On the Big Magic of Creativity

in Essays

On the Big Magic of Creativity

Disclaimer: If you’ve read any of my book reviews before, you know it’s less review and more reflection. I also only ‘review’ books that compel me to rant.

There are only two books on the subject of creativity that have thrilled me, renewed my desire to keep being creative, and became books I literally absorbed. Big Magic has joined their ranks:

  1. The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp
  2. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
  3. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

These are three women who embraced creativity as a way of life – in fact, they consider creative living a spiritual path – and they have all lived – and continue to live – a supremely creative life. Their works haven’t necessarily been all hits, they aren’t considered geniuses, but they have all produced at least one hit and all the while persevered in the path of creativity.

(Sidenote: On Writing by Stephen King gets an honourable mention. It’s a great book on writing and on living a life where writing is front and centre. But really, it can’t quite compare, in my opinion, to these three books.)

Do you know what sticks out in these three books, and is especially a large theme in Big Magic? The idea that creativity is not a torment. Creative living is hard but that doesn’t make it a living hell. There is no need to become the Tormented Artist and commit suicide after a couple (possibly great) works. Because creativity and your creative work loves you. This is not a one-sided love, it’s a relationship. You, however, control the tone and health of this relationship. If you make it toxic, it shall be toxic – but why do that? Embrace creativity and develop a healthy relationship with it, allow creativity to love you back, stop playing games with it.

Big Magic is reverent and irreverent at the same time – because creativity is sacred but also just pure fun. It’s this big and great thing capable of helping you produce amazing work, serious work, deep work; but it’s also light, playful, and something akin to the dancing northern lights.

Elizabeth Gilbert says her soul desires and wants wonder and creativity is the best way she knows to access and feel it. I think creativity is wonder. It’s magical simply because it produces feelings of wonder – and once in a while, you may even produce a wonder, or not, but if you approach it right, it will always give you wonder – and ultimately, that’s what matters.

Passion vs Curiosity

She also makes the best argument I’ve ever read against the follow your passion advice. One of my favourite bloggers and author – Cal Newport – also makes a good argument. However, Gilbert’s approach to it (she essentially espouses the same ideas that Cal does) appeals to me much more because I instantly recognized it as exactly what happens in my life. All the time.

Maybe there are some people who were born with a passion. I don’t know any, but there may be such people. I was not one of those people. However, people always seemed to think I knew what I wanted from the start. I haven’t the slightest clue what made them think that. To this day, I have multiple interests, and every single day, I think of dropping what I’m currently doing and taking up something else that sparks my interest.

I am a curious person. I am someone who follows her curiosity. You come across something and it sparks a tiny, almost unnoticeable interest, and then you follow it.

One day, I was on the Internet, and I came across a website with text moving across the screen, marquee style. Huh, I said to myself, I wonder how they did that. I decided to pursue this tiny little question. It led me down a rabbit hole of HTML, the language of the web. 

Eventually I stumbled upon this little online textbook that started from the bare basics of HTML. It wasn’t very long, so I thought, what the heck. It was summer, I was bored, so I hauled out a notebook for notes, and decided to read. I did the exercises in the textbook – creating tiny web pages using Notepad on my Windows computer, wrote down little notes, and grew more and more interested.

Suddenly, I could comprehend how people created the websites I went to regularly. I was obsessed with anime at the time and I had – no idea how – discovered an entire community of girls online who created anime-themed website designs. I decided I wanted to do that too.

That little Huh, I wonder how they did that turned into a full fledged obsession. Here I am, more than 10 years later, absolutely passionate about web development, web design, and everything tech related.

Do you see? Passion doesn’t just exist. It is cultivated.

Curiosity can exist from the start – and then you follow it. It may be the tiniest of sparks, but you have no idea where it could lead you. Of course, it could lead you nowhere – but that’s okay too – you’ll almost definitely come out at the other end knowing something you didn’t before and understanding another tiny element of this world – and that is enough.

Ultimately, the creative life is – has to be – internally motivated. You can’t be motivated by outside praises or accolades or money – because none of that is a guarantee. You can’t even guarantee that inspiration will come to you every day or even regularly. Instead, you show up consistently – faithfully – and declare that you are here if inspiration chooses to grant you the pleasure of its presence. And sometimes it will. Other times, it will wait and wait, to see if you are really serious before it approaches. There’s no way of knowing when it may strike, how long it will wait, or if it will even come.

Sounds very much like faith, eh? As if creative life is just another path to access the divine, right?

Because it is.