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my interview with elizabeth gilbert and a “big magic” giveaway

Big Magic

Could there be a better way to start the new year than with Big Magic?

I’ve been a huge fan of Elizabeth Gilbert since I discovered Eat Pray Love  — long before it became EAT PRAY LOVE — and audibly gasped when I saw the three words that pretty much guide my life. Her novel, The Signature of All Things, is the book that made me passionate about reading again during a disturbing dry spell, and I’ve seen her speak at two Oprah events and, most recently, in San Diego at a sold-out event I wrote about for the Del Mar Times.

Her latest book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, is another must-read but for different reasons. Her self-proclaimed “manifesto” is a guide to getting rid of all the excuses that are holding you back from being the creative person you want to be.

I finished it in a day and have recommended it to so many friends who have also gobbled it up and thanked me for this life-changing book. It’s the kind of book where you nod your head, and end up highlighting almost every sentence. It’s profound and practical and written as though your best friend is talking to you.

In my head, Elizabeth Gilbert is my best friend so doing a phone interview with her was absolutely one of the highlights of last year for me. Although the book came out in September, I wanted this interview to be my first post of 2016 so her words would inspire you to read Big Magic, stop making excuses and get out there and do the thing that makes you happy. Because inspiring is one of Gilbert’s great gifts.

Speaking of gifts, I’m also giving away a copy of Big Magic to one lucky subscriber so be sure to read the rules to enter after you read what Liz (yes, we are BFFs now) has to say:

I adored this book. It’s so much better than every self-help book I’ve read about creativity.

Oh, that’s so nice of you to say!

Well, it’s true. It’s so practical, and what I really love is that you get rid of everyone’s bullshit excuses. You acknowledge them and address them, and then tell them why they should get over them.

(Laughing) First of all, thank you for saying such nice words about my book. That is really lovely to hear. Not a lot of people have read it yet so it’s delightful for my ears. And did I hear you right that you said I take away people’s bullshit?

Yes! You cover every excuse writers use for not writing!

(Phone starts making weird noises)

Oh no! I think that’s the truth fairy coming through and saying, “You’d better answer that question truthfully right now.” And that question’s answer is that this book is the result of years of me calling myself out on my own bullshit. Any sort of bullshit you come to me with about your work? I know it already because I’ve worked through it to live a more productive life as a creative.

I think so many people will relate to that. I once read that you write every book “to” someone. Was that true for this book?

Yes. After I gave my TED talk in 2009, which was about creativity, all of a sudden it was like I’d hung a sign around my neck that said, “Please come talk to me about your creative problems.” I didn’t mind because I love talking about this and I found that I really loved the engagement. About a year and a half ago, I went out for lunch with a young woman who is an aspiring writer and whose work is terrific, and something happened during that lunch. I sort of grabbed her by both hands and I just started spewing all this stuff that I wanted her to hear. There was something about that energetic exchange between us that made me say the next day, “I want to write this down almost like a ‘Letters to a Young Poet’ sort of thing. I really want to tell other people the same thing I told her.” I kept imagining her in the room as I wrote it.

Can you tell readers what “Big Magic” means to you, and how you came up with that term?

Most of this book is grounded in a tremendous pragmatism. We have to find that magical middle ground between being totally flaky and totally Puritan. For me, the big magic of creativity is about the relationship between a human being’s effort and the mystery of inspiration. Inspiration is a mystery and remains one. Why are we called to make things that nobody needs? Frankly, it’s one of the weirdest things we can do! And humans have been doing it for, arguably, 60,000 years. They do it because an idea came to them from some mysterious force and asked them to collaborate with the idea. That contract between a human being’s time and effort and energy and the source of weird-ass information is, to me, the most interesting relationship going on in the world, and participating in that relationship is the most delightful way to spend your life. That’s big magic!

What a great description! This book does a real service for people – and you will hear that more and more as more people read it.

I had a really good time writing it. It’s fun to write a manifesto. Everyone should do it! When you have reached a point in your life where you’re standing two feet solid in what you believe, it’s really fun to just lay it out.

Elizabeth Gilbert Big Magic

You’ve written in so many different forms – fiction, non-fiction, short stories, essays – which seems to fit right in with your whole philosophy of being curious.  Have there been different challenges with each?

