Elizabeth Gilbert on Getting Your Work Out There

Click to listen to the audio (I apologize for the rustling and whispering in advance): [audio m4a="http://mollyking.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Liz-Gilbert-on-getting-your-work-out-there.m4a"][/audio]


Loved getting to meet Elizabeth Gilbert at her book talk in Dallas, TX.

One of the themes that I wanted in this novel is this idea, almost a cautionary tale, of the way that women hold themselves back in the world. And I was talking about this recently, it’s the last wall that we have to ascend as women. Sorry, let me be clear, there are still some very real social obstacles to women and women’s lives, and certainly in other parts of the world a great deal more. But let us just base our conversation here on the assumption that there has never been a better time in human history than in contemporary Western society. It’s your best shot, basically, that women have ever ever had for so many reasons. And there are a lot of obstacles that have been removed, and what I see and what I fear I see in the lives of a lot of the really creative and powerful women that I know is that they haven’t quite jumped that last ditch, which is their own perfectionism.


And I think that if you’re a woman, it’s particularly difficult because we do live in a society that is constantly letting you know that you actually aren’t good enough. So you’re kinda getting that all the time, you’re getting those messages and you’re absorbing those messages. So it’s understandable that there would a part of you that would absolutely believe that, and internalize that. And then just withhold your work because you’ve decided, already in advance, that it’s not good enough.


There’s also a fear of being criticized. And a lot of times, I think people want to make work that is beyond criticism. And I can assure you, there is no such thing. There is absolutely no such thing as work that is beyond criticism. The second it is put out in this world, somebody will hate it, and they’ll write you a long letter letting you know why. And it doesn’t matter how much you try to protect yourself from that by having it be immaculate.  It’s subjective. Somebody’s gonna criticize it.


We’re also taught as women, not to thrust ourselves forward. We’re supposed to be a bit retiring. We’re supposed to be polite. We’re supposed to be sweet. All of those things are contrary to the impulse to raise your hand, or ask for the promotion, or demand that it be your idea that be put into play. And something that I constantly find myself telling young creative women, especially, is Don’t wait until you feel that your work or your idea is perfect before you ask to be included. Because having an idea that is not quite perfect never stopped men from putting all kinds of stuff into the world. Don’t let it stop you! 


I actually think it’s kind of a gift to be like, “I’ll try!” You know, “Well I’ve never blah blah blah before, but I’m sure I can do it!” And for a women, it’d be like, “Well I’ve only done it 20 times before, so I’ll wait and hold back because I’m not sure.”  And I think we kind of have to take a lesson from that playbook. Because at this point, at this moment of history, given the advantages and the opportunities and the dismantling of obstacles that we’re faced with--if we’re still subjecting ourselves to a kind of oppression, then that’s on us. That’s on us to fix. And we’re the only ones to kind of person-by-person, woman-by-woman fix that. And it’s frightening, but there’s also something really exhilarating.


And the other thing is, at some point, if you have a project that you’ve been holding to your breast for so long because you’re afraid to release it, at some point you gotta put that kid on the school bus. That’s the feeling I have a lot in my work too.


Like this book that I just wrote is not perfect, and I can tell you where it isn’t, because I know it really intimately. And I know--you know friends who were really terrific novelists wrote me critiques about the book and how I could fix it and I was like...


“Eh, yeah, fuck it.” Really.


Cause I was like, I’ve been working on this for four years and it’s good enough. It’s pretty good! And I would ask them, “Do you think it’s pretty good?” and they’re like, “Yeah, it’s pretty good.” And I’m like, “That’s good, that’s what I wanted.” And I’m not about to start dismantling this thing now because then that’d be the last book I ever write, and I’d do that for 25 years!


There’s a wonderful column by Sherry Holds about putting her son on the school bus when he was six years old, and the panic that she felt as the school bus approached and she thought she only had five minutes to tell him everything he needed to know about life. But then she realized, anything that he doesn’t know, he’s gonna have to find on his own. And anything that he does know will help him find it. And that’s all I can do, he’s gotta get on that bus.


And I feel like that, with all of our projects, you don’t want your adult child living at home til he’s 40 because you didn’t let him go into the world. And it’s just when we start to think that’s the danger of creative people thinking that their work is their babies, is that you don’t want your baby harmed and bullied and teased and attacked in the world. But actually, it’s a misconception. The work is not your baby. You are its baby. And every work of art and creativity that I have ever done has grown me and raised me and made me who I am. And it mothers me by making me stronger and forcing me to work.


And so it’s not it that needs to be protected. It’s fine. It’s just a story. You have to put it forward. You absolutely have to. And you also have to tell your part that’s the scared part of you--which is the youngest and most fearful part of you--you have to talk to it kind of like it’s a toddler. And you have you say, “You know what? There’s some things that mommy really wants to do with her life and if you, Fear, don’t step out of the way, she’s never going to be able to do that. And that’s going to make her really sad, cause her human life is really short. And there’s some stuff we want to get out there and done. So...skootch over.” And ultimately, to put it in one phrase, