Book Review: Big Magic

Book Review: Big Magic

Posted by Robyn Wall on

Overall Review - A Must Read

Continue reading to find out why!

At the beginning of 2021, one of my goals for the year was to read more. Specifically, reading more books that help to advance my mind, my business, and my creativity. I invested in some used books back in November that were patiently waiting for my attention. 

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert was the first on my list. I had heard amazing things about this book from podcasts and in the resources section of a business book that I’ll review at a later date. But to be honest, I was a little skeptical about it. I’m not huge on the bright and shiny, ra-ra you can do anything books. I did not really expect to like or even be able to finish this book. 

I was really super wrong. I have not read a book as quickly as I read Big Magic in… easily ten years. I consumed the entire 272 pages in three days. Now, this is saying a lot for me. First of all, I am not a fast reader. I never have been. It is something that used to be really discouraging when I was young but I am pleased to say I got over it, eventually. And second, I live a very busy life. I was going to school full time, I had just officially launched my business and this website on January 1st, and I make time to get into the studio regularly. So sitting down just to read is not exactly something I thought I would be making a lot of time for.

Yet here I was, in the middle of a Wednesday, sitting on my couch with a fuzzy blanket and a cup of tea consuming page after page of this book.

Despite the book being a touch bright and shiny, Elizabeth Gilbert’s voice is very much the kind I love to read. Fun, quirky, and a little weird, Gilbert is very transparent, providing lots of anecdotes from her life and those around her as well to drive home the points of this book. Broken down into five parts that all have multiple subchapters, Big Magic is well organized and easy to read. I’ve noticed that this type of organization is pretty common for this type of inspirational book.  

My favorite section by far is Part II Enchantment. It is forty pages of Gilbert explaining her beliefs about how creativity works. Some of the pages literally gave me goosebumps. 

“I should explain at this point that I’ve spent my entire life in devotion to creativity, and along the way I’ve developed a set of beliefs about how it works—and how to work with it--that is entirely and unapologetically based upon magical thinking. And when I refer to magic here, I mean it literally. Like, in the Hogwarts sense. I am referring to the supernatural, the mystical, the inexplicable, the surreal, the divine, the transcendent, the otherworldly. Because the truth is, I believe that creativity is a force of enchantment--not entirely human in its origins.” 

This excerpt opens the chapter How Ideas Work. Gilbert goes on to explain that she believes ideas are their own disembodied life form. That they exist outside of and separate from the creator’s mind. Until the moment that the idea chooses to partner with a human host in the hopes that the human can bring the idea to life.

Whoah. Some pretty profound shit right there. Obviously, I loved every word of this explanation. I have always loved the magical world so this theory that ideas were actually their own life-form was exciting to me.

But Enchantment only gets weirder and more amazing as you keep turning the pages. The most amazing aspect of this section of the book for me is when Gilbert tells this anecdote about how she experienced the moment when one of those truly unique ideas decided to work with her. The idea saw that Gilbert could bring the book concept to life. It settled in and whispered in her ear. 

Inspired by a story that her partner told her about how the Brazilian government got a notion to start a large road construction project across the Amazon in the 1960s. It’s a weird story. Anyway, Gilbert is inspired by this and decides to write a novel based on this story. I won’t go into full detail here. 

Gilbert is apparently sidetracked by some other life stuff and this big idea is put on a back-burner. Eventually, the idea left her. That sentient force that had inspired her novel was no longer with her. The idea got tired of waiting for Gilbert to her shit together and it moved on. So sad.

But apparently, around the same time that the idea left her, she made a new friend who was also a celebrated novelist. The two writers had one very awkward in-person interaction at a panel discussion that literally made me squirm in my spot on the couch. As they did not live in the same area, they decided to get to know each other through letter-writing. Exactly what I would expect from two authors. 

They mostly discussed their writing adventured in these letters which is how her new friend came to mention that she had recently started a novel about the Amazon jungle to which Gilbert wrote back that she had also been working on a novel about the Amazon but that hers had gotten neglected. Neither author gave details to others about what specifically their stories were about. 

Several months later, the two friends met in person for only the second time. Her friend says that it’s only polite that Elizabeth gets to say what her Amazon jungly story is about since her idea was first. Gilbert summarizes the concept of her novel.

“It was about this middle-aged spinster from Minnesota who’s been quietly in love with her married boss for many years. He gets involved in a harebrained business scheme down in the Amazon jungle. A bunch of money and a person go missing, and my character gets sent down there to solve things, at which point her quiet life is completely turned into chaos. Also, it’s a love story.”


Her friend stared at her for several minutes before revealing what her story is about.


“It’s about a spinster from Minnesota who’s been quietly in love with her married boss for many years. He gets involved in a harebrained scheme down in the Amazon jungle. A bunch of money and a person go missing, and my character is sent down there to solve things. At which point her quiet life is completely turned into chaos. Also, it’s a love story.”
Goosebumps people.

All over my body. And sure, there is no way to know for sure that this recount is true. But there is no way to prove the stories in the Bible are real and plenty of people live by that book so why not just choose to have a little faith in Gilbert and her friend. Besides, this story doesn’t cause any harm, unlike some others which do so famously. 

The two writers spent the next hour or so breaking down all the details of their individual books to discover the only real difference was that Gilbert’s story was set in the 1960s and about a construction company while her friends was contemporary and about the pharmaceutical industry.

Gilbert goes on to explain that they posture the idea was transferred from one writer to the other on the day they met.

Pretty fuckin magical, right?

So I mean, if this story is not enough of a reason to read Big Magic then you may not actually like the book. But it is filled with inspirational ideas, knowledgeable tips, and heartfelt encouragement to pressure your creativity. 

I recommend this book to pretty much everyone I know who has a foot in the creative realm. It is good for everyone though. Because everyone has the ability to be creative. Some just need a bigger push than others.


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