You know, I don’t see them as different as everyone else seems to. To me, it’s all the same thing. It’s all storytelling and writing. What would be weird would be if I were a novelist and a dentist.

Yes, I guess that’s true!

The only question I have to ask myself is what’s the most interesting way to tell that story? The first person I have to keep interested in this project is myself! I have to keep myself engaged because you may have to be alone with it for a few days, but I have to be alone with it for three years! I have to make sure that I’m keeping myself engaged, and that’s the thing that answers how best to engage with this idea. But it’s all just writing. I’m not even a writer and a visual artist. I’m a writer and a writer and a writer!

Well, I think that’s a really liberating point for other writers to hear. Many writers can’t imagine writing in a different form than they’re used to. But you’re right. It’s all words!

Yeah, it’s all words! We’re just dealing with the same clay, the same materials. There couldn’t be anything more similar to me than writing a novel and writing a non-fiction book.

I’m going to have to internalize that one. I think your anecdote about the magazine editor who made you cut your short story is also very freeing. It’s the opposite of the “Kill my darlings” mentality.

I’ve always hated that term. It goes right along with that line, “To write, all you have to do is open up a vein and bleed.” I’m like, why do you guys keep talking about murder and suicide? We’re just writing stories! I know you want to take yourself seriously, Hemingway and Capote, but, dude, this is not a battlefield. No one has to get in a bar fight. Why do we have to use violent metaphors?

Why is that? It’s horrible.

Sometimes I feel like it’s more than horrible. It’s embarrassing. I mean, guys, your insecurities are really showing. It’s just a book!

Elizabeth Gilbert Super Soul Sessions

Do you have a daily writing routine you follow now?

I have a seasonal routine. When I say I work like a farmer, I mean it in two different ways. One is that I work with the discipline of a farmer and the other is that I keep farmer’s hours. I grew up on a farm so I’m just used to that. When I’m in the throes of writing, I’m at my desk at 6 in the morning, and I go to bed early. You have to make a decision the night before that you’re going to write the next day. And that means not going out to do karaoke until 4:00 in the morning – even though I love doing that.

Have you always written seasonally?

At this point in my life, because writing is now my profession, it’s more efficient for me to write seasonally. There are different seasons for different parts of the process. Right now, because I have a book coming out, it’s the season to publicize it. I can’t write while I’m doing that. Then there’s a season for researching and a season for editing. At this point, the season for writing only comes once every two or three years because I have so much preparation to do before I actually write. This is not how I would suggest you do it if you don’t have someone waiting for your work! The way I used to do it is the way I think you have to do it when you’re beginning your creative career. You really do have to write every day. Otherwise, it just isn’t going to get done.

This reminds me of a word I heard you use one that I had never heard before: sitzfleisch!

It’s a wonderful word! It’s a Yiddish word that literally means your ass flesh. In the old school, if you were meant to be a scholar or a Rabbi or an academic, it meant you had to have the ability to sit on your butt for a long time. I have a very padded butt so I’m good!

I’ll join you in that!

I’ve got everything I need, physically, for this job!

It’s been 10 years since Eat Pray Love and you’ve obviously learned so much that you’re generously sharing with all of us now. Is there anything in the book you wish you had known back then that would have made life way easier for you?

Wow. That question applies much more to my personal, emotional and romantic life. And my answer to that question would be very long! I would say, though, that my grandmother recently died at the age of 102. She was a remarkable, amazing woman. When we were cleaning her apartment, we found she had saved all the letters I had ever written to her. My mom just mailed them to me. In one of the letters – it was from 1994 when Esquire bought my first short story – I said, “I hope I can live up to this.” I remembered suddenly that feeling, that anxiety I had back then that this is the best I’ll ever do. I could visualize my younger self thinking, “Maybe I’ll be 60 years old and I’ll have this one shredded magazine. Maybe this is the only idea I’ll ever have, that I’ll be able to manifest.” And I wish I could have tapped that woman on the shoulder and said, “This is not something you have to worry about because you, young lady, just spent the last seven years diligently working on your craft despite the fact that nobody had offered you any reward for it. Everything you need to know about how committed you are to this work, you already proved.” I still have to have this conversation with myself. Until you say you’re done, you’re not done.

That is so empowering.

