By Jena Griffiths | February 15, 2013
“Is it rational that anyone should be afraid of the work they were put on this earth to do?” Elizabeth Gilbert
Here’s a wonderful revelation by Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love) on misplaced ownership of genius, why writers struggle and become “undone” by their work and what to do.
(Click on the image above to watch this entire video)
Gilbert says the trouble is caused by trying to own genius or creative spark rather than recognizing it as a force outside of yourself that you can tap into or call upon. She says, to save artists and writers from self destructing, we need to go back to a more ancient understanding of the creative mystery. The recognition that it’s a collaboration rather than a solitary act.
You “have” (access to) a daemon or a disembodied genius rather than you are one.
Interestingly Gilbert’s solutions to writer’s block are similar to Steven King’s. Just show up on the page at the same time every day.
In his book (On writing) King likens writing to archeology. He says the story is already there you just have to dig it out with as little damage as possible.
Here’s what poet Ruth Stone told Elizabeth Gilbert about the creative process:
“As she was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out, working in the fields and she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. It was like a thunderous train of air and it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And when she felt it coming…cause it would shake the earth under her feet, she knew she had only one thing to do at that point. That was to, in her words, “run like hell” to the house as she would be chased by this poem.
The whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. Other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she would be running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house, and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it, and it would “continue on across the landscape looking for another poet”.
I think that’s motivation in itself to show up on the page. The thought that if you don’t take the creative spark when given it’ll simply go off and find someone else more worthy.
Back to putting undue pressure on yourself to perform:
Gilbert ideas are similar to Polly Young-Eisendrath’s (author of The Self Esteem Trap: raising confident and compassionate kids in an age of self-importance).
Young-Eisendrath argues that teaching kids that they are “special” or extraordinary sets them up for failure because they then fear trying anything in case they don’t live up to these high expectations. Gilbert’s suggestion – to see genius as a force outside of yourself that you can call on or learn to tap into, rather than as a quality within – is a healthy solution for anyone engaged in the creative process.