Elizabeth Gilbert on What it Means to Create

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You may know her for her 2006 memoir Eat, Pray, Love or her 2013 New York Times bestseller the Signature of All Things. Perhaps you know her for her 2015 self-help book Big Magic, her inspirational TED talks, or her podcast Magic Lessons. Elizabeth Gilbert is not just a writer, she is a creator, a thinker, and an inspirational speaker. 

I attended the San Diego stop of her book tour for City of Girls, her latest fiction novel told from the perspective of an 89-year-old woman looking back at her young life as show girl in 1940’s New York City. (That description alone should attest to the fact that writers don’t need to put themselves in boxes—Elizabeth’s most popular books range from memoir, to fiction, to self-help!)

What is amazing at events like these is to see what kind of crowd an author attracts. Before the Q&A, Elizabeth politely asked that people use their time asking an actual question—not a comment or a compliment or a story, but a simple and well-thought-out question. The crowd was 95% women (everyone cheered when a man won the first raffle for a bottle of french wine!) and yet—even considering the subject matter of her book—most of the questions asked were not specific to gender, sexuality, or the female experience. The conversation was continually steered toward the creative process and self-worth.

Elizabeth shared a story about her relatives, who didn’t have a lot of money growing up and used what they had. They needed blankets to keep warm and so one of them took old rags and created quilts. The blankets merely needed to do their job—to provide warmth. And yet her relative spent extra time and care making them beautiful. 

Unnecessary beauty.

That is what she said is at the core of creation. 

When someone asked if the creative process of writing drained her or recharged her, Elizabeth went on to talk about theories of how the universe came to be: over 7 days and nights, expanded from a tiny speck the size of the period at the end of this sentence. We will never truly know the how or the why. But we do know that we are here. That the universe was created. And that creation continues to happen every day. 

Elizabeth concluded that creating recharges her. That she believes creation is in our nature. 

And that got me thinking…

About writer’s block.

About people who claim they are not creative.

About people who don’t feel they have anything to say in this world.

Does it all come down to the fear she uncovers in Big Magic?

Or could it be as simple as not recognizing what constitutes as creation?

We all have the ability to create. Whether that is giving birth to a child. Tending to a garden. Painting and drawing. Writing. Baking. Teaching a course. Singing. Fixing up a car … think of all the tasks you do daily or monthly. How many of them do you consider “creative”? And how many of them do you actually want to do?

Oftentimes we put ourselves in the very boxes we claim we are stuck in. Or feel pressure to leave the boxes we want to stay inside. 

What if today you changed your definition of creativity? 

What if today you created (!) a new definition that made sense to you?

Then what might you create?