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Book Review: Big Magic

(Cross-posted from Goodreads with slight formatting/wording differences)

Despite a lot of padding and a supernaturalist and religious perspective I don't share, this book has a lot of useful stories.

When I say padding: It repeats itself a decent amount. It feels like it could have been compressed to 100 or 150 pages with more ruthless editing, if not fewer pages. However, I did find, inside the repetition, a there there.

Liz Gilbert describes inspiration as a supernatural, divine force. She notes at one point that she was anxious of expressing this idea, that people would find it silly. I don't buy into it, but taken as a metaphor, I like it as a workable analogy with fun imagery.

Gilbert makes a few references to 'God' and the divine which I found slightly annoying. However, I found the book worked well enough without sharing her religious perspective.

The stories are to me the most valuable part. This book has lots of stories. I suspect this book is at its most useful as a grab-bag of stories to pull out at appropriate times. It's the stories that I take away from this first reading.

For example, Liz tells a story about the first time she got published with the short story "Pilgrim." She got the story accepted in a magazine, but later there was an 'emergency' and she was asked to either cut 30% of her story's pages for them to publish it that issue, or else gamble on the same editor still being around for the next issue of that magazine. She'd already edited it down as much as she thought she could—every word counted. Reading this account in Big Magic, I thought I probably would have gambled on the next issue. It's less work and preserves the integrity of the story and if it can't work here then maybe it can work somewhere else. But I was surprised: Liz decided to do the cuts, and came out the other side liking the shorter new story that came out of that—even while acknowledging it's a different story. It shows that one can do this kind of cutting and end up with art that's still worthwhile, that one can cut on the altar of publication (first publication) and end up with a functional, if altered, story. It showed me that one doesn't have to be so precious about the integrity of the Original Story.

Liz includes a bunch of stories like this one. There's one about a painter who came to a medieval theme party dressed as a lobster, a story about dance in Bali, and of course the elk story. Each one encapsulates in a memorable episode some similarly useful idea or perspective to try on.

I am glad this book exists. I don't buy into every word, but I'm glad Liz Gilbert expressed it in the way she did anyway. I find the stories excellent. They're fun, but they're more than fun. The stories are useful.