Creating, Reading

Big Magic: Courage

October 15, 2015


This is part 1 of a read-a-long of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. Join us?

It seems fitting to open a book about creative living with the themes of courage and its sister quality fear, but I want to start at the end of the chapter. Here Gilbert tells us why it’s worth it to learn to hold our fear alongside our creativity.

“Your life is short and rare and amazing and miraculous, and you want to do really interesting things and make really interesting things while you’re still here…bringing those treasures to light takes work and faith and focus and courage and hours of devotion, and the clock is ticking, and the world is spinning, and we simply do not have time anymore to think small.

Gosh, doesn’t that sum it up? “We simple do not have time anymore to think small.” This, I believe, is the central driving point to why I am writing this here and what I want to take away from Gilbert’s words.

Gilbert believes we’re all “walking repositories of buried treasure” where the hunt for said treasure is the act of creative living. She calls creative living “the amplified life” which she defines as “living a life that is driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear”.

Now, that approach – curiosity vs fear – is such a lovely way to refocus our attention throughout the day. It’s already become a question I asked myself to help shift my focus from frustration to love. Being curious, eager and willing to learn opens us up to the possibilities around us, and we feel nothing if not stuck when we’re unable to see possibilities.

Gilbert goes on to ask “do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?” because “creative living is a path for the brave”.

Honestly, some days, I don’t know. Do you? What I do know is that I want to live a life as full as possible, and just as Brene Brown says we cannot experience deep joy without allowing ourselves to experience deep sorrow, Gilbert argues that we can not un-knot the “conjoined twins” of creativity and fear.

So then, what do we do? We welcome fear. Gilbert, in her logical yet ethereal way, writes about her welcoming speech for fear, in which she acknowledges fear’s presence but also very directly tells it that it will have no part in any decision making during the creative process.

“Your fear will always be triggered by your creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome, and fear hates uncertain outcome.”

Another sentence I loved “the terrifying but marvelous terrain of unknown outcome”.

So there it is – the opening chapter. Creativity is always about the journey, the process, and we are only certain of this – that the outcome is unknown until we arrive at the destination. This uncertainty alerts our fear, which in its over-hyped state to protect us, jumps up to drive, taking everything over and derailing our creative projects with it. So it takes courage to go forward, to do the things that we want even with our fear screaming at us that we might, for example, die if we publish that blog post, because “you don’t get any special credit…for knowing how to be afraid of the unknown”.

We are here to dig up the buried treasures of our souls, to do that which “calls to your heart and brings you to life”. We are here for delight, creativity, bravery and joy.

We are here for big magic.


  • What are some of the fears that crop up when you think about living a more creative life?
  • Like Gilbert’s friend who started ice skating again at 40, what life affirming pursuits are you denying yourself? How can you begin “to appreciate the value of (your) own joy”?
  • Gilbert tells the story of arguing for her own limitations.
    1. Why do you think it feels easier to argue for our limitations rather than for our strengths?
    2. What limitations of your own do you argue for?
    3. What thinking, saying or action can you embrace to argue for your strengths instead?
  • Write a welcoming speech for your fear. Maybe instead of a road trip your metaphor is a camping trip or running a marathon. Whatever the situation, how can you welcome and acknowledge fear and still keep the reins firmly in your creative hands?
  • As you go about your week, think about approaching your day with curiosity instead of fear. What does that shift for you? Does it create any ease?

I would love to hear your thoughts about this chapter and any of the reflection prompts above. Feel free to leave a note in the comments or email me at justine(dot)taormino(at)

Catch-up on all of the posts here.

Thanks for reading!

All quotes are from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, chapter 1 – published 2015.

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    Justine, I was going to journal about my responses and then email them to you, and then I realized, duh, I have a blog: Thanks for hosting this!

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      Fuck YES!

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