We’re here for such a short time. Oh my goodness, it is such a short visit that we’re allotted. So, while we’re here, do a thing! Do a thing! Do a thing!

That’s why I love your whole philosophy about the tormented artist. It should be joyful. It shouldn’t be a horrible chore.

Right. And even when it’s hard, there’s still nowhere else I’d rather be. A hard day of writing is still better than a good day of anything else.

Big Magic shelves

I know I need to wrap up but you feel like you’re such a friend – and I know there are millions of women who feel that same way about you!

Aw! Well, I have women who come up to me and say, “I know it’s crazy but I feel like I know you.” And I’m like, “Dude, that’ s not crazy. It’s because I fucking told you so much about myself.” It definitely feels unbalanced!

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I guess I should end with an “ole.”

Oh, thank you, you’re so sweet!

I will skip the next few minutes of my fangirling her and cut to the giveaway. For a chance to win a copy of Big Magic, you must be a subscriber to my weekly newsletter. If you’re not a subscriber, first sign up in the right sidebar of this page. Then, simply leave a comment below. For a second chance, Tweet this:

Contest ends on January 9 (my birthday!) at midnight Pacific time. Winner will be notified by return email. Prize can only be sent to a U.S. mailing address.

Here’s to a year of BIG MAGIC all around!


  1. I’ve been having a tough time getting my writing juices flowing again, so I definitely want and need to read her book!

  2. What a great interview, Lois! I’ve been reading/listening to lots of Elizabeth Gilbert in recent years and you captured some new things from her — good for you!

    I would totally fangirl Elizabeth Gilbert if I had the chance!

    I’m doing a January Read Along of Big Magic. As of today, we’re 27 pages in, so there’s lots of time for others to join: http://www.joyweesemoll.com/2016/01/03/big-magic-by-elizabeth-gilbert-readalong/

  3. Robin (Masshole Mommy) says:

    What a great interview! Sounds like a great read.

  4. What a great interview. I haven’t read any of her books, but she sounds like a great author. I will check out her book.

  5. She sounds amazing. What a great interview!

  6. I’ve heard so much about this book, and look forward to reading it. Great interview, Lois!

  7. Oh my goodness, I loved reading this interview. This was an awesome post. I actually listened to a small sample of Big Magic and would love to get my hands on a physical copy. I hope I win!(:

  8. I enjoyed EPL but not much after that. I’m interested in this and would love to read it. Who knows, maybe the Universe wants me to win it! I like the idea of pragmatism and magic together. And of course, I have plenty of ass flesh…..

  9. Good interview ! It is so funny that many feel like you and that you know her as a friend; the power of a writer!

  10. She is amazing and thanks for sharing your interview with us. She reaches out to her readers and always on topics that are so relatable.

  11. Oh my god. I’m fangirling here. I love what she said about people feeling like they know her and she says it’s because she shares so much of herself. I get that a lot too. I’m an open book!
    Also, this book is my dream book.

  12. Stephanie Weaver, MPH says:

    Great interview and I admit to feelings of jealousy when I saw you had interviewed her, which I promptly got over. 🙂 Thanks. I loved this book so much I gave it to friends for Christmas, including one in Australia. 🙂

  13. I have got to get this book! I’m getting it right away, so I suppose I will just have to gift the book if I win. 😉

  14. This sounds like a fabulous book to help ignite those writing juices. I found it so interesting that she is such a disciplined writer – using her farm background as her model.

  15. Sounds like you had a great interview! Glad you had such a successful and informative interview to share with us!

  16. What a cool experience to get so deep with the author! I would love to talk to some of my favorite authors!

  17. Elizabeth sounds like a really interesting person. It sounds like she put a lot of work into making this book both entertaining and helpful.

  18. What a great interview. I haven’t heard of this book but now I will have to check it out.

  19. This is exactly the kind of book I need to start off my 2016. I have a hard time striking that balance between being creative and being practical.

  20. I loved Eat Pray Love, so Big Magic is going to be a must for me!

  21. This sounds like a very inspiring book for those who love to create and write. I’m intrigued to read her book.

  22. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    Wonderful interview, Lois! It must have been a thrill to talk to Elizabeth. I am a huge fan as well. The book sounds fantastic and a great choice for starting the new year on the right foot.

  23. Where have I been?! I knew there was a movie for Eat Pray Love but I didn’t know there was a book! I am going to have to pick up both of these books to read in the new year.

