Days 51-64. The TED Talk that changed my writing…

I like to listen to NPR while I’m daylighting as an account representative. I realize this makes me seem more intellectual than I actually am. Don’t be confused, I also spend my time watching crappy teen dramas on Netflix.

I like to stay well rounded.

The TED Talk that has really stuck with me is with Elizabeth Gilbert. She’s the author of the freakishly popular book, Eat, Pray, Love. I haven’t read her book. These days it’s almost impossible to convince me to read a book that isn’t a dystopia or doesn’t contain aspects of science fiction or fantasy. A woman traveling around the world to “find herself and her spirituality” isn’t exactly up my alley.

You’re probably all going to comment and say I should “expand my literary horizons” and yadda yadda yadda.

Before I listened to her TED Talk a few months ago, my writing process was rather punishing. I would write a few lines and then immediately think about quitting.

I couldn’t understand why this elusive idea that just came to me didn’t arrive fully developed and wrapped in a pretty bow. In my mind, though this idea appeared out of thin air, it came from me. Due to this view, I was particularly hard on myself for not being able to easily expand on it by 400 or so pages. If I could think up this idea so randomly, why wasn’t I immediately able to construct all the ins and outs? Isn’t that how inspiration works? Didn’t J.K. Rowling think up the entire story of Harry Potter on a freakin’ train ride?

Okay, I know she didn’t think up ALL of Harry Potter on one train ride. However, it’s difficult to remind myself of that when I’m halfway through a pint of Chunky Monkey and unable to see reason.

I would grow more and more discouraged each time I would sit down to write, and I couldn’t find the perfect words. Why didn’t it just happen? Why did every word I typed feel like I was passing an extremely jagged kidney stone? Why did I suddenly feel like drinking in the middle of the day?

In her talk, she discusses the idea of creating a protective psychological construct such as geniuses and daemons. A long, long time ago (in a galaxy far, far away) it was believed that divine spirits were responsible for an artists work.

“They believed that a genius was this, sort of magical divine entity, who was believed to literally live in the walls of an artist’s studio, kind of like Dobby the house elf, and who would come out and sort of invisibly assist the artist with their work and would shape the outcome of that work.”

I think this brings up an intriguing idea. If you have this protective construct, then you are less likely to play into the stereotype of the tortured artist. If your work is wonderful, you can’t take all the credit for it. If your work is terrible, it’s not entirely your fault.

To me, it’s not that crazy sounding (although, my characters do talk to me all day, so my idea of crazy may be a little more lax than yours). I can’t explain how I thought of my story. It just popped into my head. How many times have you described something that way?

I think it provides a security blanket of sorts. It’s okay to sit down to write and not have a huge “aha” moment like that first day. It’s okay to feel like your awkwardly fumbling through each sentence (like I do).  You should still write. That’s your job. Your job is to write when you have a stroke of brilliance, and also when you can barely string two words together. You shouldn’t fault yourself as long as your writing.

Disclaimer: I’m not saying you should use this as a way to avoid holding yourself responsible for your actions. There’s quite a bit of technical gibberish that goes into being a good writer, and I’m not discrediting that at all. I just think this is a great way to avoid torturing yourself with the pressures of writing.

I think she explains it perfectly:

“Maybe it doesn’t have to be quite so full of anguish if you never happened to believe, in the first place, that the most extraordinary aspects of your being came from you. But maybe if you just believed that they were on loan to you from some unimaginable source for some exquisite portion of your life to be passed along when you’re finished, with somebody else. And, you know, if we think about it this way it starts to change everything.

Don’t be afraid. Don’t be daunted. Just do your job. Continue to show up for your piece of it, whatever that might be. If your job is to dance, do your dance. If the divine, cockeyed genius assigned to your case decides to let some sort of wonderment be glimpsed, for just one moment through your efforts, then “Olé!” And if not, do your dance anyhow. And “Olé!” to you, nonetheless. I believe this and I feel that we must teach it. “Olé!” to you, nonetheless, just for having the sheer human love and stubbornness to keep showing up.”

Here is her TED Talk: