Thursday, October 22, 2015

Interview with Elizabeth Gilbert

For our guest post this week, enjoy this interview between the incomparable Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and a new book on creativity, Big Magic, and Brooke Warner of SheWrites Press. Filled with her trademark wisdom, wit, and inspiring advice for writers, this interview with Liz is pure joy.  

This post is part of a series with Elizabeth Gilbert leading up to a SheWrites co-sponsored event with her: Writing, Truth and Community in Napa Valley on Nov. 7, 2015. 

In preparation for our upcoming Elizabeth Gilbert LIVE workshop event – Writing, Truth and Community in Napa Valley on Nov. 7 – I interviewed the always amazing Elizabeth Gilbert. Liz is best known for her best-selling memoir Eat, Pray, Love, which sold more than 10 million copies worldwide. She’s also the author of six other books including two novels, another memoir, a collection of short stories and a biography and now Big Magic, which is her first self-help book though you’d never know it.

This is just a small excerpt of what we talked about—and an example of the types of inspiring nuggets you'll get all day long at the Elizabeth Gilbert Live event in Napa this November.
Here's what Liz had to say about capturing the creativity in your own life and finding inspiration in everything.
BW: When and how did you become an ambassador for creativity?

LG: Accidentally. Like most interesting things in life, I’ve been engaged forever in my own mind with these questions, about how to live the most sane and generative and joyful possible relationship with creativity because of the work I’ve been doing my whole life. It took me a long time before I was willing to share with people some of the ways I believe creativity is engaged with us, much less with the ways we’ve engaged with it.

But then I gave a Ted Talk in 2009, that it ended up being watched by millions of people, where I basically did talk about genies and fairies and some of the more magical, mystical aspects of creativity, and people were so responsive to it. After that I felt like I had a sign around my neck that said, “Please come to me with your questions and anxieties about creativity,” because people started to bring me all their obstacles and issues and their curiosities, and so at some point it felt like the most efficient thing to do would be to sit down and put it all in one book and lay it out there, and if was useful to people they were welcome to make use to it, and if not, you know, as you were. No hard feelings!


BW: Do you have a preferred genre?

LG: The most difficult genre for me is writing novels, but it’s also the most rewarding. It’s difficult because you have to invent an entire world, but it’s also tremendously exciting because you get to invent an entire world. So you have a lot of pressure on yourself because you have to create a whole universe and make it sound plausible, but you also have all the power in that universe. I feel like I’m at the height of my power whenever I write fiction.

BW: What’s your advice to writers who want to cross genres?

LG: My advice is please, try to get out of your genre and out of your rut, and try to remember that there are so many different kinds of writing, but in the end it’s all the same—it’s all just storytelling.

BW: How did your Facebook community inspire your book?

LG: I can say that this book would not exist in this form without the engagement that I’ve had on that Facebook page over the last three or four years, without a doubt.

I’ve been thinking for over twelve years about writing a book about creativity and I’ve been holding back for a couple of reasons. One is that I think that I honestly didn’t feel that I quite had the authority yet. I needed to feel like I had a few more books under my belt, that I could really stand on my record. You know, if I was going to throw myself out there and say, I’m going to tell you how to do this thing, then I had to know that I was smoking what I was selling, basically. Right?

But the other thing that made me hesitate was I was unsure how to tell this story. When I talk about how all writing is storytelling, I didn’t know if I should write a heavily academic, heavily researched book about the neurobiology and the psychology of storytelling, and the history and the culture of creativity.
I didn’t know if I should write it as a series of interviews with artists I admired. I didn’t know I should travel all over the world and write about how different cultures view creativity. There’s so many ways that I could have written this book.

But after years of having conversations, literally every single day, on Facebook with people who kept coming to me with the same questions, with the same fears, with the same obstacles, I finally just realized, Oh, just write to them! Just write to them because you know how to talk to them. Use the voice you use on Facebook, and keep it very simple, and keep it anecdotal.

I love to say about Big Magic there’s not a single fact in there. I’ve always written really heavily researched books, but this book has no footnotes. It’s all from my own lived experience, from my personal encounters with creativity over the years. It’s all very conversational, and I think it would have been impossible for me to have stepped into that voice if I hadn’t been using that voice every single day on social media, so without a doubt, I think that community inspires me as much as I try and inspire them.

BW: What is one small thing that writers can do if they want to summon creative energy, particularly if they’re stuck?

LG: You know, one of the things that you hear people say a lot is, it’s almost a cliché, you’ll hear somebody say “I don’t have a creative bone in my body.” You’ve heard people say that, I’ve heard people say that.

I always ask people to take that sentence, I don’t have a creative bone in my body, and to take the word “creative” out and to replace it with the word “curious,” and then to see how totally wrong and bizarre that sounds. Nobody would ever walk around saying I don’t have a curious bone in my body.

If you’re living a life where you allow yourself to engage in a daily manner with your curiosity, then you will start very soon to be living your creative life, and it’s your obligation, I think, to pay attention to your curiosity, and to ask yourself every day what you’re interested in.

That’s the juice right there, and I think the mistakes that people often make about creativity and inspiration is that they’re all waiting for the lightning bolt and for the big dramatic vocation, the calling, you know, the tower of flame in the desert, the passion, and that’s not what a creative life is.

A creative life is more of a scavenger hunt, following a trail of breadcrumbs, than it is lightning in a bottle. So the trick in this is to respect your curiosity and to follow it and then to trust it, and to see where it leads. I can guarantee you’re going to live a much more expanded, much more interesting, much more engaged, and much less depressed life.

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