  24. Looks like a great book. Thanks for sharing the interview. Helps bring additional meaning to the book.

  25. I enjoyed the Eat Pray Love movie, but didn’t read the book. I need to check out Big Magic! Sounds like a great read for 2016.

  26. This looks like a fabulous read so I’m signing up for sure…tweeting too. Thanks much for sharing this and the giveaway!

  27. WOW what a fantastic interview to land and very impressive. I have not read this book but you just helped me add one must read to my 2016 book list.

  28. This book is on my must read list! I’m always looking for inspiration!

  29. I am always looking for more books to read!! I’ll be adding this to my list too!

  30. This sounds like a fabulous book. I love the interview banter. So personal and fun.

  31. It is really interesting that she writes her books ‘to’ people. I would like to give Big Magic a read. Finding a middle ground is super important.

  32. This book sounds great. I love reading and I would definitely give this a try.

  33. This book has just been put on my must read list for sure! Great interview. I love reading all about authors.

  34. I am not a writer but it sounds like a beautiful way to write in seasons. Love that idea

  35. My excuse right now is one that should be so EASY to rectify. The answer is everywhere, but I just can’t get my hands on it!

  36. Janeane Davis says:

    I enjoyed reading this interview. It is always great to read about the authors and artists behind the books we enjoy.

  37. I think fear of judgement is a big one that holds people back. I like the idea of “No bad ideas” we should be free to express ourselves (As long as end product isn’t physically harmful to others) and then given an opportunity to explore the validity of the idea. If it works it works, if it doesn’t at least there are no regrets.

  38. We just watched eat, pray and love! I love her! Can’t wait to check this book out!

  39. I love this interview. So much to think about and take in. I have not heard of this book and it is something I would like to read so I am going to gift this to myself.

    I also grew up in a rural farming community and worked the land myself, so I totally get when she says “work like a farmer.” I am 60 years old and have never been able to change my farming sleep patterns even though I have lived in LA for over half of my life.

  40. What a great interview! The book sounds like a must read as well, something not to be missed! What a wonderful way to start off the new year as well!

  41. That is a wonderful interview! I need to read that book.

  42. Such a great interview and I’m looking forward to reading Big Magic! I honestly can’t believe that it’s been 10 years since Eat Pray Love!

  43. This sounds like a great book for me. I just finished one and need a new book to start. I will have to grab a copy.

  44. Awesome interview! She sounds so humble! I would love to read her book!

  45. Boy, do I need some BIG MAGIC to get my creativity jump-started for the new year! Please help!

  46. I think it’s great to get a behind the scenes look at Elizabeth Gilbert this way. This was a great interview.

  47. Excellent interview with a woman I’ve loved ever since Eat, Pray, Love as well, Lois.

    I was telling Gary today about Elizabeth’s new book because I need it, desperately, at this stage of my creative life. Trying to work on my book while writing a weekly blog and attending to my paid writing gigs is overwhelming me already! I need this book because Elizabeth Gilbert always inspires me. She does feel like a dear, old friend.

  48. I think you have started the New year in a charming way & that sounds like a wonderful interview as well. The Big Magic book pretty much sounds like the one I must read to inspire myself & get rid of all those lame excuses & move ahead.

  49. What a great way to get the year started.. Thanks for this review I’ve been looking for a few books to add to my new years reading list.

  50. Fabulous interview!!!! Love it!

  51. Looking forward to reading another awesome book by Ms. Gilbert!

  52. Sandra Boen says:

    Great interview….can’t wait to read the new book.

  53. Brooke Ellis says:

    Early happy birthday to you!!! Loved this interview – – ole’!!!! Can’t wait to read the book.

  54. I need this book. Period.

  55. Jeneane West says:

    Sounds like a great read.

  56. Great interview! I hope I win – I’ve been intending to read this for weeks. Thank you!

  57. I’m so interested in reading this book. Thank you for the opportunity to possibly win it!

  58. Sheryl Baron says:

    I have a list of books to read, but have a hard time motivating myself! After reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s first book, I know I will like this one! It’s a new year and my birthday is on Jan. 11, so I have 2 good reasons to to change my ways andbecome a reader!

  59. Loved this post (and the book). Shared it on the MySideof50 FB page today!

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