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How To Be Creative By Elizabeth Gilbert

Even if you haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love you have no doubt heard about it. Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir released in 2006 was a global phenomenon, selling an incredible 13 million copies (or thereabouts) to date. Continuing with her writing after that kind of success was always going to be hard and Liz openly admits she struggled. Badly. In a TED talk calledSuccess, failure and the drive to keep creating” Liz spoke honestly about her battle with writer’s block and the talk is an inspiration to anyone who has ever struggled with their craft. Liz has in fact given two great TED talks, the first was on “Your elusive creative genius”, and together they have been watched over 11.5 million times. Woah!

So when I heard the well-known author and inspiring orator was coming to Sydney I jumped at the chance to see her. Standing on stage yesterday at the Sydney Opera House, as part of the All About Women festival, Liz started her talk with a disclaimer. I apologise, she said, to be speaking to you bare foot today (she’d had a fight with a couch) and warn you that my talk will be littered with profanities. But if there is anywhere, she said, in the world where she thinks she might be able to get away with that, this would be it!

And so she began.

Liz is an incredible speaker – witty, anecdotal, punchy – so forgive me for summarising now what was an incredible talk. However, I wanted to share some of her points on creativity that I think will resonate with bloggers and writers.

On Courage

do you have the courage

Liz cites a poet named Jack Gilbert as one of her creative inspirations and this was a question he posed a promising student.

On Fear

Liz touched on the reasons why women in particular may be afraid to release their creative work:

Fear that we’re not good enough

That everyone is better/has already done it

Not having the right workspace, money, time, education

Afraid of criticism, afraid of rejection, afraid of what our family will think, afraid of success

Fear that we’re too fat

Fear we’ll be ignored. Fear of being a one hit wonder, fear of being a none hit wonder.

Sound familiar?

fear is boringFear is terribly boring, Liz says, because it’s the same thing everyday. But we need to learn how to live with fear. A life without fear would be a short and dangerous one. We need to accept that fear will always be related to creativity and need to learn to live with that. To address it, accept it, and accommodate it. Let fear have its voice but don’t give it a vote.

On Entitlement

We need to be comfortable with entitlement. The “arrogance of belonging” is necessary for a creative life. We are entitled to express and exhibit our work.

We belong to a species of artists. (Man was making decorative arts before inventing agriculture!) You don’t permission, there’s an inherited right in us all to create.

On Perfectionism

If you want to live a creative life you need to take on your own perfectionism. The ideal artist is a devoted half-ass. “Done is better than good.”

“A good enough novel written this year is better than a perfect novel written never.”

Give a creative mind something to do. Take a vacation from yourself.

Your work is not your baby, don’t make it more precious than it needs to be. You need to be able to release it, not protect it. Let your work nurture you.

Please don’t try and help people with your work – it makes it awkward for them. Do what you love and eventually it turns to help.

we belong to a species of artists

Quick Fire Questions

The audience had a chance to ask Liz some personal questions and these were my favourite sound bites.

Is social media good or bad for humans? It is humans, it’s just us.

On Oprah – “She smokes what she’s selling.”

On taking your work too seriously – “It’s like having sex with someone who respects you too much. Spank your work instead!”

“I write sequentially or else the story makes you its bitch!”

Does any of this advice resonate with you as a blogger?

About Author

I'm a freelance blogger and writer who loves boutique hotels, brunching and shopping. I've been blogging for 11 years, visited 60+ countries and called London, Sydney, Melbourne and (oh so briefly) New York home at various points during the last decade. We purchased our first home during the pandemic & have been infusing it with a feeling of travel while we wait to see the world again.

11 Comments

  • Jennifer Stevens
    March 9, 2015 at 4:01 am

    This is great! Thank you for posting, especially the TED Talks. I teach creative writing and will integrate these videos into some of my classes 🙂

    http://www.adventurousappetite.com

    Reply
    • Jayne Gorman
      March 9, 2015 at 7:36 am

      It’s so refreshing to hear a successful writer admit to their fears and flaws. I find Liz’s honesty refreshing and completely inspiring. Hope your class enjoy them 🙂

      Reply
  • Isabel
    March 9, 2015 at 8:44 am

    Needed to read this today, thanks for sharing!

    Reply
  • Janice Stringer
    March 9, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    Hi Jayne,
    I was fortunate enough to meet Liz Gilbert after attending ‘a conversation with Liz Gilbert on the South Bank. When you speak to her, you find you feel as if you are part of an inclusive group- treated as an equal. I don’t always agree with what she says but she is incredibly interesting and if you haven’t read A Signature of All Things. Do so – As a Writer/Blogger, a person can learn so much from her work. She is incredibly talented.
    Janice

    Reply
    • Jayne Gorman
      March 16, 2015 at 11:36 pm

      It’s next on my list 🙂

      Reply
  • Jaynie
    March 9, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    I can identify with the fear for sure! I’ve been considering starting my blog for a while but I feel like it’s all been said. Or, do people really want to hear what I have to say? I’m over thinking it I suppose.
    I love how candid she is about everything!

    Reply
    • Jayne Gorman
      March 16, 2015 at 11:35 pm

      She’s very candid but I also love how straight forward her approach is. She would say that if everyone didn’t write or start a creative project for fear of it being done before we would be deprived of some of the world’s best work. Good luck!

      Reply
  • Elle Croft
    March 16, 2015 at 10:46 am

    I really despised Eat, Pray, Love, but now that I’m trying to write a novel myself I admire any writer who’s achieved what I’m aiming for, whether I like their work or not. I love the quote about a good enough novel being better than an imaginary perfect one. It’s so true!

    Reply
    • Jayne Gorman
      March 16, 2015 at 11:34 pm

      Funnily enough there were a few writers in the audience who hadn’t been fans of Eat, Pray, Love but loved Liz’s approach to just doing the task at hand (if that is what you want to do.) You might like her TED talks too for some writerly inspiration 🙂

      Reply
  • Alys | A Girl Who Reads
    April 5, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    A little jealous that you got to go (I hate when people finally get to Sydney and I can’t go) but thank you for sharing, its almost like I was able to go

    The advice absolutely applies. I can so often get stuck trying to get it right (I think because I fear the judgement of stuffing up) and it can mean things don’t happen at all.

    Reply
    • Jayne Gorman
      April 6, 2015 at 3:23 am

      I think she’ll be back next year so hopefully you can see her for yourself. I found her words so encouraging too.

      Reply

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