10 Creative Life Lessons I Learned From Big Magic

We had just landed in Oakland, picked up our not-requested rental car, and were beginning to make our way to our apartment in San Francisco. The kids had fallen asleep and my husband was driving on a highway calmly despite the traffic, a talent of mine I have yet to uncover. Seeing that everything was momentarily under control, I reached into the packed carry-on bag at my feet to find a book. The bag was packed with all sorts of delightfully entertaining items for me to be entertained with on the airplane: books, magazines, music, even nail polish so that I could attempt to mani/pedi in between turbulence. Of course, traveling with a one and three year-old I never opened the bag except to find the toy pig my son decided to pack on top “just in case”.

But I’m an optimist, so I packed it all anyway and imagined the possibility of a calm, relaxing flight.​

Calm and relaxing it wasn’t, but entertaining and lively it was. And I’m not complaining. I love those two little maniacs almost as much as the man behind us who receive an unexpected flying goldfish in the eye about an hour in.

But here was my moment. I felt for the book, it’s hard cover and paper jacket, the folded down pages (the numerous folded down pages) and pulled it out to read not for the first or second, but third time that month.

I was a fan of Eat, Pray, Love, although I technically never finished it because it was stolen out of my car mid-read and mid-week. I enjoyed hearing about the adventures of this middle-aged woman, blonde and beautiful, spunky and broken, despite the fact that I had little to relate to her with. At the time I was reading the book I was engaged, happier than ever, and optimistically giddy about the future. Despite that, I found myself in the book often. If not for advice, for honesty. I found Elizabeth Gilbert to be refreshingly open, something I was just myself learning to do after years and years of hiding my emotions, covering my tear-filled tracks with lie after lie.

I watched the movie version of Eat, Pray, Love when I was pregnant with my son. My husband watched it with me because he understood that crazy hormones were not a thing to be messed with, especially after 10 pm. I liked the movie, I finally got to see the end, but really I enjoyed it because the scenery was gorgeous and so is Julia Roberts.

But Eat, Pray, Love wasn’t the book I pulled from my bag that afternoon as navigated our way into the heart of San Francisco. The book I had fallen in love was Big Magic. I spotted the bright cover while strolling the aisles of a bookstore, coffee, of course, in hand (I don’t see how the two can exist without each other). Something pulled me to the book. Maybe it was the familiar name, Elizabeth Gilbert, maybe it was the bright cover jacket amid the typical monotone and erotic, but I think it was something bigger that made me reach for it that afternoon last fall. I think it was big magic.

I have now read Big Magic five times. I don’t know if that’s something to be proud of or not, but it’s true. I have folded down nearly every page so that now I’ve had to come up with a color-coded system so I can ascertain just why I folded that page down. Yellow is for quotes. Pink is for ideas. Blue is for questions. Orange is for reading in the morning. Black is for reading at night. White is for reading when I’m frustrated. Words have been underlined. Margins have been filled with words.

Don’t judge.

I think Big Magic has struck such a chord with me and so many people around the world because, as Elizabeth says, we all need permission. This book is just that, an affirmation-filled permission slip, encouraging us creatives to carry on. And not just carry on, but live fully and unabashedly.

10 Creative Life Lessons I Learned From Big Magic​


1. Creativity Needs Courage: Early on in Big Magic Gilbert writes, “When courage dies, creativity dies with it”. Being creative isn’t always easy, but it shouldn’t be painful either. Have the courage to fight for what you love, be curious about possibility, and don’t be afraid to do what others don’t.

2. You Are Not A Genius; You Have A Genius: I love this distinction Gilbert makes, the idea of eudaimonia borrowed from the Greeks. It relieves so much of the pressure and actually allows creativity to flow. When you recognize that you are just a vehicle for genius to move from one form to another, you are better able to reach the “flow state”, and God knows creativity hates to be forced through.

3. You Are Worthy: I think a lot of times people living the creative life question if they are “worthy” enough to live this life. One of my favorite lines from Big Magic (in fact, it’s one I use daily now as a mantra) is when she says, “The fact that I am here at all is evidence that I have a right to be here”. We are all destined for something great - that’s why we are here in the first place. Yes, you are meant to do this and you don’t have to apologize for it. The only thing you need to apologize for is if you give up on your creative talents and create a vacuous void in the universe (that literally sucks. don’t do it.)

4. “Follow Your Own Fascinations, Obsessions, And Compulsions”: You are meant to do wonderful and great things in this life. But that doesn’t mean that they have to seem great or even very important. There’s a reason why you want to do those things. So go collect stamps like it’s no one’s business, because it’s not. Do your work unapologetically at all times. If it’s important to you that is absolutely all that matters - and there’s a reason for it.​

5. Don’t Take Your Work Too Seriously: Creative work is wonderful and all, but it’s not brain surgery. No one’s life depends on it, and that’s a good thing! You wouldn’t want the fate of your family to lie in your ability to paint or write poetry or design wallpaper. That kind of pressure is not where creativity lives and thrives anyway. As Gilbert puts it, living a creative life means that “you’re just an intracranial jewelry maker”; your job is to decorate brains and make everyone feel like Katy Perry riding on the backs of elephants across an Indian oasis (or, you know, whatever kind of imaginary scenes your brain gets off on…)

6. Not Expressing Creativity Will Make You Crazy: Seriously. If you continue to fight your creative work because you don’t think it’s important. Or if you continue to fight with your creative work because you think it’s of utmost importance, you’re screwed. Express it, enjoy it, and then move on. That’s the life you need to live.

7. “Be A Disciplined Half-Ass”: As Gilbert says, “Don’t strive for perfection; strive for completion”. Your work will never be “ready” so don’t wait for it to be. Get to a point where you can say “good enough” and then let it go. It’s the only way to keep going and not go fucking crazy.

8. The Universe Is Waiting On You: Your creative work is important. Not letting it come forth is not only going to make you crazy, but it’s going to piss off the universe too. There’s a reason you have those crazy desires in you. Sitting on your ass and deciding not to act on those desires is like having a crazy awesome rooftop deck overlooking the ocean and never climbing the stairs to enjoy it. Gilbert writes, “The earth is not indifferent, she is calling for us to give her gifts in return for hers.” Listen.

9. Be Reasonably Delusional: Whether you want to admit it or not, your life is filled with delusions (I like to call mine unbridled optimism, but they are delusions nonetheless). It’s up to you to decide what those delusions are. They can either be horrible, defeated delusions that echo that you are not good enough, will never be successful, are a loser, etc. or they can be awesome. As Gilbert says, “Choose a delusion that is helpful”.

10. “What Is Sacred Is The Time Put Into Creation, Not The Creation Itself”: To live a wonderfully creative life and to ensure that you don’t get burnt out or suicidal, it’s important to realize that you are not your creations. The experience that you receive from shaping that creation is what is important - that time spent on your creative passion is what you should be attached to. Learn to let each of your creations go, hoping for the best but never attaching yourself to the results, whether bad or good. Live for the experiences, not the results.