Elizabeth Gilbert: Where Does Creativity Come From?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Big Magic" by Elizabeth Gilbert. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Where does creativity come from? And is there a way to invite it into your life?

According to Elizabeth Gilbert, creativity comes from “Big Magic”—a mystical force where creative ideas reside. This force is bigger than us and cannot be explained scientifically or proven empirically. It is an eternal cosmic entity that creatives must have faith in.

Keep reading to learn where creativity comes from, according to Elizabeth Gilbert.

Creativity Comes From “Big Magic”

Creativity is a capricious force—it can come and go as it pleases. But where does creativity come from?

In Gilbert’s view, creativity comes from the realm of “Big Magic.” We’ll call it Creative Sorcery. 

For Gilbert, coming into contact with Creative Sorcery is a transcendent experience. Touching Creative Sorcery lets you be moved by and interact with something greater than yourself. This communion with a higher creative energy constitutes the chief goal of Gilbert’s life.

Creative Sorcery Communicates Through Ideas

Gilbert states that Creative Sorcery is trying at all times to contact humans to help them bring their creativity into the world. One way Creative Sorcery communicates with humans is through ideas. Gilbert envisions ideas as living entities, capable of self-sustained activity. Ideas move around space, seeking humans who will take them on and give them life. 

According to Gilbert, humans do not give rise to ideas: Ideas exist independently of us. This means that ideas are free to come and go as they please. You may find yourself visited by an idea and then deserted by it.

Creative Sorcery Communicates Through Your Genius  

For Gilbert, your genius is another manifestation of Creative Sorcery: It’s an external creative spirit that can help you as you work. Gilbert draws on the Roman and Greek conception of genius to craft this definition. For ancient thinkers, a genius was a creative imp or “daemon” that resided in your house. That imp would sometimes appear to assist you in your pursuits. 

Gilbert emphasizes that your genius is not a part of you. It is, rather, an outside entity that sometimes visits you. In this regard, a genius is similar to ideas. Yet, while there are many ideas floating around the universe, you only have one genius.

Have Joyous Faith in Creative Sorcery

As a creative, Gilbert says, take the understanding of your innate relationship with Creative Sorcery a step further by developing joyous faith in Creative Sorcery. Joyous faith is the conviction that Creative Sorcery loves to work with humans, is at all times trying to help and communicate with them, and will never voluntarily abandon them. This faith gives rise to feelings of joy, ease, and lightness around your creative work, writes Gilbert. 

(Shortform note: While Gilbert says that joyous faith makes your creative process more pleasant, a broader religious or spiritual faith can similarly make your whole life more enjoyable. Religion imbues one’s life with a sense of purpose and meaning. It also offers moral guidance and opportunity for socialization and community formation, which can combat feelings of isolation. Having some form of faith, whether it be limited to your creativity or not, can thus bring a sense of ease and joy to your life, as Gilbert suggests.) 

Creative Sorcery Helps You by Leaving You Clues

According to Gilbert, when you have joyous faith, you believe that Creative Sorcery is always trying to leave clues to help you in your creative pursuit (in addition to sending you ideas and visits from your genius). All you need to do is look out for these clues. 

Gilbert writes that clues can take the form of coincidences, items of beauty, dreams, déjà vu, and other strange occurrences that interrupt usual daily life. Therefore, by adopting joyous faith, everything in life can be viewed as Creative Sorcery desperately trying to assist you. 

A clue left for you by Creative Sorcery could look something like this: You’re traveling by bus in a foreign country and accidentally get off at the wrong stop on your way to an attraction. You wander down empty streets with no idea of where you’re going or how to get back home. Suddenly, at the end of a street, you come upon a magnificent ancient structure. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever seen and immediately makes you think of a panel of your graphic novel about the ancient world you can’t quite get right. You realize this structure is the ideal inspiration for that panel and snap a picture so you can recreate it in your novel. This apparent accident was, seen through a lens of joyous faith, Creative Sorcery leaving you a clue.

Elizabeth Gilbert: Where Does Creativity Come From?

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Elizabeth Gilbert's "Big Magic" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Big Magic summary :

  • Why integrating creativity into your daily life will make you feel more fulfilled
  • Why creating for money is a form of self-sabotage
  • Why you should never focus on external validation of your creations

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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