Book Review: Big Magic – Creativity Explored

Big Magic is one of those books that every creative should read. Full of insight, ideas, encouragement—it’s worth keeping a copy on the writer’s desk next to the dictionary, style guide, and Strunk & White.

Gilbert’s take on a few topics was so fresh and true that I teared up. She put words around an elusive struggle of the creative process, and I found it comforting to have it articulated so beautifully. But don’t get me wrong: it’s not mamby-pamby, self-help slop. She has mined the travails of her own creative life and brought out some gems to share. Some are wrapped in kindness, others are tough love with a swift butt-kick thrown in for good measure. I didn’t resonate with everything, but the bits that got me, got me good.

I especially appreciated her thoughts about burdening one’s creativity with the job of earning a living. She’s big on not quitting your job. All in all, Big Magic is a keeper, and it’s probably a book I will give as a gift to aspiring creatives.

On a final note, I listened to the excellent audio version narrated by the author, but I would recommend instead buying a physical copy to allow for thumbing through in moments of creative confusion or artistic desperation.

View all of my Goodreads reviews.

Four Simple Creativity Sparks for Writers


Today is a daydreaming kind of day. In order to make progress on my projects, what I really need is time to go for a walk, doodle, and play.

Walking, doodling and playing to get things done? Absolutely. In this crazy-busy era, it’s all too easy to be swept in the stream of urgency. We churn out tasks. We grind through our day. We brainstorm ideas and slash budgets and scratch things off our list. So much violence in the name of productivity!

All this frantic, sedentary busyness is killing our creativity. It’s time to move.

Slowly. Purposefully. Playfully.

Get Up

Movement is good for creativity—just changing your position or location will do. No plane tickets or cruise ship necessary. Go for a walk, people! Ditch the iPod and earplugs and listen instead to the birds or analyse the music of traffic.

This isn’t new-agey twaddle. The advice is centuries old. “Solvitur ambulando” is Latin for The problem is solved by walking. I’d heard it attributed to Milton, but according to the font of digital knowledge, it goes back to a witty Greek guy named Diogenes the Cynic. Apparently some esoteric big-noter was waffling on about motion being unreal, so Diogenes shut him down by standing up and walking off. (Nice move, but I can’t explain why a Greek was speaking Latin…)

So, if you can’t solve that plot problem, take it for a walk around the block.

Have fun

Play is fundamental. It’s an innate learning strategy for children, so why should we adults pooh-pooh it? Play changes your perspective and opens new options. Take your cue from your favourite geek: put some toys on your desk. Lego bricks, puzzles, a tub of Playdough–or better yet: Kinetic Sand. Go on–Release your inner toddler!

Therapists have understood the power of play for decades. Sandtray and Play Therapy are wonderful strategies for digging below our usual defence mechanisms. (And let’s face it: adults have plenty of those.) Anything we writers can do to bypass the inner critic is a good thing–it may as well be fun!

Role-playing is a fabulous way to breakthrough rigid mindsets. It’s not just for Comic-Con aficionados or drama students. Just imagine what a business owner could learn by playing the part of a first-time customer. Writers—stand up and act out your scene. Feel your character’s response in your cells.

Go ahead and Doodle

Maybe your teachers roused at you for drawing instead of listening, but new research shows that doodling helps people focus. It also helps us access parts of the brain that otherwise wouldn’t be engaged. More brain power is usually better than less…Right?

If you’re making notes or doing an outline, try adding some doodles or sketches. You may find the act of drawing frees up some new ideas.


You’ve heard the cliché about hopeless daydreamers? Well, it turns out they’re not so hopeless after all–particularly if they work in a creative field. Neuroscience has proven a correlation between daydreaming and creativity, so go ahead: Prop your feet up on the desk, sit back, and untether your imagination.

Over to You

Do you have fun, effective ways to kindle your creativity?

More on Creativity from the interweb

Stoke the fire of your creativity with these 5 TED talks.

CC Image Credit, idea_m by nic519

5 Essential Apps for Writers: Boosting Creativity

Artist Toolbox: Dean Russo / Dumbo Arts Center: Art Under the Br

Ever wished you could pop a pill, wave a wand, or say a powerful prayer to unleash an extra surge of creativity? While pharmaceuticals, magic, and heartfelt pleas to higher powers might have their place, today I look to technology for that special creative spark. Here are my five favourite apps and websites to boost creativity!

The 5 Essential Apps For Writers series has covered

      The basics

      Business tools

      Reference aids

      Blogging apps

      Reading gizmos

Read all the posts here on Spilling Ink. (Click the links at the bottom of the post or in the Categories menu in the side bar.)


I’ve written before about why writers should use Pinterest, so today I’ll just say it’s one of my favourite websites and most-used apps because it’s fun, useful and highly creative! Pinterest is free and the app interface is top-notch–two nice bonuses.

So how does Pinterest fire my imagination?

*  I create vision boards for my WiPs (Works in Progress).

*  I follow bookstores, libraries, writers, publishers and peak industry organisations and collate articles about writing.

*  I source information and articles on the creative process.

*  I save books with Compelling Covers.

*  On my Face Catalogue board, I pin interesting smiles, gorgeous eyes, quirky expressions, intriguing hair colour, etc., for later use, when I flesh out my characters’ features.

Storyboard That


Storyboarding is a fundamental tool of screenwriters. Storyboard That (an HTML 5 website that doesn’t need an app) lets novel and picture book writers harness the power of storyboarding. Shifting from words to images can be a handy strategy to break writer’s block and soar in new directions. If you find yourself stuck or just want to play around with your scene sequence, try this intriguing app. It’s heaps of fun–but a little time-consuming.

The free version is pretty limited, giving you a choice of either 3 or 6 frames and no privacy (A good thing to know so you don’t accidentally release your top-secret project a little earlier than you planned). $35 a year gets you better options including the ability to keep your images under wraps. The picture to the right is my first (rather lame!) attempt, showing 6 scenes from my latest novel.

Idea Sketch

C73D93A1-7571-40FA-81D9-510FECA8FAFD.pngThere are a gazillion mind-mapping apps available, but I like this one because the results are clean and neat enough to add to PowerPoint presentations or include in project outlines. You can easily email a map or share a screenshot. You can also flip between a diagram and an outline.

I use Idea Sketch as a starting point when planning blog posts, freelance articles, and curriculum projects. I’ve even used it to map out a projected series of children’s mystery novels. The picture here is an old map I drew when writing a series of articles on Gap Year experiences.

The free version allows a limited number of maps. $5 for the premium app gives users unlimited diagrams.  It’s available for tablets, phones and desktops.


This award-winning app and website are fantastic for those tricky moments when you can’t decide what to do. Unstuck offers a series of questions to help you pare down the problem to its bare bones and clarify your feelings, thoughts and action. It then offers some great suggestions about how to move forward.

My trial run of the app proved really helpful. It honestly did “unstick” me. Not just for writing, Unstuck can help sort out relationship, professional, and personal growth issues too.


This app combines neuroscience and music with a selection of carefully chosen sound tracks that “amplify attention.” The developers claim it can increase focus by up to 400% by helping users to filter out distractions.  It’s a real boon for writers who have to work in noisy environments. You can try Focus@Will for free on a short-term trial, but if you want to keep using it, the subscription it costs about 13 cents a day.

In my trial, I found the music tracks soothing, but I can’t comment on its powers to direct focus because I really don’t struggle on that front. If anything, I have the opposite problem. I have a bear of a time emerging from “the zone” without being hazy and grumpy. I wish someone would develop an app for that!

Image Credit: “Artist Toolbox” by See-ming Lee, Creative Commons Licence