People.com hosted a live chat with Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love and The Signature of All Things) and it was full of writing advice gems for aspiring and grinding writers. Here, the best of the session:
Marybelle asked: Hi Liz! Just finished SOAT, and the aspect that really stuck with me at the end was how Alma, held back by her own perfectionism, failed to publish before Darwin. This is an issue that you have addressed before, and one that tends to haunt my own life. How, oh how, did you find the initial courage to put your work out into the world?
Gilbert answered: You are so right, Marybelle, that perfectionism is the demon of all good things — and a theme in SOAT. I was lucky enough to be raised by a mother who taught me that “done is better than good” — which has gotten me through SO much. There is no such thing as perfect, and so the pursuit of it is only setting you up to be disappointed. Also, I think women struggle with this more than men (gee, maybe because we are taught that we aren’t perfect??) But at some point you have to ask your perfectionism to step aside so that your creativity can shine through…
Linda Anderson: I believe your ability to be vulnerable endears you to us readers. How did you get the courage that allows such baring of the soul?
Gilbert: I think there are so many different kinds of courage. And there are so many kinds of courage that I DON’T have. (For instance, I always wish I was more physically brave and also more ethically brave: I admire people who spend their lives fighting for others…) But I have always had a certain emotional courage in that I am not afraid to look weak, or to share my truths. I don’t know where that comes from, other than maybe a sense of shared humanity (don’t we all fail, feel weak, feel confused?) I would rather be vulnerable and human than bulletproof and robotic.
Winnie: How do you feel when people criticize your work, especially when what you write is so personal?
Gilbert: Hi Winnie! Well, being criticized sucks, actually. Nobody likes it, but we all must find ways to handle it because there is no way to put work into the world that is beyond criticism, and being criticized is the tax you pay for getting live a creative, inventive life. I like to think of the old adage that “a fly may sting a noble horse, but one is a fly and the other is a horse.” In other words, I would rather be the horse (the creator) than the fly (the critic) any day!
Betsy: Hi Elizabeth, Congratulations on the new book, first of all. I’m really curious, how has your extraordinary success changed you, if at all?
Gilbert: Thank you, Betsy! I like to think I haven’t changed THAT much, but I will admit to two very important and life-altering transformations that success has brought me: 1) Business class plane tickets, and 2) more seriously — complete creative freedom. I can now take on any projects I want, and fund them myself. Even something as risky and possibly uncommercial as a 500 page novel about a 19th century spinster who studies moss!
Guest: Nora Ephron once said that the hardest thing about writing is writing. Do you agree with that sentiment and do you have any advice for writers?
Gilbert: We all love and miss Nora…thanks for sharing this! I have a less than tormented relationship with my work, to be honest. I have learned over the years how to work in collaboration with creativity, rather than at war with it. It’s the same as with anything in life — whatever you fight, fights you back. But whatever you invite gently and with respect will approach you. I find that the more I relax, the easier writing gets.
Lillian: Before you start writing, how do you pick what your next book will be about?
Gilbert: It’s all a matter of instinct plus curiosity…but mostly curiosity. I’ve learned over the years to trust my fascinations…they usually lead me in the right direction! Thanks, Lillian!