It’s regularly featured on social media; Big Magic has a beautiful cover and it is popular among various creative people. I’d heard about it in a couple of writing podcasts I listen to and so when I went on a recent (online) book buying binge I hit ‘add to cart,’ and awaited its imminent arrival on my doorstep.
It didn’t exactly arrive on my doorstep as the local postal service won’t do door-to-door parcel delivery (I have no idea why, but that’s regional living for you) but I did get a card in the mail and picked it up from the post office the same day, all the while ushering my toddler away from the bags of chicken food on the shop floor which she pointed out and made loud ‘brrk brrk’ sounds while also touching all the colourful packaged lollies on the shelves nearby.
Am I waffling? Yes. Probably because I’m feeling anxious about getting to the point of this post. Truthfully, I was really excited about reading this book, but I just didn’t love Big Magic. I can hear the gasps of fellow writers, and I get it, I’m disappointed in myself too.
I wanted to love it.
It seems that everyone else loves it and I wanted to be part of the I Love Big Magic Fan Club but I just can’t bring myself to sign up.
What did I like about Big Magic?
Firstly, let me start by saying that I did actually like the book. Not at first, but there were some real feel-good moments that incited me to continue with Gilbert’s creative muse. I did really enjoy the little vignettes, those moments that she called Big Magic where all the creative stars aligned (or didn’t, but for good reason) and clever little things in the Universe occurred which made me smile and feel hopeful about the world. I also really connected to her thoughts on perfectionism and how it interferes with the creative process and I also liked what she had to say about a manuscript being ‘good enough’ and when to let it go.
What didn’t I like about Big Magic?
Perhaps it’s all in the timing. Or maybe I just have a general propensity to avoid self-help books. Gilbert does point out that she didn’t set out to write a self-help book or to help people, the book was written for herself and if it helped people then that was an added bonus. But the fact is, it is a self-help book. It’s for people to pursue creativity beyond any challenges or barriers they face, whether internal or external; it’s to inspire and motivate and encourage. I can see how it would do that for many, many people. It just didn’t for me.
To be honest, I felt all of those things about Stephen King’s On Writing, but not Big Magic. So maybe it’s more to do with the style or the voice. On Writing is a story of King’s path to writing with some tips and tricks thrown in. He doesn’t really care if you follow his advice or not. I loved his self-deprecating and honest approach to writing as a career and instead of feeling disheartened I felt the complete opposite. I felt inspired. I felt inspired because I could see through the deprecation and see the special gift that writing gave to King and I could also see what writing offered me, on a very personal level. In comparison, Big Magic felt like I was being overtly lured into a world of shiny lights, whimsy and unicorns. That’s not really me.
Gilbert’s book is about living a creative life which I love the idea of and in many respects, I do. I embrace many creative elements of my life including writing, yoga, playing with my toddler and even gardening. I felt as though she were already preaching to the converted. Maybe the book just wasn’t written for me? I’m already pursuing my creative passion, not perfectly, but I’m giving it a go. So that’s probably why I felt disconnected from Gilbert’s experience in the first fifty pages when she desperately tried to persuade the reader why we should lead a creative life. Perhaps it’s the rebel in me (I did actually relate to the anti-authority Gilbert trait) that I just don’t like being told what to do. I love books that inspire me, motivate me and encourage me to follow my dreams. But only when it’s on a subconscious level, not when it’s on demonstration on the big stage. It just makes me feel uncomfortable. I like the process of self-discovery. This is something I felt she more successfully achieved in her memoir Eat, Pray, Love (which was a book that really divided people!). I actually really liked that book as it allowed me, through Elizabeth’s experience, to learn and grow and take away as many or as little messages about life as I wanted. It was the subtlety of the learning and growing which I connected with in Eat, Pray, Love and the blatant messages of Big Magic that left me feeling disconnected and underwhelmed.