Why I didn’t love Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic

 

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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.

Overall, I did like the book and I finished it. I didn’t love it and I didn’t feel overly inspired, but I’d love to hear from people what you thought of the book. Why did you love (or not) love it?

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8 comments

  1. I loved it. There were no aha moments for me – it was more, for me, a gentle reminder that I was on the path I wanted to be on. I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much. I also adored Eat, Pray, Love – even though to me it was tad self-indulgent…but I was ok with that too. I even enjoyed the movie. I’d read On Writing for practical tips, and Big Magic for, well, the magic.

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    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jo. Perhaps my expectations were too high? It’s always the risk when you read a bestseller… I was looking for the aha moment and the magic. It just wasn’t there for me.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was expecting an aha moment – and didn’t get it. Once I decided that I wasn’t going to, I settled down and just enjoyed the read. I know what you mean though – I often read something thats won a heap of awards or whatever and think ‘really? What have I missed?’

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  2. I’ve avoided this one, and despite my rule of not commenting on books I haven’t read (as that is unfair!) I’m going to weigh in here! Your post has cemented my belief that this is not a book for me. Eat, Pray, Love didn’t speak to me at all. I found myself rolling my eyes often and in the end was so irritated by it that I gave up. I just don’t connect with Gilbert’s writing at all. Obviously I’m not her ideal reader! But it’s great that many people get lots out of her work. Many of my writing friends loved Big Magic. It’s just not to my taste. On the other hand, On Writing is one of the most useful writing books I own. I’ve read it many times, and revisit it when the doubt-demons creep in. Thanks for an interesting blog, Lauren.

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    • Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts Lisa. I suspect I’m in the minority when it comes to my thoughts on this book but after reading On Writing so recently, I just couldn’t help but compare. I connected with King above and beyond Gilbert.

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  3. I enjoyed this book – it really spoke me, but maybe that was all in the timing of when I read it (and being a library book, I hadn’t invested financially in it).
    But I can see your point that it was almost ‘preaching to the converted’, and that maybe you had such high expectations to begin with.

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    • It’s true, i do believe timing plays a big factor in how we perceive or experience a book. Perhaps if i’d picked it up a year or so ago when I had ‘baby brain’ and was trying to access my creative side again, but now that I’ve found my groove, i felt i didn’t gain anything from reading her book. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Marie.

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  4. Hi Lauren. I found your blog after doing a search for “Big Magic, didn’t enjoy” (so you can guess what I thought of it!) 🙂 Like you, I liked some of it – I found myself making notes throughout the book, so I must have got something out of it. But at the end of the book, I kind of felt like: “is that it…?!!!” It felt like meandering fluff. I wasn’t sure at the end what I got out of it – or what the point of it was. I felt like it was written more as a “just waffle and hope nobody notices!” rather than “I really want to produce a piece of work that grips or helps people (etc)”.

    But I’d also had it recommended to me by a friend who raved about it, and I’d heard great reviews about it, so perhaps my expectations were just too high! Thanks for your review – I’m glad I’m not alone! 🙂

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