In Conversation with Elizabeth Gilbert

Last Thursday I had the opportunity to hear Elizabeth Gilbert speak about creativity.


In conversation with Tasmanian author Heather Rose, Liz told us all about her creative life, which she has written about in her book ‘Big Magic’.

I sat in the dark theatre, scrawling largely spaced notes into my notebook, hoping not to overlap notes on a page I couldn’t see. Elizabeth Gilbert is a great speaker, her observations made us laugh, and I don’t know about others in the audience, but some of her observations made me tear up too.

The idea of a 4 year old, presented with a box of lego blocks, worrying that today’s creation would not be as good as yesterday’s creation, or feeling blocked, had the audience in peels of laughter. But when an audience member asked about motherhood and guilt and taking the time out to be creative, Elizabeth’s words had me blinking away tears.

Admitting she has no children of her own, Elizabeth talked of witnessing this strange phenomena of ‘mother-guilt’ in her friends: about how any time the mother takes to benefit herself is seen as ‘taking’ from her children. But as Elizabeth noted: Your children will imitate what you do, not what you tell them to do. If you are a creative person, and make space in your life for creativity, then they will do the same.

It was almost a relief to hear Elizabeth talk about her own mother, who often told Elizabeth and her sister to leave her alone while she created. And Elizabeth appreciated that because it taught her that creativity was important, and encouraged her to lead the life she’s led, as an author – and I’m keeping my fingers crossed my children will feel the same way. There is always that cringe I feel when I tell my children I need some space to write, that I need silence – the constant chatter is not conducive to writing, that constant interruptions do not help that connection to where-ever it is my ideas flow from.

Big Magic

Which leads me to another point Elizabeth makes: Creativity is collaboration between a human being and mystery. She extends on this idea in her book ‘Big Magic’ in which she talks about the ancient Greeks who had aword for the “highest degree of human happiness “eudaimonia”, which basically means ‘well-dameoned’ – that is, nicely taken care of by some external divine creative spirit guide.”

I love this idea, and I can certainly relate to it. Though I would have called it ‘being in the zone’, it is certainly this sense that the ideas are flowing from somewhere other than me, that I am just the conduit to getting the words down on paper (or screen). It’s not an easy state to get to, I find, there’s a lot of work required to get into that flow, and it’s quite easily disrupted (hence the need for children to be elsewhere…), but when I get there the story takes on a life of it’s own and the characters find themselves in situations that I neither planned or expected. And that is usually (not always) the time when the best writing comes through.

There was so much that was inspiring and thought provoking about what Elizabeth had to say, I could go on for pages, so I’ll try to summarise my favourite points:

  • When Elizabeth was 16 she took a solemn vow to her writing – she went into her room, lit a candle and promised: “I will never ask you to take care of me. I’ll take care of both of us.”  As Elizabeth says, it is possible to work in a job that earns you money, AND be creative at the same time.
  • She talked about how we are all born ‘makers’. If you go back far enough in your family tree, everyone was a maker. Long winter nights were spent making – women traditionally knitted or sewed, men might’ve sat by the fire whittling, everybody made something. But today we are taught that only a few are creative. Only a few have talent, and those few often decided upon in school, while everyone else is deterred from following a creative path, told they aren’t ‘good enough’, and taught to be ashamed of their creative attempts.
  • “Done is better than good.” This gem is from Elizabeth’s mother, who believed that something that was completed was far better than something that was perfect, but still only existed as an idea, or a half –finished something.

And the last point which I think is so important: (paraphrased…)

“If you keep silent you are dishonouring all those women who never had the opportunity to have a voice themselves.”

For so long, women had no voice in society. We were not permitted to speak in the public sphere, our opinions and viewpoints were ignored. Today, women have no such problems holding them back. We can write stories, we can even publish them ourselves if nobody else will do it for us.  We have the opportunity to share life as we see it, to give others some insight into the unique position that is ‘me’, the unique outlook that each individual carries, which is never exactly like another person’s outlook.

If you have a story in you, that is busting to get out into the world, write it. Write it until it is the best you can make it, and then let it go.

Done is better than good.



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