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Short Book Review: Big Magic

Being an artist is hard.

Hell, sometimes even just calling yourself an artist is damn near impossible without a cacophony of voices in your head proclaiming you’re wrong, unworthy, delusional, too old, too young, too happy and so on and so forth ad-nauseam. All those little fears are all of a sudden more than happy to tell you why you don’t deserve to use that word.

This book is, in part, about those fears and giving them a nice pat on the head and telling them “Thanks for your opinion, you’re wrong, now shut the fuck up and let me get back to work.”

Now before I go on, I want to say. This book was written by someone who had another book that was ridiculously successful. So much so that I almost decided to not read this book. Which, when you think about it, is an absolutely terrible way to look at things, but the gut reaction of, “oh shit that’s popular, it must be terrible.” seems to be SO ingrained in our collective psyche. (Do you know who put that thought in there? Marketing departments for other things who want that same success. Think about that for a second.)

That got me thinking, can you imagine doing something so incredible that one of your works becomes practically a household name? How do you do ANYTHING after that, let alone take a risk and write a book about fear? I’ve got fears and doubts piled high around me, but Elizabeth Gilbert’s fear and uncertainty must be the size of a mountain. So she wrote a book where she skis on that mountain and talks about falling/failing/fearing and dealing with it.

OK, on to the book itself.

Big Magic

It’s well researched, written like a nice friendly chat with an old friend who just popped around for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake and decided to have a chat about fear,creativity and the secret lives of ideas. Is it ‘Great Literature’? Will it shake the foundations of society? Will it help you make art? The answers are, I don’t know; doubtfully, but it might help you change the world; and no it won’t help you make art.

It will, however, help you to get the hell out of your own way so you can make art. That’s Big Magic in my book.

And in my opinion, that’s something we don’t talk about enough.

The book is broken down into several different sections each dealing with a step or hurdle in the creative process. Some sections I agree with more than others, and a couple times I simply had to put the book down and have an argument with myself about who was right. Even if I don’t embrace all the ideas, they have all have proven worthwhile to just stop and think about for a while. If nothing else, after reading this and arguing with my own notions, I have a much better realized version of what MY creative process means to me and how it fits into my life.

Here’s some of the little nuggets of wisdom that really resonated with me. There were plenty more in there, but these are some of the ones I can’t stop thinking about.

The only thing you have absolutely no control over is how people react to your work.

We’re so preoccupied with trying to make things that will get us ‘likes’ or some sort of external validation that we let it impact our creative choices. If you were to paint the Sistine chapel today, you’d still get people who hate it for being garish, too much nudity, and so on and so forth. Doing something that you want and being ok with people not liking it is hard on the ego, pride and spirit. I’m finding that it’s been very helpful just to simply just stare at those words and remind myself that it’s the same for all artists.

You don’t need to do autopsies of your disasters.

Tying into the previous idea of not being able to control how people react to my work is the incessant need for me to deconstruct my work once it’s complete to try and find out why people didn’t react the way I want them to. Because the endorphin rush of the phone going ‘ding’ when you get a like really is training us to have a Pavlovian response. And there’s no way that can be healthy for creativity. So how do we recognizing that, and yet still balancing it with the actual need to work on a social media presence … well if you find out the magical balance there please let me know.