9 Sharable Thoughts from “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert

Reading Log


Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, was given to me as a gift before my second semester of college by a high school mentor of mine. Somehow, it was exactly what I needed at the time.

The book explores the nature of creativity and encourages the educated and intentional pursuit of a creative life. Gilbert’s charming and straightforward voice makes the ideas accessible, actionable, and inspiring. It changed the way I think about my own creativity and my future as a maker for sure, and I would recommend to anyone who even dabbles in a creative pursuit.

The following are the ideas that made me stop and read them over and over.  They are those which I felt could help me, but also anyone who gets stuck in their head about something that should be simple; creating.

1. “Ideas are alive…ideas do seek the most available human collaborator…ideas do have conscious will… ideas do move from soul to soul…ideas will always try to seek the swiftest and most efficient conduit to the earth.”

You become that conduit, that most available human collaborator, by doing your thing all the time. If you’re a painter, then the more you paint, the more likely inspiration for a new piece is to find you. If you’re a writer, the more you write, the more likely you are to find yourself with a brilliant idea for a novel.

2. “It’s even okay if your work is totally frivolous. That’s allowed. It’s all allowed. Your own reasons to create are reason enough. Merely by pursuing what you love, you may inadvertently end up helping us plenty. (“There is no love which does not help,” taught the theologian Paul Tillich.) Do whatever brings you to life, then. Follow your fascinations, obsessions, and compulsions. Trust them. Create whatever causes a revolution in your heart. The rest will take care of itself.”

What a concept. We don’t have to restrict ourselves to only the activities that pave a clear path forward, that have a distinct contribution attached to them. By simply doing activities you love to do, you may contribute anyway. So don’t stop yourself from diving into a research rabbit hole on a completely mundane topic, or from trying out watercolors when you have no intentions of doing anything with the finished painting. Just go for it. “The rest will take care of itself.”

3.“I worry that what students of the arts are often seeking in higher education is nothing more than proof of their own legitimacy—proof that they are for real as creative people, because their degree says so.

On one hand, I completely understand this need for validation; it’s an insecure pursuit, to attempt to create. But if you’re working on your craft every day on your own, with steady discipline and love, then you are already for real as a creator, and you don’t need to pay anybody to affirm that for you.”

This this THIS. As someone in school for the arts, I think this is a very real thing. It’s a source of validation and, I think, a stalling point to delay the beginning of a career, and one that is not always necessary.

4. “Or if you’re getting a degree in the arts right now, and you can honestly and easily afford to do so, that’s also fine. If your school gave you a free ride, better still…Work hard, make the most of your opportunities, and grow, grow, grow. This can be a beautiful time of focused study and creative expansion. But if you’re considering some sort of advanced schooling in the arts and you’re not rolling in cash, I’m telling you—you can live without it. You can certainly live without debt, because debt will always be the abattoir of creative dreams. “

On the other hand, there are a lot of great arguments for a university education in the arts. So for anyone who decides to pursue or is already pursuing higher in the education in the arts, make the most of it. But if you aren’t, don’t let anyone tell you that you need to.

5. “I told the universe (and anyone who would listen) that I was committed to living a creative life not in order to save the world, not as an act of protest, not to become famous, not to gain entrance to the cannon, not to challenge they system, not to prove to my family that I was worthy, not as a form of deep emotional catharsis…but simply because I liked it.

                  So try saying this: ‘I enjoy my creativity.’

                 And when you say it, be sure to actually mean it.

For one thing, it will freak people out. I believe that enjoying your work with all your heart is the only truly subversive position left to take as a creative person these days. It’s such a gangster move, because hardly anybody ever dares to speak of creative enjoyment aloud, for fear of not being taken seriously as an artist. So say it. Be the weirdo who dares to enjoy.

Best of all though, by saying that you delight in your work, you will draw inspiration near.”

I love this. You don’t need to come up with some grand humanitarian justification for your creative pursuit. You can simply enjoy your work and be open about that fact that you do. You don’t have to join the chorus of creative complainers either.

6.  “Through the mere act of creating something—anything—you might inadvertently produce work that is magnificent, eternal, or important. You might not, on the other hand. But if your calling is to make things, then you still have to make things in order to live out your highest creative potential—and also in order to remain sane. Possessing a creative mind, after all, is something like having a border collie for a pet: It needs to work, or else it will cause you an outrageous amount of trouble. Give your mind a job to do, or else it will find a job to do, and you might not like the job it invents…It does seem to be the case that if I am not actively creating something, then I am probably actively destroying something (myself, a relationship, or my own peace of mind).”

Put (even more) simply, if you have a creative mind, and you might as well apply it intentionally.

7. “I think the difference between a tormented creative life and a tranquil creative life is nothing more than the difference between the word awful and the word interesting. Interesting outcomes, after all, are just awful outcomes with the volume of drama turned way down.”

So keep the drama on low, and keep things interesting

8. “Failure has a function. It asks you weather you really want to go on making things.”

Don’t look at your failures as a waste. Answer the questions your failure asks you. 

And in case you still had any doubts about pursuing a creative life…

9.“What do you live doing so much that the words failure and success essentially become irrelevant?….Anyhow, what else are you going to do with your time here on Earth—not make things? Not do interesting stuff? Not follow your love and your curiosity?”


Have you read Big Magic? What were your greatest takeaways?

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