothing had changed creatively; the only thing that had changed was the editor’s perceptions. Therefore, we must not see creative rejections as personal attacks. Instead, engage creatively as a cathartic activity for yourself. If your creative work resonates with someone else, that’s great. However, this should not be the primary goal of your creative work. 

Finally, don’t worry about producing unique and creative work. Previous works of fiction will inspire every story. Instead, you want your creative work to be authentic to your passions.

“Anyhow, the older I get, the less impressed I become with originality. These days, I’m far more moved by authenticity. Attempts at originality can often feel forced and precious, but authenticity has quiet resonance that never fails to stir me.”

– Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

StoryShot #4: Don’t Worry About Being ‘Taken Seriously’

Creative people often struggle with the feeling that they need to be taken seriously by friends and family. Subsequently, they will spend years obtaining academic qualifications in subjects they don’t need a degree in. Elizabeth explains that you don’t need a degree to do what you love. Life experience is far more important in developing your creative skills than learning academic theory. 

The things that you learn in life cannot be taught in a classroom. Elizabeth gives the example of her complicated first marriage. Although this was a tough time in her life, it inspired her to write her first bestselling book. This is a perfect example of how life experience can be a better inspiration for creative pursuits than academic degrees. 


A huge part of being successful creatively is maintaining your playful side. Aiming to gain degrees related to your creative endeavors will only make your creative pursuits more serious. This is not what you want. Our creative inspirations should be amusing, intimate, and emotional. No book can explain to you how to utilize emotion in your work. 


StoryShot #5: Your Creativity Should Not Pay Your Rent

“But to yell at your creativity, saying, “You must earn money for me!” is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises and your face looks weird when you do that.”

– Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Creativity is often seen as something that people without a proper job engage with. However, issues can arise when creative people try to use their creative energy to pay their bills. Elizabeth does not recommend making your creative endeavor your day job. This will strangle your creativity. Instead, keep your day job as a foundation that will support your creative passions. 

Elizabeth provides the example of J.K. Rowling as an author; she started her literary work while working a day job. She would work by day and then steal a few hours each day to indulge in her writing passion. This time each day became somewhat of a ritual that kept her energy levels up. Hence, instead of using our creative energy to earn money, which will drain our energy, we should use this time as an opportunity to lift ourselves for the rest of the day. It can be our motivation during the day and our joy at night. 

Your creative endeavors should be stress-free. Therefore, take the monetary pressure off of your passions and provide financial security through backup options.


StoryShot #6: Be a Creative Trickster Rather Than a Martyr

“You’re not required to save the world with your creativity. Your art not only doesn’t have to be original, in other words, it also doesn’t have to be important. For example, whenever anyone tells me that they want to write a book in order to help other people I always think ‘Oh, please don’t. Please don’t try to help me.’ I mean it’s very kind of you to help people, but please don’t make it your sole creative motive because we will feel the weight of your heavy intention, and it will put a strain upon our souls.”

– Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Historically, creative people have described being an artist as requiring martyrdom. Basically, to be genuinely creative, you have to suffer in some way. However, Elizabeth believes there is another way. She claims that we should try and be creative tricksters rather than martyrs. The difference between a martyr and a trickster lies in how flexible they are. Martyrs will adhere rigidly to their principles, no matter the cost. In comparison, tricksters will take things lightly and only follow principles if they are easy to do. 

Tricksters can thrive as they can seamlessly adapt and change despite the difficulty of circumstances. They cut corners if it will help their creativity to shine. Elizabeth gives the example of Brene Brown. Brown always found it very easy to tell stories. However, she found producing a novel a very exhausting and tedious process. Therefore, she asked two of her colleagues to listen as she told the stories. They took notes, and then Brown wrote up her stories based on these notes. Brown trusted part of her work to her colleagues, which ultimately helped her creativity shine through more. Instead of being a martyr and spending years agonizing over writing the book alone, Brown gained more enjoyment from working alongside other people to make her creativity a reality. 

StoryShot #7: You Have a Genius; You Are Not a Genius

Gilbert traces the cultural concepts of creativity back to the ancient Greeks & Romans, during which time creativity was understood as a force external to the artist. She explains that it’s the difference between being a genius and having a genius. We are, therefore, not entirely responsible for our creative failures nor our creative successes.

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