TED Talks Every Writer Should Watch: Elizabeth Gilbert “Your Elusive Creative Genius”

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TED talks are “ideas worth spreading” in the areas of Technology, Entertainment and Design. In this five-part series, Nicole Bell shares TED talks every writer should watch.

Writing is hard. We all know it, and we certainly don’t need reminding of it. Like an unfortunate addiction to Oreo ice cream, we keep returning to it again and again. We can’t get enough of it. We’ve trained ourselves to need it (well, hopefully not the ice cream). But at the same time, our creative faculties sometimes seem to taunt us. Why do we let this thing we adore—and perhaps even depend upon—become something that we also spend sleepless nights agonizing over? It has developed some sort of power and pull over us, but this pull is not always beneficial. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the New York Times’ bestseller Eat. Pray. Love., puts it this way:

“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?”

Good question. In her 2009 TED Talk, Gilbert confronts the manner in which we address the issue of creativity, specifically as it relates to lightening the creative burden of the writer.

 

 

Man, I could watch that every day.

As an aspiring writer myself, I am all too familiar with these phenomena Gilbert addresses—will my work be good enough? What happens if it’s not? What happens if this thing I’ve just written is it—if it’s all downhill from here? And don’t get me started on writer’s block. There’s nothing more discouraging than having that overwhelming urge to create, to put pen to paper and let this thing churning inside me fall out, only to have all my creative orifices shut tight whenever I’m finally in a position to write. Every writer faces these challenges.

Gilbert also makes this comment:

“But 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.” (17:40)

I have to agree with her.

Earlier Gilbert references this creative fount as “daemons” and “genius,” as named by the ancient Greeks and Romans, respectively. Here, I have another theory. The source of creativity is not some daemon or genius; it’s God. I would argue that He is everyone’s source of creativity, even if they don’t recognize this or agree with me.

Genesis 1:27 “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (ESV)

God created us. We are distinguished in all of creation because we have attributes of our Creator, particularly the capacity for creativity. Now, on those days when we face the dreaded writer’s block or when we are unsure of our abilities, we can’t say that God has forsaken us—we have this promise in Scripture (Deut. 31:6). Rather, we’re just having an “off” day. The same thing happens in our spiritual lives—we all have gone through times of blissful, overwhelming awareness of the Lord’s presence and also seasons of quiet stillness. Why, then, should our creative lives be any different?

I find Gilbert’s talk excruciatingly comforting. She reminds me how my writing is not all about me. It’s a process of communion between the creative ability God has graciously gifted me and His own creative Spirit at work in my life. I hope after hearing her Ted talk you, too, can perhaps breathe a sigh of relief and shed some of your writing anxiety.

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