Notes from my Bookshelf: Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert

Embracing and releasing the creativity within. A guide to living a creative life – without necessarily giving up your day job to go live in a yurt in a Devon wearing nothing but hemp and tie dye (of course you can if you want).

So, lockdown and the coronavirus pandemic continues and if you’re anything like me you’re re-evaluating, rediscovering and rethinking well, pretty much everything at the moment. So, in this ‘Notes from my bookshelf’ post I want to share with you a perfect book that’s helped me to do all those things in a kind, gentle and funny way.

Let me introduce you to Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert.

You may have heard of her, she wrote Eat Pray Love. But, whatever preconceived ideas you have based on that small fact, for good or bad, I ask you to keep an open mind here. Because Big Magic is a wonderful antidote to the fear and chaos of the world we’re living in right now. It’s a celebration of inspiration, creativity and the joy of making life your own.

So from my social distancing to yours – give it a go and discover the secrets of living a creative life.

“You can live a long life, making and doing really cool things the entire time.”

For me this has been a small book that’s packed a really big punch personally. You see I used to live a creative life, for my teenage years I was going to wholly immerse myself within creativity for life. But, to my sadness I lost it – or at least felt like I had. Now I realise my creativity has been dormant for a decade but thanks to a combination of Big Magic, lockdown giving me time back to review all aspects of life and an urge to go inwards now that I can’t go outwards. I’m back making and creating. And, it’s Gilbert’s advice on how to weave in creativity into everyday life that I’ve found so inspirational and practical.

"You can receive your ideas with respect and curiosity, not with drama or dread.”

Why I’m reading it

Simple, I felt an urge to begin creating again after many years of allowing my ideas to lie untouched in a creative wasteland, but felt self-conscious, foolish and uncapable. I thought if I could learn more about inspiration and creativity from someone who’s pursued them for so long it might give me confidenc to find my own artistic expression again. And, thankfully it did!

Lockdown has taken away so many aspects of the life I have been living that I turned to thinking about life more generally, what did I miss? What would I like to do given the time… now that time is something I do have? Making things came to mind instantly. I found Big Magic tucked away on one of my bookshelves and immediately something clicked within me. After reading the first section, I immediately found a dusty old sketchbook and started drawing, albeit badly, but still that’s not the point. The point was I drew a flower that I wanted to capture, I made marks that soothed my soul in these troubled times and I made a picture that gave me hope that I could create pieces I enjoyed looking at.

“You do not need anybody’s permission to live a creative life.”

What it’s about

This is a book about inspiration and creativity and how to capture and embrace these things when they arrive in your life. Gilbert shares her stories and experiences as well as those of her friends and fellow creators through history. It would be easy to label it as ‘self-help’ which for me I can openly say it has been – super helpful. But, it also goes beyond being pigeon-holed in this narrow way. It goes deeper, delving into considering aspects of why we do and don’t create, how we can embrace it and why we feel a mixture of emotions when we do. But it’s never pretentious, it’s never condescending. It’s like a relaxed chat with a friend over a coffee, deceptively simple but incredibly meaningful.

One of the best things about it is it’s relatability; there’s no self-importance here, it’s just simply a call to open up to and respond to any creative urges and ideas you have. Whether you’re the next Picasso or not. Whether you’re making art for a living or not. The message throughout is that it doesn’t matter. Creating something, anything, is what matters. And using the power of creativity to bring positivity and joy into your life is what living a creative life is all about.

“It’s ok if your work is fun for you. It’s ok if your work is healing for you… or if it’s maybe just a hobby for you that keeps you from going crazy. It’s even ok if your work is totally frivolous... It’s all allowed.”

Who’s it for

Everyone! This is the joy of Big Magic. I believe anyone of any age could read this book and find it helpful. I wish my inexperienced, focused on good grades nineteen year old self could have read it, or my lost and lonely twenty-five year old self could have read it. I want my mid-sixties mum to read it along with my eleven year old niece. There’s something here for whatever stage of life you’re at, whether you’ve previously been creative or not. It’s fresh, articulate and so openly authentic. I can hear Gilbert’s voice leaping through the pages – a creative friend offering support and encouragement.

If you’re interested in understanding more about creativity or are a creative person but a little lost on how to begin or continue then I can’t recommend Big Magic highly enough.

“I cannot even be bothered to think about the difference between high art and low art.”

This is the time to stay safe, stay home and read!

If you’ve got a recommendation for me to read and feature on Notes from my Bookshelf let me know email me at or Instagram me at Alcea1. And if you like this piece check out my other Notes from my Bookshelf posts, such as Madeline Miller’s Circe too.

All the quotes in this post are from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic, Bloomsbury, 2016 edition.

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