Spot the Charm

Elizabeth Gilbert saws fear in half in 'Big Magic'


By BROOKE LEFFERTS, Associated Press


Published September 23, 2015

"Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear" (Riverhead Books), by Elizabeth Gilbert

Over a lifetime committed to writing, Elizabeth Gilbert has learned that engaging fear is part of the creative process. In her new book, "Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear," she offers tricks to make fear disappear, at least long enough to get some work done.

The author of the best-selling memoir "Eat, Pray, Love" encourages readers to follow their curiosity, maintaining that a creative life is "bigger, happier, and a hell of a lot more interesting." Gilbert tackles fear as the main obstacle keeping people from filling up their creative buckets. Whether you're a committed writer working on the great American novel, or a businesswoman who always loved to ice skate, admitting a desire to pursue your passion and embarking on a new endeavor can be as terrifying as it is exciting.

Gilbert takes on the delicate but important work of self-examination to help others recognize fear as a deterrent. Known for her honest and thoughtful prose, she looks at her own journey as a writer and shares experiences that helped her acknowledge her fears and move past them. Many readers will recognize themselves and how they use fear to procrastinate trying.

Gilbert's signature conversational style creates intimacy, as does her self-deprecating, humorous tone. Short, easy-to-read chapters filled with inspirational quotes and relevant stories about herself and other writers build momentum.

The book delivers practical advice on living a creative life: eliminate distractions, carve out consistent work time, be flexible about making changes, let go of perfection and find authenticity. Gilbert tackles heavy, sensitive subject matter but keeps it light, making what's essentially a self-help book feel like a good talk with a friend rather than a sermon.

We have to be open to inspiration, the author contends. Good ideas are all around us, if we're looking and listening for them. Those familiar with Gilbert's work know she has strong spiritual connections and reveres the power of the universe to provide signs that guide us on a creative path.

"The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them. The often surprising results of that hunt that's what I call Big Magic," Gilbert writes.

Gilbert animates fear — making it seem alive, like a powerful, demanding dragon that needs to be carefully manipulated before it is slain. Her two-page list of the specific fears that keep people from attempting or completing artistic dreams will ring true for many paralyzed by self-doubt. She suggests courage, hard work and trust are the weapons to conquer it. In one empowering exercise, she writes an amusing but firm letter to fear, calling it "dude" and telling it to back off and know its place.

Exposing her own triggers and blocks, Gilbert suggests that creative work should come from joy, not fear and misery. She debunks the allure of the tortured artist, addicted to drama and convinced good work requires pain and suffering. She's candid about her own mental health struggles and how they can affect her work, but don't control it. Her love of writing is the greatest incentive to stay as "sane, healthy and stable" as possible.

Gilbert says she wrote "Big Magic" because she loved the idea and the process. Her enthusiasm for her work shines through and is likely to create a ripple of inspiration. While helping readers is a lovely bonus, it's not her main goal. The book's most powerful message is to not worry about what others think — loved ones, editors, critics — but create for yourself.

If you love the work, she writes, "the words 'failure' and 'success' essentially become irrelevant."


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