Can I live a creative life?

Kelsey Cleveland
Mar 20, 2017 · 5 min read

Review of Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Reading Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert is like going to happy hour or out to coffee with a good and caring friend. As you read, it feels like Elizabeth is talking directly to you. You will laugh together. You will exclaim in disbelief as she tells story after story. You will absorb her warmth and generosity as it oozes off the pages. You will feel her friendly nudge to have the courage and persistence to try the creative life. You may even bump into some old friends like Ann Patchett, Brené Brown or the Balinese medicine man from Eat, Pray, Love.

I don’t know exactly why, but I wasn’t planning on reading this book. Like many, I read and enjoyed Elizabeth Gilbert’s breakout bestselling memoir Eat, Pray, Love. Because I enjoyed the memoir, I also saw the movie starring Julia Roberts. As usual, the book was better. I also read her follow-up memoir, Committed: A Love Story.

I have also watched both of Elizabeth’s TED talks on creativity. I am not the only one: her TED talks have over 11 million views. I have also heard her talk about creativity during in-depth interviews by Jonathan Fields and Marie Forleo. I remember being struck by how she exuded joy in the interviews.

But for some reason, when the book came out in 2015 I was not particularly interested.

Fast forward to January 2017. I am in my local library and see Big Magic on display. The book called to me. Creativity has been more on my mind recently. I decide to read it. I am so glad that I made that choice.

I recommend the book whether or not you have a creative or artistic streak. Though, of course, the book has been heavily marketed to creatives. In fact, the cover of the book debuted on Etsy of all places.

Gilbert argues that we are all creatives so you don’t need to be creative in the traditional sense to read the book. You will be able to find nuggets of wisdom about courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust and divinity. And if you don’t, at least you will hear some good stories and get a few laughs.

Here are my favorite stories, quotes, and takeaways from Big Magic:

Be aware of the power of a kiss

Author Ann Patchett became good friends with Elizabeth Gilbert when they met in 2008. (Ann Patchett wrote by favorite novel Bel Canto.) In Part II: Enchantment, Elizabeth tells the amazing story of their “shared” novel that takes place in the Amazon jungle. You may have read Ann Patchett’s version, State of Wonder.

Elizabeth planned to call her never publish novel Evelyn of the Amazon. It was about a freeway construction project in Amazon in the 1960s. She abandoned the idea for a few years to write her memoir “Committed”.

Elizabeth and Ann both believe that a kiss transmitted the idea of the novel from one of them to the other. The kiss also ignited their friendship. A serious tale of Big Magic.

Learn to be trickster of the creative process like Brené Brown

Elizabeth advises us to be tricksters instead of martyrs to the creative process. She tells a story of how her friend Brené Brown turned from martyr to trickster using Elizabeth’s advice. As a Texan, Brené loves to tell stories. She includes many stories in her books. But in her previous books, she wrote mostly in isolation. Faced with a tight deadline, Brené retreated to a beach house for girl’s weekend. She spent the weekend telling them stories. Her friends transcribed them for her. Brene would then quickly go and write up the stories using the notes. She would get more feedback from friends and then repeat the process again.

View rejection like a tennis match

I am a tennis player and big fan. In Part III: Permission, Elizabeth Gilbert decided to view rejection letters like a tennis match.

“I decided to play the game of rejection letters as if it were a great cosmic tennis match: Somebody would send me a rejection, and I would knock it right back over the net, sending out another query in the same afternoon. My policy was: You hit to me, I’m going to hit it straight back out into the universe.” p. 112

This resonated with me. I am someone who plays tennis and sometimes doesn’t take action out of fear of rejection.

Allow fear on the road trip, but don’t let it drive or touch the radio

Photo: Juan Di Nella

Elizabeth Gilbert gives fear a welcome speech before starting a project. She uses the metaphor of a road trip of a car filled with herself, creativity and fear.

Here is an excerpt of her message to fear:

“I recognize and respect that you are part of this family, and so I will never exclude you from our activities, but still– your suggestions will never be followed….But above all else, my dear old familiar friend, you are absolutely forbidden to drive.” pp. 25–26

Stop trying to be perfect and don’t be lazy

As a recovering perfectionist, Elizabeth Gilbert’s discussions on perfectionism in Part IV: Persistence really hit home.

In short, perfectionism is:

  • A “corrosive waste of time” (p. 169)
  • “Disguises itself as virtue” (p. 167)
  • “A high-end, haute couture version of fear” (p. 167)

Instead, Elizabeth Gilbert advises us to aim for the opposite: “You must learn how to become a deeply disciplined half-ass.” (p. 166). I love this so much!


If you have not yet read this book, get yourself the audiobook version narrated by the author herself. (I read the print version, but I think this book will be even better as an audiobook.) Listen to it where you would go with a good friend. On a walk in the woods. Over a cup of tea with a sweet treat. With a glass of wine on the couch.

If you read the print version, don’t be tempted to skip around. The essays often refer to the previous essays.

After you are done, follow Gilbert’s advice to uncover the jewels buried deep within you to live your own version of a creative life. You can go back to the book again and again when you need help on your scavenger hunt.

For additional resources on creativity, head over to my blog.

Kelsey Cleveland is a freelance writer, Desire Map facilitator, and fundraising consultant in Oregon.

Kelsey Cleveland

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Writer | Desire Map facilitator who helps intelligent women design their lives based on how they want to feel @

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