Renowned author Elizabeth Gilbert, who is probably best known for her New York Times Best Seller “Eat, Pray, Love,” recently spoke at the annual conference of TED (technology, entertainment, design), where the world’s most fascinating thinkers and doers are challenged to give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes. In her speech, Gilbert suggested that we need to look at genius in a new way. She proposed that, like the Romans, we accept the premise that creative people are not geniuses, but that creative people have access to genius.
There is no doubt in my mind that she is correct. When I write – when I am truly in the zone – I am all too aware that the words are not mine. They come from somewhere else. Gilbert tells the story of a 90 year old poet whom she interviewed. The poet described how the words would come thundering at her from across the land when she worked in the fields as a young girl. Each time, she ran for the house and a pencil. If she got to pencil and paper before the words passed her by, she would have her poem. If not, the words would continue into the distance, seeking another creative soul. I cannot tell you how many times this has happened to me. I have moments of brilliant inspiration; words fly at me out of the air and hang there, juicy and ripe for the picking. But if I don’t write it down, it is lost forever.
Gilbert also talks about our ongoing battle with fear – that insidious enemy that plagues all creative types. Her speech is a bit long (she exceeded her 15 minutes, coming in just under 20), but it’s well worth watching.