So reads the back cover of Elizabeth Gilbert's most recent book, Big Magic. Gilbert is a well-known writer, born in Connecticut on a small family Christmas-tree farm in 1969. She studied political science at NYU, and wrote short stories in her free time. She has worked as a journalist for Spin, GQ, and The New York Times, published eight novels, and appeared on endless talk shows and podcasts. She has become a writer with worldwide exposure (1).
As she describes in Big Magic, her creative career is a little less glamorous than the bio on her website makes it out to be. She continuously pushed herself to create, bouncing back from rejection after rejection. Gilbert is an example to the creators of today's society: an example of how to unleash your creativity without letting the elitist world full of pressures to produce MORE, do BETTER, and make a HIGHER salary knock you down.
Gilbert is best known for her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, which invites readers to join her on a journey of self-discovery through Italy, India, and Indonesia. In Big Magic, she discusses her surprise at her memoir's success. She didn't write it so that it would rise to the top of the bestselling charts; she wrote it as a way to process her own emotional roller coasters; to record her own realizations and experiences as she set off as an independent woman to travel the world.
In an interview with The Telegraph about reflecting on her bestseller which has now been translated into 46 languages with over 12 million copies sold across the globe, Gilbert humbly explains:
"Some of the reaction to Eat Pray Love has struck me as beautiful, some of it has been hateful, much of it has been incomprehensible – but all of it has been astonishing to me. Millions of women seem to have used the book as a recovery manual for their own heartbreaks and spiritual explorations, which has been magnificent to behold." (2)Perhaps it is this realization that her memoir was being used as a "recovery manual" that prompted Gilbert to create just that: a manual. A manual about creativity, to be exact. Through her characteristic witty, simplistic style, Gilbert discusses how to share your creativity with the world and still be able to financially live a comfortable life, her own take on the conception and transfer of ideas, the complex workings of fear, excitement, intuition, and the unknown.
Big Magic, wrapped in a whimsically colorful book jacket**, is some form of creative-ception: a creative collection of chapters discussing the process of creating. Most creations require you to search elsewhere for an understanding of the creator's process, their sources of inspiration, and the unfolding of such complex minds. With Big Magic, Gilbert has done the work for us.
**I stumbled upon a video that shows the complex creation of this cover. At first glance, it is surely just a photoshopped explosion of color and popping white letters. But this behind-the-scenes look will make you appreciate the creative attention spent on this cover all the more: http://www.elizabethgilbert.com
Gilbert takes readers through multiple facets of creativity, but the most interesting to me was her idea about ideas. (Do you sense a meta theme going on here?) Gilbert describes ideas in a way that many traditional, narrow-minded people would scoff at. Perhaps even scream about. But she follows her own advice to be brave and does it anyway. According to Gilbert, ideas are "a disembodied, energetic life form." (3) She describes ideas as things with no consciousness, but "most certainly [with] will." These ideas move around the world, seeking an artist to help them become realized. Sometimes they plant themselves in the right head, and are attended to right away. But sometimes these ideas are neglected, and if they are ignored for too long, they will simply move on until they are picked up by someone new. It's an abstract concept, but whether you can grasp the idea of ideas being their own self-willed beings or not, Gilbert's ideas coincide with Nancy C. Andreasen's findings about creativity and the unconscious.
When analyzing creativity, it is common to discuss the 'eureka moment'—the moment in which one is overwhelmed with an idea or a solution to a problem. Gilbert would describe this moment as the point in time when an idea enters someone's brain and they latch on to it and commit to materialize it. Andreasen describes the creative process that can be generalized to a variety of creative processes, from finding a scientific solution to writing a poem. Andreasen's explanations and Gilbert's paralleled ideas are below:
The Creative Process (4).
1. Preparation: a time when basic information or skills are assembled
Gilbert's connection: an idea moves around the world, seeking someone to take it on
2. Incubation: a time where the person does not work consciously to solve a problem, but UNCONSCIOUS connections are being made
Gilbert's connection: an idea enters a person's brain and hangs around to see if the person
will manifest it
3. Inspiration: the eureka moment!
Gilbert's connection: the moment where the person realizes the idea is there and decides to
COMMIT to it!
4. Production: insights are put into a useful form
Gilbert's connection: the creator works to move this idea from their own minds to a product
that is accessible and visible to the world around them
More than likely, Gilbert contracted the idea for Big Magic through a series of realizations and ideas that came from her previous novels. But perhaps, this idea began as a disembodied life form that found its way into Gilbert's unconscious. The Washington Post suggests the double-edged sword of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation that drove Gilbert to write Big Magic:
"You can read…Big Magic as a love letter to her fans and a coded kiss-off to her critics." (3)
Either way, Gilbert provides a thought-provoking creation about creativity, encouraging readers to open their awareness to new ideas and create not without fear, but with a certain respect for the small role that fear can play.
“You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failures…You can battle your demons (through therapy, recovery, prayer, or humility) instead of battling your gifts — in part by realizing that your demons were never the ones doing the work, anyhow.” (3)