I find Elizabeth Gilbert interesting. But I only partially agree with her.
I bought and read Eat, Pray, Love (after the movie—which I never saw—came out). Then I took it to my local secondhand bookstore and traded it for credit.
Some of you know I am a bookaholic (*cough* hoarder). Two new books arrived at my house today. My daughter says, “Why do you still buy books? Duh, you can borrow them from the library for free.”
I did my share of traipsing back and forth from the library with shopping bags full of books every two weeks from the time I was six until my kids were grown. I’ve bought books at garage sales for ten cents. I still buy used books, but if there’s a book I want to read now and I can’t find it used or on sale, I’ll gladly pay $24.95 for it, anticipating a long-term relationship. I like to devour them, and then come back to them again and again to re-digest them.
But one time through Eat, Pray, Love was enough. It didn’t earn space on my bookshelf (or in my closet, or in a box on the floor of my study…). I enjoyed the intimate look at Gilbert’s life and the glimpse of how her brain works, but I’ll never read it again. Her worldview is foreign to me. She credits the universe with the power to answer prayer. I can’t relate. The universe is a created thing. The Creator is the One Who answers prayers.
When Big Magic came out, I wanted it because it is subtitled Creative Living Beyond Fear. Elizabeth Gilbert is nothing if not interesting and creative. Here she is talking with Stephen Colbert:
Yet, as I read Big Magic, I found myself longing for The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.
Katie, my youngest (but all grown up) daughter, visited and found Big Magic in my study. “I read this,” she said.
“Yeah, I’m a little disappointed in it,” I said.
“Me, too. But why?”
“I bought it hoping that it would take me to the next level in my writing. But it’s not that helpful.”
“That’s because you’re already creative. This book is for beginners.”
Katie’s evaluation is right on the nose. If you’ve always wanted to do something creative, but held back for fear of not being good enough, this book may be just the kick-start you need.
So, the mini-review of Big Magic is: it’s not The Artist’s Way; it’s more Creative Lite.
But let’s go a little deeper.
On page 86, Gilbert says, You do not need anyone’s permission to live a creative life. I’m disappointed in that, because most books on creativity start out by granting readers permission to express themselves.
Gilbert characterizes ideas as being entities having lives and agendas of their own. Their main agenda is to be given birth as art. So they go around suggesting themselves to likely hosts. In other words, the idea approaches you. You can squash it or ignore it. You can let it wait until the spark dies. You can suggest it move on. Or you can run with it.
Then Gilbert tells the story of a wonderful novel she began writing about a spinster from Minnesota who falls in love with her boss and goes to the Amazon. Gilbert had a contract for the book and did extensive research. She invested a great deal of time and effort into it. Unfortunately, events in her personal life intervened, and she temporarily set aside the novel.
When she went back to it after a two-year hiatus, it was dead. Though she tried to resurrect it, nothing she tried could bring it back to life.
One day, when telling her friend Ann Patchett about it, Patchett told her she was currently writing that book. In fact, she got the idea right around the time they first met each other. Gilbert says the idea transmitted itself to Patchett when she gave her a kiss.
Interesting. But total b.s.
Not that people don’t independently come up with the same original idea as someone else all the time. Gilbert says in her book,
When the nineteenth-century Hungarian mathematician Janos Bolyai invented non-Euclidean geometry, his father urged him to publish his findings immediately, before someone else landed on the same idea, saying, “When the time is right for certain things, they appear at different places, in the manner of violets coming to light in early spring.”
In the late 1990s to early 2000s I wrote a novel which never saw light of day. I am in the process of rewriting it, but I’m keeping several scenes from the original manuscript. One pivotal scene that I can’t (or don’t want to) leave out is going to seem ripped-off from The Hunger Games, even though I wrote it a decade before Suzanne Collins and she never kissed me. Sigh.
Gilbert tells some great stories in this book. If you like Lindsey Sterling’s story about being The Only Pirate at the Party, you’ll love the section called Walk Proudly (pages 260-264).
Some good advice Gilbert gives in Big Magic:
- Stop complaining if you want to live a more creative life (page 117).
- Don’t quit your day job. Most artists don’t make a living from their art and must have a back-up job to free themselves from the burden of expecting art to pay the bills (pages 151-156).
- Don’t think that success looks like money or acclaim. If you love what you’re doing, that’s success (pages 182-184).
- It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Translation: get an agent (page 193).
- When you have no inspiration, follow curiosity (pages 237-239).
However, in my opinion, some of her advice is flawed. She also says, “Whenever anybody tells me they want to write a book in order to help other people, I always think, Oh, please don’t…I would so much rather you wrote a book in order to entertain yourself than to help me” (pages 98-99).
I suspect most of Big Magic was written for Elizabeth Gilbert’s own entertainment. It certainly wasn’t her intention to help me, and she succeeded. Big Magic will get traded in for credit next time I go to the used bookstore.