The author of Eat, Pray, Love talks creativity
photo by Lee Woodruff
Best-selling author Elizabeth Gilbert has roots connecting deeply with the soil of Litchfield. Her parents still live on their Christmas-tree farm in what Gilbert lovingly refers to as a “crooked house with no heat,” a place she says was warmed via woodstove only.
If growing up on a Litchfield tree farm sounds like the perfect setting for a budding future novelist, Gilbert says it was. As a child, she curled up in a chair, devouring piles of books from almost daily trips to the town library, where her parents read the newspaper as she browsed the bookshelves. Gilbert credits her Litchfield years, marked by chores and helping in the family business, as an important framework for her life as a writer. “Creativity is challenging,” she says. There were jobs waitressing, bartending, and whatever else to pay the bills.
Her seven books are extensively researched, sometimes for years at a time. Often they require Gilbert to travel for extended periods as she finds what she needs to burnish her stories. A minimalist by nature, Gilbert says the advent of the Kindle was life-changing for her life on the road. “I’d show up someplace with a few pieces of clothing in a bag and then a huge suitcase of books to read,” she says. “I don’t have to do that now.”
On her speaking tour, she explores creativity. “Early on, I made a deal with the part of me that wanted to write for a living and told it that I would support it in any way I had to, even if it meant taking any job to do it and even if no one ever read a word that I wrote,” she says. With the success of Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert was launched into the publishing stratosphere, making her one of the most iconic and beloved writers of our time. With more than ten million copies sold worldwide, the memoir has been translated into over 30 languages and made into a feature film. Time named Gilbert as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
“While Eat, Pray, Love was Elizabeth’s personal memoir, many readers took it as stimulus to make changes, large and small, in their own lives,” says a spokesman for Riverhead Books, a division of Random House, which published the bestseller. “In the decade since Eat, Pray, Love was published, people worldwide have sought further advice from her on how to lead a bold and creative life.” Gilbert’s TED talk about creativity has nearly ten million views, making it one of the most viewed of all time. This past fall, she went on tour with Oprah, speaking to over 100,000 people along the way.
Out of investigating the source of creativity and courage in her own life, Gilbert has produced a new book, “a nonfiction treatise on creativity” entitled Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear (Riverhead Books, September 2015). She digs into her own generative process to explain where inspiration comes from, how ideas form and grow, and how to take a leap into the unknown.
Gilbert says her Swedish mother often repeated a saying around the house. “‘Done is better than good’ meant that the dishes had to be clean but maybe not Martha Stewart clean. I apply that to my writing process because waiting for perfection might mean I won’t ever finish something,” Gilbert says.
“When I start a creative project, I actually personify creativity and fear and think of them as family members. I have an actual conversation that goes like this: ‘Fear? Creativity and I are going on a little road trip. You can come with us like you always do, but you may not say a word, and you can’t hold the map. That is the only way you can come along with Creativity and me.’”
Gilbert reflects on her research for Big Magic. “The oldest human artwork known to man are actual cave paintings from 40,000 years ago, but the oldest evidence of human agriculture is 10,000 years ago. This means that our ancestors were feeding the creative part of their brains long before they were learning about new ways to feed themselves,” she says with a laugh.
After the book launch, Gilbert looks forward to time between projects and time with family. In fact, she’s already booked a rigorous hike in Europe with her dad, still fit and healthy after all the years on the Litchfield farm. “Got any good books to read?” she asks. “I’m always looking.”
FROM BIG MAGIC ”If your goal in life is to become fearless, then you are already on the wrong path. The only truly fearless people I’ve ever met were sociopaths and three year olds. Those aren’t good models for anyone.”