Ask the Author: Elizabeth Gilbert

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Elizabeth Gilbert Here is my advice: I get out my kitchen timer and set it for 15 mintues. I am not allowed to stand up until the 15 minutes are over. During that 15 minutes, I write something. Anything — a letter, a poem, a list of people you hate, a prayer, all my favorite words, a childhood memory, a dream. Something. I might even sit there for 15 minutes writing, "I don't know what to write!" but I learned long ago that a "bad" day of writing is still a good day. You have to write through the bad part to get to the good part. As the great reporter David Carr says, "Keep typing till it becomes writing."
Elizabeth Gilbert My twenty-something self would not have listened, but I would tell myself to stay away from romantic entanglements. As for writing, I cannot remember a time before I wanted to be a writer. It's the only thing I ever desired, and I've poured my heart and soul into it since I was in my early teens.
Elizabeth Gilbert I'm going to also ask you to download episodes #3 and #4 of MAGIC LESSONS, my podcast about creativity. I think you'll get a lot out of them because what we discuss on those episodes will help you through this. Don't give up on your creativity! Can your creativity trust YOU? Are you really showing up for it? Or are you waiting for inspiration to magically find you? You don't have to work long hours on your creative ideas; just do a little bit every day.
Elizabeth Gilbert Travel like crazy. Stay away from romantic entanglements. Give these beautiful years to yourself!
Elizabeth Gilbert You just need to begin! Go get the kitchen timer and set it for 20 minutes. You can do anything for 20 minutes. I tell myself to keep going for another 20 minutes, with the reminder that it doesn't have to be exciting or satisfying. And what usually happens — around minute 17 — is that I start to get a tiny bit interested in a sentence that I'm writing. If you are full of fear, I would suggest trying to cultivate a community or a tribe of fellow-creators, who you can turn to when you feel overwhelmed.
Elizabeth Gilbert I can't imagine another life for myself besides the writing life, but I'll try: Public radio host. Or salesclerk at a fancy boutique, selling high-end shoes. Or singer-songwriter.
Elizabeth Gilbert I cannot remember a time before I wanted to be a writer. It's the only thing I ever desired, and I've poured my heart and soul into it since I was in my early teens. Most of the inspiration I found in life was because I went looking for it. I spent my 20's traveling all over the country world, working in all sorts of different jobs, talking to everyone I met, seeking ideas everywhere.
Elizabeth Gilbert I have wide-ranging tastes as a reader, but a long beautifully written novel is one of my personal favorites!
Elizabeth Gilbert Joy, how can somebody named "Joy" possibly be accompanied by discouragement everywhere she goes? :) Sweet friend, I don't know where the discouragement you are talking about is coming from, but get away from it. If it's coming from your friends and family, stop telling them about your creative journey, and just go do it in private. (Or get new friends. You can't get new family, unfortunately, but you can get new friends.) Is there anyone in your life who is even remotely encouraging? Spend your time with that person. Are you discouraged because you keep getting rejected? That's OK. I have a file filled with 7 years of rejection letters; that's just part of the process. But here is my big question: Are you discouraging yourself? Are you being followed by discouragement because you are self-generating it? This is both difficult and more easy to fix. It's easy to fix, because you are the only one who can fix it. It's difficult to fix, because you are the only one who can fix it. I'm going to challenge you to take ferocious self-accountability for generating your own joy (!), your own optimism, your own self-confidence, your own determination. Because if you're waiting for somebody outside of yourself to tell you that you are worthy and precious, and that your creative journey is important and beautiful, you might be waiting for a long time. Surround yourself with good people and fill yourself with your own power, and then it won't matter in the least what anyone else says or does.
Elizabeth Gilbert I wish there was a better trick I can offer you than to say, "You must begin", but Saskia: You must begin. It's like asking, "What advice do you have for people who want to run a marathon but can't seem to start training?" Well...that's going to be a problem, right? Here is my advice, then. Do you have a kitchen timer? Or a timer on your smart-phone? Good. At some point today, sit down with paper or a laptop, and set that timer for 15 minutes. You are not allowed to stand up until the 15 minutes are over. During that 15 minutes, write something. Anything — a letter, a poem, a list of people you hate, a prayer, all your favorite words, a childhood memory, a dream. Something. You might even sit there for 15 minutes writing, "I don't know what to write!" You can copy text out of your favorite book. It doesn't matter. That's ok. But you have to write something for 15 minutes. When the timer goes off, you're done. Pat yourself on the back. You did it! Now do the same thing tomorrow. And the next day. You can do anything for 15 minutes a day. Trust me – stuff will start to happen.
