Thanks for joining us for this month’s virtual book club on Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert! It’s easy to participate: Just read the book, and then at your own convenience, add your thoughts to the comments section. You can respond to any of these discussion questions—or just share what you thought of the book.
And as a bonus, I’ll give away a free book to one lucky commenter!
A friend recommended this book to me recently, after asking what my next creative endeavor would be. She lives a creative life, whether she’s making a meal, writing a clever email, or learning a new skill, so I was eager to heed her recommendation.
I found some of the ideas at the beginning of the book a little wonky (like the idea that the plotlines of books are just floating around in space, waiting to be received by a willing author—really?!). But the principles for living a creative life, regardless of what form that creativity takes, resonated with me.
Discussion #1: The Courage of Creating
For me, writing a book felt a lot like jumping off a high dive—terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. So the idea that creativity takes courage made a lot of sense to me. I liked the author’s perspective that “fear is boring.”
My fear always made predictably boring decisions, like a choose-your-own-ending book that always had the same ending: nothingness.
Why do you think creating something feels so scary? What creative tasks have you tackled in the face of your fears?
Discussion #2: The Curse of Perfectionism
As a recovering perfectionist, I know what it’s like to hear that voice whisper in your ear that if you can’t do it right, you might as well not do it at all. I’m thinking I should hang this advice from the author’s mom on my office wall or above the stove in my kitchen: “Done is better than good.”
A good-enough novel violently written now is better than a perfect novel meticulously written never.
Do you struggle with perfectionism? When is this a good trait, and when does it get in the way?
Discussion #3: The Role of Failure in Creativity
If there’s one fear that thwarts creativity more than anything else, I’d venture to say it’s the fear of failure. But failure is an essential part of the creative process. In the chapter “Do Something Else,” Elizabeth Gilbert poses the question, “How do you keep living a creative life after you’ve failed?”
First of all, forgive yourself. Remember that you’re nothing but a beginner—even if you’ve been working on your craft for fifty years. We are all just beginners here, and we shall all die beginners.
It’s encouraging to me that even a bestselling author considers herself a beginner; that creates space for the rest of us to be beginners too.
What new ventures are you afraid to try because you don’t want to fail? Does it help to know that we’re all beginners when it comes to creativity?
Discussion #4: Not Caring What Other People Think
In the chapter entitled “Nobody’s Thinking about You,” the author quotes her mentor as saying:
We all spend our twenties and thirties trying to be perfect, because we’re so worried about what people will think of us. Then we get into our forties and fifties, and we finally start to be free, because we decide that we don’t give a damn what anyone thinks of us. But you won’t be completely free until you reach your sixties and seventies, when you finally realize this liberating truth—nobody was ever thinking about you, anyhow.
Have you found it to be true that you care less about what other people think of you as you get older? Do we have to wait until we’re in our sixties and seventies to be free from the fear of what other people think?
I would give this book four stars out of five. I could have done without some of the wonky worldview, but I appreciated Gilbert’s insights and inspirations about living a creative life.
How many stars would you give this book? And what will your next creative endeavor be?
Rachel Quigley says
I haven’t read this book but I love the points you shared here. I will have to pick this up because I struggle with those things you listed… perfectionism…courage to go after…. thinking everyone else is looking at me…. and so on. I finally feel I’m on the edge of diving into not caring what others think. It’s like my toe’s touching the water’s edge and I like what I feel but am I brave enough to dive in? I hope so!
Thanks for the review. I’m looking forward to picking this up and getting into it… maybe it can be a Christmas gift to myself! 🙂
Stephanie Rische says
Thanks for weighing in, Rachel! My hope for you is that 2017 will be a year of creativity and courage and love.
I almost didn’t get past the beginning due to some of her “wonky” ideas. But I pushed through and I am glad that I did. She had some great things to say about life and creativity. One of my favorite quotes is “What are you passionate enough about to endure the most disagreeable aspects of the work?” There are hard/bad parts to every job no matter how glamorous it seems to us. I don’t consider myself particularly creative. (I am an accountant if that gives you any clues to my creative capacity.) But we all have some creativity in us and I think we are all a little afraid of being different, which is required to be creative. I am a perfectionist at heart which has good points allowing me to strive to do better but there is always a trade off between being perfect and overdoing it. It must be a balance. Elizabeth says that perfectionists decide in advance that the product will not be good enough so they don’t even try. For me I usually still try but I don’t allow myself to be a beginner which we all are at the beginning. I also like her advice to not worry so much about what others think. It is true, as she stated, that we cannot control it anyway. It is a good thing for us to continue to stretch ourselves and our creativity in whatever means we desire. It is good for our minds and souls. Good recommendation. I will also give it 4 stars with the caviet that I don’t agree with all of her views.
Stephanie Rische says
Thanks for reading and joining the discussion, Nancy! After watching you play the book game at Thanksgiving, I have decided that you definitely have a creative side. 🙂 Love you!
Susie Crosby says
“Big Magic” surprised me, inspired me, and made me laugh. I found myself disagreeing with Gilbert sometimes, but enjoying her style and message anyway. I actually haven’t thought of myself as a creative person until recently, and sometimes I worry that I started writing too late. (I’m turning 50 next week, and I’m having a bit of a hard time accepting it!) The chapter about Winnifred in Part IV–Persistence was one of my favorites for this reason. Here Gilbert describes a woman who loved learning, loved reading, loved people of all ages…and had recently become an expert on Mesopotamia. The most inspiring part of this story to me was that Winnifred’s interest in Mesopotamia didn’t begin until she was 80 years old!
So my takeaway from this book is: creativity does take courage, and I am getting braver the older I get. So fun!
I would give this book 3 1/2 stars. (Are half-stars allowed?) Thank you Stephanie for suggesting it!
Susie, it’s never too late to start writing or creating! So proud of you for being brave. Did you know Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t get published until she was in her 60s??
Cynthia Lewis says
I personally struggled with this book. I believe this is because I am not a “creative” type. The book seemed to benefit those that are being challenged or experiencing a block through a writing project or personal goal. I pushed through about 75% of the book and found a few nuggets here and there. Looking forward to the next book!
Thanks for weighing in! I’m glad you gave the book a chance. I wonder if there’s a response book for non-creative types? Happy reading, Cynthia!
Kristen Joy Wilks says
Ahhhh, this was where the discussion was. Ooops, I thought it was on facebook. Next time I’ll know. God Bless!