Book Club: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, Courage

This week we’re discussing part one of Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller, Big Magic: Courage

What are you afraid of?

Me? Well, a lot of things. Large, farm-dwelling arachnids (why are farm spiders so much bigger?), airplanes…loss of creativity…failure…disappointment. Like the list of reasons tallied on the pages of this month’s book club pick, my cataloged fears could go on and on, and I’m guessing your own, both rational and irrational, light and heavy, could also wend and wind for quite some time. The first section of Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest book, Big Magic, delves into fear, the reasons for it, how it holds us back, and why some fear is good for us.

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I’ll admit, the first chapter of this book left me feeling skeptical. I’m a big fan of Gilbert’s writing but, especially after reading the more meditative and quiet M Train, Big Magic suddenly felt…too quick. ‘Courage’ read a bit list-like, a quick description of what life is like for many creatives and those who seek creativity and how fear can hold us back. It wasn’t until I made my way further into the book that I began to understand Gilbert’s motives for laying things out the way she has. ‘Courage’ is a primer, a reminder of the — often  ridiculous — barriers and expectations we impose on ourselves. How many times have you talked yourself out of pursuing a project because of a belief that it might not lead to anything? How many times have we failed to even begin a pursuit simply because we were afraid of what might happen? Believed that a curiosity wasn’t worth exploring simply because we thought we weren’t good at something?

As a former admissions counselor for a fine arts college, I encountered this kind of creative fear on a daily basis. While the students themselves had the courage to imagine themselves putting their love for art to practice for the rest of their lives, it was the parents and teachers of these talented students who were quick to point out that “oh, I can’t draw a straight line” or “I’m not creative like my child“. While the topic of this book certainly isn’t limited to art, this example is one I still encounter, long after having left the fine arts admissions game. As long as we tell ourselves to live in fear, as long as we convince ourselves we’re not talented in one way or another, we never will be. This is why I loved Gilbert’s example of her friend who decided to pick up ice skating after years of non-practice. This woman wasn’t seeking fame, she entered into this habit knowing she would never be an Olympian, but she tried, and she practiced. She pushed through her fear, acknowledging that it may still linger, and just did the damn thing. She found the thing that made her feel alive.

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What makes you feel alive?

It could be art.

It could be ice skating.

It could be base jumping.

As long as you live under the fear of failure or disappointment or any other thing that holds you back in “the realm of creative expression”, you may never discover the thing that gives you life.

Discussion questions:

– How has fear affected your creative life?

– When was the last time you overcame a fear? What was the outcome?

– Is there an interest or passion that you used to love — like ice skating — that you’ve since set aside?

– What would your letter to fear look like?

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+ Follow along with us as we discuss a new chapter of Big Magic each week!

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Comments

  1. I just finished “Big Magic” and like you, that first section had me kind of rolling my eyes. It felt very gimmicky like the kind of cheap book an author writes just to capitalize on popularity or fulfill a publishing contract. Butttttttt by the end of the book I was obsessed. This is one that I’ll return to again and again for reminders to be curious and love my creativity.

  2. “As long as you live under the fear of failure or disappointment or any other thing that holds you back in “the realm of creative expression”, you may never discover the thing that gives you life.”

    I couldn’t agree with this more. So many people are ruled by fear, and it kills them slowly. When you are afraid, you miss out on the most wonderful parts of life. If i feel a fear coming on, i know it’s the exact thing i have to experience if only so it won’t become an issue or phobia. Keeping within the bounds of the law of course ;)

    http://www.etsy.com/shop/Saphoona

    http://www.Saphoona.com

  3. I just finished this first chapter, and it was a perfectly inspiring start for me. I graduated with degrees in Theatre and Arts Administration in May of 2014, excited to put my knowledge and creativity to good use. I then moved to where my now husband attends grad school, and I could not find a job even remotely related to my field. I’m also a singer and miss practicing my skills 8+ hours a week like I did in college. It’s not that I hate my current job, but I have little opportunity for creativity and it’s left the artist in me dormant. Since i moved here, my husband has encouraged me to start writing plays again or join a community choir, but I’ve been allowing my fears to “drive” this entire time. I’m interested to see where the rest of the book goes, but I’ve gotta say, I’m definitely hooked.

  4. I agree that the beginning was slow, but what I like about Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing that like Tom Robbins, she will have very clear sentences past all the fluffy descriptive words that hit you right to the soul. Look out for her definitive statements, like the ones outlined above they are what has made this book so enjoyable so far.

  5. I agree that the beginning was slow, but what I like about Elizabeth Gilbert’s writing that like Tom Robbins, she will have very clear sentences past all the fluffy descriptive words that hit you right to the soul. Look out for her definitive statements, like the ones outlined above they are what has made this book so enjoyable so far.

    https://www.behance.net/lizpaterson

  6. Liz – I’m a Tom Robbins fan as well but didn’t see the similarity until you pointed it out. I agree that what makes these authors phenomenal is the clarity of their writing.

  7. I really liked first few pages when she talked about Jack Gilbert, it reminded me of my English professor and how inspiring he was, how he encouraged (at least me) not only to improve our writing, but also be successful, creative and LEARN (because there is a difference between learning something and just listening & getting information). I think when a person, like Jack Gilbert, is passionate he or she wants to share it with someone and inspire others.
    Then next few sections of the first chapter weren’t that interesting for me. The idea was good, but the way it was written… I just tried to finish the chapter to see what’s coming next. Now I see some people felt the same way – so I’m excited to read next chapter, hopefully it will get more fascinating and inspiring.
    I also loved how she talked about being brave vs being fearless. I think it is important to know and remember that there is always fear within us and we cannot or even shouldn’t “kill it off”. We need to embrace it and learn how to control it. It is always scary to start something new .

  8. “The outcome cannot matter” (258).
    The outcome, how the world perceives your art has nothing to do with you.
    The reward is in process; the gift is the creative journey.

    Preach, Ms. Gilbert!

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