Recently, I came across a link celebrating five years of TED talks with videos featuring the “top five” TED talks. The first talk listed was done by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of “Eat, Pray, Love”.
Before I continue, I must disclose my pre-listening prejudices towards the speaker. I have never read “Eat, Pray, Love”, and on principle, I never plan to, even though some people in marketing would currently place me within her target demographic. From my understanding, she was given an expense account to embark on her journey that led to all the eating, praying and loving. Good for her. The cynic (and former shoe-string traveler) in me has a hard time buying the inspirational worth of such a well-funded trip.
Misgivings put aside, I watched her talk curious to see what she had to say, and why it merited a listing in the top five talks. She made two very interesting points.
1.Writing is work, and it is unglamorous work. You have to sit down, take the time to write, and keep at it just like you would do with any other job. The brilliance doesn’t automatically flow through your fingers and pour into the keyboard or pen.
2. With the last sentence in mind, Gilbert suggests returning to an older attitude towards creativity, one that takes the pressure off. The Ancient Greeks and Romans saw creativity as an external spirit, one that transcended the mere mortal. The Greek called it a “daemon”, the Romans “genius”. In that time, the divine spirit of genius came to the artist. The artist was a vessel, an embodiment; s/he was not the genius.
This idea of a disembodied genius is brilliant. Many writing books I’ve read recommend the shitty first draft as a tool for dealing with creative performance anxiety, and while the shitty first draft is a useful trick for sticking with your work, it does not protect against the same expanse of writing fears as the disembodied genius.
Grasping for the right idea? Desperately seeking the right ending? Be patient. Brilliant ideas will come and go. The mysterious creative genius will get to you in due time, as long as you keep doing the work.
Thank you, Ms Gilbert, for this refreshing look at creativity. I believe you’ve hit on an idea that transcends gelato.