Posts Tagged ‘TED talks for Writers’

TED Talks Every Writer Should Watch: Elizabeth Gilbert “Success, Failure, and the Drive to Keep Creating”

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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. Part one featured Elizabeth Gilbert on Your Elusive Genius, part two featured Andrew Stanton’s talk, Clues to a Great Story, part three featured Brené Brown on The Power of Vulnerability and last week Mac Barnett presented Why a Good Book is a Secret Door.

I began my TED Talks series with the genius of Elizabeth Gilbert, so I find it fitting to conclude the series with her, as well. This Talk was given a little over a year ago—April 2014 to be exact—and thus Gilbert has had time to react fully to her success from Eat. Pray. Love. So, what happens after being flung into the international spotlight of fame and success beyond your wildest dreams? What’s next?


To unpublished authors, this Talk of Gilbert’s may sound a bit selfish. She’s complaining about having success? Well, yes—that’s her point. She says, “I had to find a way to make sure that my creativity survived its own success.” This success left her wondering what was next—could she pull off another Eat. Pray. Love. again? Gilbert was smart enough to know that her next book would not be as well received as her previous work. What I find astonishing is how she overcame the anxiety she felt through the publication of her next book—she continued to write. The very thing that had brought her fame—writing—had then ripped her down; yet, she returned to it to build herself back up.


She attributes her return to writing to the fact that writing is her home. According to her, “Your home is whatever in this world you love more than you love yourself.” As Christians, we find our home in Christ and His saving grace. Thank goodness our home is not in our own strength or willpower—we’d fail before we even started! It is through His strength and fortification that we can find something on earth to be our temporary home (haven’t we all heard that before?). For Gilbert and many other writers, this temporal home indeed is writing. Gilbert asserts, “The only trick is that you’ve got to identify the best, worthiest thing that you love most, and then build your house right on top of it and don’t budge from it.” Build our house, eh? That does sound like something we’ve all heard before.


Matthew 7:24-25 (ESV) “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.”


If we are founded on Christ, we can survive anything—even our own success. Too many times newspapers and magazines are filled with stories of once-successful individuals who let the spotlight go to their heads and ruin their lives. Though Gilbert may not have “gone off the deep end” after her success, she found herself in an equally dangerous place of insecurity in her identity. She describes, “The only thing that [you are] capable of feeling is the absolute value of this emotional equation, the exact distance that you have been flung from yourself.” If we remain true to ourselves as children of God, we can survive absolutely anything—even our own success. In Gilbert’s words, “I will always be safe from the random hurricanes of outcome as long as I never forget where I rightfully live.” We live in the hands of a mighty and gracious God, from whom our creativity and drive to write flow. Soli deo Gloria.

TED Talks Every Writer Should Watch: Andrew Stanton “Clues to a Great Story”

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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. Part one featured Elizabeth Gilbert on Your Elusive Genius.

Every writer who has ever put ink to paper or his fingers to a keyboard has experienced this crazy rollercoaster called storytelling. Whether you write fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or blogs, you are ultimately telling some sort of story. Andrew Stanton’s Ted Talk is a little more geared toward fiction writers, but he discusses truths of writing that are applicable across all genres.

*Disclaimer- there is brief language around the 1:05 mark

So what do we do with this information? Stanton just told us that “Storytelling has guidelines, not hard, fast rules.” Rather than scanning your work to make sure it has each one of these, I suggest finding how to best implement these guidelines into your own writing. I’ve broken down what I found to be his main points into 6 guidelines that writers should consider when telling a story:

Make Me Care

This principle is applicable to all writing genres. If your readers don’t find a reason to care, they won’t find a reason to invest, and your book will find itself back on the shelf of your favorite local bookseller in no time. I like how Stanton words this: “It’s making a promise [to readers] that this story will lead somewhere that’s worth your time.” You don’t want to have to keep pulling your readers along; you shouldn’t have to beg them, “Now, stay with me here!” as your story progresses. Rather, they should be eating up your story paragraph by paragraph, dying to see what will happen next.

2 + 2

This principle of two plus two is one of the trickier points Stanton makes. Yes, people like to work for their “meal,” but they don’t want to overwork for it. I’ve seen some painful examples of authors who try to offer 2 + 2 but instead end up giving their readers something along the lines of a basic calculus problem. These authors gave too little information. Not everyone who reads your books will think exactly like you do. Something that may seem obvious to you might not translate well to other people. This is why it’s important to have a good, small circle of friends from different backgrounds who can let you know when something like this happens in your writing.

Change is Vital

Stanton said “If things go static, stories die, because life is never static.” This is why we say we’d rather watch paint dry than doing something else we believe would be boring; we don’t perceive any of the changes being made. You want to make sure that your writing is dynamic. This doesn’t mean every paragraph has to have a major plot change or character revelation. It does mean that the story has to go somewhere. Remember that promise you made earlier on in the Make Me Care principle? This is one of your main methods by which you keep your audience’s attention .

Strong Running Theme

I cannot stress this principle enough to the nonfiction writers out there. The fiction authors have it a little bit easier on this one, I think. They have a character who has some sort of end goal in sight—a journey, a change of character—that becomes the theme of the story.  However, when it comes to nonfiction, I’ve read more books than I would have liked that started on one topic but ended on something almost entirely unrelated. It’s easy to follow rabbit trails in any genre, but in nonfiction it is significantly easier to not return to the main route. Before you begin your book, write down your theme somewhere you will see it every time you go to write. When you’re done with a section, read what you’ve written and ask yourself: Does this directly and effectively get my theme across to readers? (Be mindful of the 2 + 2 principle here as well).

Invoke Wonder

What is wonder? Merriam-Webster defines it as, “something or someone that is very surprising, beautiful, amazing, etc.” The way you invoke wonder into your writing is something you have to discover for yourself. Perhaps you’ll find you have a particular way you like to string words together. Or maybe you have a knack for choosing just the right vocabulary for your writing. I wish I could give you a formula or trick to figure this one out, but the mystery of wonder makes it tricky to nail down. Reflect on moments that filled you with wonder—what specifically about that moment/scene made you feel that way? Go from there!

Use What You Know

My writing professor once told me, “I can’t use the word ‘tentacles’ in my poetry. I know nothing about them except what I’ve seen on TV shows and movies. I can, however, use the word ‘grits’.”  Now, this doesn’t mean that we can’t ever write about something we personally haven’t experienced—it just means we will write best about topics we know firsthand. Stanton explains, “Use what you know. Draw from it. It doesn’t always mean plot or fact. It means capturing a truth from your experiencing it, expressing values you personally feel deep down in your core.” I know nothing about skate culture. I’m an East Coast suburbia girl who was involved in the performing arts. It would take a lot of research for me to understand skate culture well enough to write something extensive about it. I can, however, talk about how a skater would feel after his best friend commits suicide. Or about how a flight attendant fell in love with the woman of his dreams. Loss, love, anger, joy—these are shared experiences to which anyone can relate. These are the things that should shape your story.

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.