Recently, I read the book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert. I walked away from this book with a better understanding of the old saying; you don’t know what you don’t know. Quite honestly, I didn’t know I was struggling with many different fears… The fear of not being perfect, the fear of someone stealing an idea, the fear of failure, etc., etc., etc.. This may be one of the best photography books I have ever read and I think it might only mention photographers twice in the entire book.
After reading through the first couple of chapters I realized that there are some major road blocks that I have been ignoring for quite some time, things that have been slowing me down and wasting my life. If you’ve struggled with internal (or external) demotivation then this is definitely the book for you. Don’t worry though, if you are like the mysterious Honey Badger who doesn’t give a sh$t and spend your days laughing in the face of fear, this book will still have you walking away feeling inspired and motivated to create something great.
Why This Book?
Now, normally (if you can call the three or four times I’ve reviewed books normal) I only write about photography specific books. This book was written by a writer, not a photographer, the same writer who wrote Eat, Pray, Love. Now, I’ve never seen the movie, or read the book, but I know it was very successful (my wife told me). But to be perfectly honest, none of that matters. Gilbert has given us the secret to living creatively without fear in Big Magic, and we’d be crazy not to study it until the pages fall out.
Note: In the beginning of the book she talks of inspiration or ideas as beings that basically fly around the world looking for humans to collaborate with. I like the idea and I think it is incredibly creative and motivating to read. With that being said, I have to admit it made me slightly uncomfortable at first. Initially my head was screaming “Inspiration is God-given” because of my Christian background… But then I realized that neither one or the other view has to be correct, they both can be. Who am I to say how God works.
This book is the kick in the pants many of us need, as creative souls, to drop our baggage and simply create unapologetically. Her ability to motivate using logic and common sense is what truly rings home with me.
Her no-nonsense approach to motivating creative’s is similar to mine. Ultimately we are in complete control of our own success and the world doesn’t owe us a thing. One of my favorite quotes she shares was from Werner Herzog, in response to a letter one of her friend had written him (who was complaining about the difficulties of creating a successful movie):
Quit your complaining. It’s not the world’s fault that you wanted to be an artist. It’s not the world’s job to enjoy the films you make, and it’s certainly not the world’s obligation to pay for your dreams. Nobody wants to hear it. Steal a camera if you must, but stop whining and get back to work.
Admittedly, not everyone can handle this type of no-nonsense motivation. Many of us would like to be coddled and spoken to in pleasant whispers, rainbow dust sprinkled all around us as cheerleaders form the letters of our name with their arms and legs, chanting if we can’t do it nobody can.
Besides overcoming your fear, whatever it might be, Gilbert’s overriding theme in the book is creative living (in case you missed the title of the book). At one point she talks of pursing your creative passion like one would pursue an affair. Personally, I don’t much care for the analogy but I really couldn’t think of a better one to use so I get why she used it. Basically, one finds time to meet with their lover no matter what. They skip meals, cut out of work early, make excuses, whatever it takes to spend time having unbridled sex with their lover. This is how one should pursue their creative passions. Minus the sex part of course. I can’t imagine your camera would thank you… Or work properly afterwords.
Additionally, I have to say I truly appreciate the sound career advice Gilbert has for aspiring artists. In a nut shell, don’t give up your day job. She speaks of not quitting her day job until her fourth successful novel. I couldn’t agree with this more. She goes on to give some great examples of people like J. K. Rowling (author of the hugely successful Harry Potter books) writing between working and raising her kids as a struggling mother.
Side Note: I can’t tell you how irritating it is to hear artists explain why they live in poverty instead of carrying a day job, “I’m going to do what makes me happy!” they explain… As if nobody else is bright enough to want to do what makes them happy, as if they (and they alone) have figured out some secret of the universe that gives them permission to lay about all day doing what they love instead of taking responsibility for themselves. To which I normally answer “I do what I have to so that I may do what I want to” (I didn’t make that up, I just acquired it from someone else) which usually gets a grimace or eye-roll in response.
This book is a must own for anyone wanting to live creatively, no matter what your interests are. In fact, the next time I do a workshop I believe I will give this book to attendees. There are very few books I would read more than once… This is one of them (I’ve already went back through and reread all of my highlights).
Do whatever brings you to life…
Grab your copy of the book (link at the top of the page) and let me know what you think in the comments section below. Read it? Great, let us know what you thought. Lastly, let us know which book has had the most influence on your photography.