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Writing books is my profession but it's more than that, of course. It is also my great lifelong love and fascination. And I don't expect that that's ever going to change. But, that said, something kind of peculiar has happened recently in my life and in my career, which has caused me to have to recalibrate my whole relationship with this work.
And the peculiar thing is that I recently wrote this book, this memoir called "Eat, Pray, Love" which, decidedly unlike any of my previous books, went out in the world for some reason, and became this big, mega-sensation, international bestseller thing. The result of which is that everywhere I go now, people treat me like I'm doomed.
Seriously — doomed, doomed! Like, they come up to me Your elusive creative genius, all worried, and they say, "Aren't you afraid you're never going to be able to top that?
Aren't you afraid you're going to keep writing for your whole life and you're never again going to create a book that anybody in the world cares about at all, ever again? But it would be worse, except for that I happen to remember that over 20 years ago, when I was a teenager, when I first started telling people that I wanted to be a writer, I was met with this same sort of fear-based reaction.
And people Your elusive creative genius say, "Aren't you afraid you're never going to have any success? Aren't you afraid the humiliation of rejection will kill you?
Aren't you afraid that you're going to work your whole life at this craft and nothing's ever going to come of it and you're going to die on a scrap heap of broken dreams with your mouth filled with bitter ash of failure?
The answer — the short answer to all those questions is, "Yes. And I always have been. And I'm afraid of many, many more things besides that people can't even guess at, like seaweed and other things that are scary.
But, when it comes to writing, the thing that I've been sort of thinking about lately, and wondering about lately, is why? You know, is it rational? Is it logical that anybody should be expected to be afraid of the work that they feel they were put on this Earth to do.
And what is it specifically about creative ventures that seems to make us really nervous about each other's mental health in a way that other careers kind of don't do, you know?
Like my dad, for example, was a chemical engineer and I don't recall once in his 40 years of chemical engineering anybody asking him if he was afraid to be a chemical engineer, you know?
But to be fair, chemical engineers as a group haven't really earned a reputation over the centuries for being alcoholic manic-depressives. Laughter We writers, we kind of do have that reputation, and not just writers, but creative people across all genres, it seems, have this reputation for being enormously mentally unstable.
And all you have to do is look at the very grim death count in the 20th century alone, of really magnificent creative minds who died young and often at their own hands, you know?
And even the ones who didn't literally commit suicide seem to be really undone by their gifts, you know. Norman Mailer, just before he died, last interview, he said, "Every one of my books has killed me a little more. But we don't even blink when we hear somebody say this, because we've heard that kind of stuff for so long and somehow we've completely internalized and accepted collectively this notion that creativity and suffering are somehow inherently linked and that artistry, in the end, will always ultimately lead to anguish.
And the question that I want to ask everybody here today is are you guys all cool with that idea? Are you comfortable with that?
Because you look at it even from an inch away and, you know — I'm not at all comfortable with that assumption. I think it's odious. And I also think it's dangerous, and I don't want to see it perpetuated into the next century.
I think it's better if we encourage our great creative minds to live. And I definitely know that, in my case — in my situation — it would be very dangerous for me to start sort of leaking down that dark path of assumption, particularly given the circumstance that I'm in right now in my career.
Which is — you know, like check it out, I'm pretty young, I'm only about 40 years old. I still have maybe another four decades of work left in me.
And it's exceedingly likely that anything I write from this point forward is going to be judged by the world as the work that came after the freakish success of my last book, right?
I should just put it bluntly, because we're all sort of friends here now — it's exceedingly likely that my greatest success is behind me.Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses -- and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person "being" a genius, all of us "have" a genius.
It's a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk. Elizabeth Gilbert: Your elusive creative genius Speaker Elizabeth Gilbert is an American author, essayist, short story writer, biographer, novelist and memoirist. Elizabeth Gilbert, international bestselling author, shares her magical wisdom on creativity.
“Eat, Pray, Love” author, Elizabeth Gilbert, muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius.
Big Stories Looking For Tom Lehrer, Comedy's Mysterious Genius. Tom Lehrer is considered one of the most influential figures in comedy — despite a body of work consisting of just 37 pitch-black. The common belief about creativity is that it’s elusive and the domain of the anointed few.
But that's not true, because creativity is a process. Elizabeth Gilbert on Your Elusive Creative Genius (Full Transcript) TSP Staff April 2, am Life & Style The author of ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ Elizabeth Gilbert on Your Elusive Creative Genius at TED Talks – .