Elizabeth Gilbert I try to surround myself with optimists. I don't care how smart and clever people may be; if they are addicted to a dark view of the world, I don't want them in my house or anywhere near my life. It's too heavy. For me, the most inspiration people are the ones who put the shoulders up against the wheel of despair and PUSH back really hard — not just once, not just a few times in their lives, but every single day. Most of the people who inspire me, you've never heard of. (My Aunt Lolly, my accountant Ernie, my friend Linda, my friend Rayya...) But they uplift me because they search for the light and joy in every situation. That's who I want in my tribe, and by my side. Whenever I meet someone like that, I keep them near.
Elizabeth Gilbert I think the more important question is: "Can your creative process trust YOU?" Have you fully committed to it? Or do you flake in and out of it (and then – oooh, worst thought-trap ever! — do you blame the creative process for being difficult, rather than holding yourself accountable to show up for the work?) I think the important thing is that my writing can trust ME – that my writing can count on me to show up at my desk every day and do my work in a devoted manner, whether that work is going well or not. So I have to do a trickster move here and turn the question back on you, sweet Pixie Willow: Can your creativity trust YOU? Are you really showing up for it? Or are you waiting for inspiration to magically find you?
Elizabeth Gilbert I keep working, Cynthia. I mean, I might take a break and go to the fridge and eat some cheese for a while, but mostly, I keep working. The only way out, usually, is THROUGH. I will set the kitchen timer for 20 more minutes, and promise myself, "After 20 minutes, you can quit for the day." But I never quit when the impulse to quit first arrises. Also, who gets to decide that the work isn't going "well"? I learned long ago that a "bad" day of writing is still a good day. You have to write through the bad part to get to the good part. As the great reporter David Carr says, "Keep typing till it becomes writing."
Elizabeth Gilbert Thanks, Hunter! I love Marie — she's terrific. And she's a workhorse, like me. We both definitely share that ethic that says, "If you want this thing, stop waiting for it to come to you — go chase it down, and then work ten times harder than everyone else." (I've never seen life work out very well for people without that ethic!) My favorite part of writing BIG MAGIC was the thrill of basically writing a manifesto —of having the courage and self-confidence to say, "This is what I know and believe to be true about creativity, and I'm not afraid to put it out there — even it makes me sound like a loon." It's nice to be old enough to feel strong in your own way of doing things, and to not be afraid to to share what you've learned.
Elizabeth Gilbert Hi Tammy! I love this question! For me, it's a simple answer. Living a creative life for me doesn't mean that you need to have special talents in the arts. For me, a creative life is any life where you routinely make decisions based more strongly upon curiosity than fear. That's it. So the question is not, "What are my talents?" but "what are my interests?" What fascinates you, Tammy? What do you think it would be cool to know more about? What did you always wish you had done when you were younger? What — whenever you encounter it — makes you go, "Man, that's cool! I wish I could try that!" Well, maybe it's time to try it. It doesn't have to be a watercolor class or a music lesson. Maybe it's a dance party or a night of karaoke. Maybe it's saving your money to go on a trip you've always dreamed of. Maybe it's the curiosity to try to make new kinds of friends, or to study a language. A curious life IS a creative life.
Elizabeth Gilbert Hi Bryan. I would absolutely call BIG MAGIC a self-help book, and I would say, in terms of who it is written for, gender-wise: EVERYONE IS INVITED. My suggestion for men is that they try few pages and see if they like it. If not, no hard feelings. As you were! Thanks for tuning in...
Elizabeth Gilbert I dare myself. I set all kinds of dares. "I dare you to write for ten more minutes....I dare you to read five more pages of this book you need for research....I dare you to edit today for a half hour." I can never resist a dare. And when daring doesn't work, I'm not above bribery. (Ice cream today? ONLY IF YOU WRITE FIVE PAGES.)
Elizabeth Gilbert Thanks, Christy! I like making collages, and singing, and dancing. I'm not going to have an exhibit in a gallery anytime soon, or start working as back-up singer or dancer for Beyonce, but these things make me happy. Also, gardening and cooking have, at times, been great creative outlets for me.
Elizabeth Gilbert Dyan, I am giving you an assignment. Read a poem by Louise Erdich called ADVICE TO MYSELF. I think you'll get a lot out of it. Good luck, honey! (Also, and I don't know if this is your situation: If there are people in your household who you are allowing to treat you like a servant, you have to put a stop to that. Make them do their own laundry for once. Or at least make them help you. Just sayin!)
Elizabeth Gilbert You can't make ideas come to you, Mary — you have to go to THEM. Most of the inspiration I found in life was because I went looking for it. I spent my 20's traveling all over the country world, working in all sorts of different jobs, talking to everyone I met, seeking ideas everywhere. I've never really had an idea "come to me" — mostly, I think of myself as a truffle hound, rustling around in the woods, looking for buried hints of inspiration. My suggestion is that you get rid of your "down time" and replace it with "search time" — go to interesting movies and plays, explore new parts of your town that you've never investigated, talk to the stranger on the bus next to you, spin around in the library and pick up the first book you see and read it....search, search, search. Do not wait for it to find you.
Elizabeth Gilbert
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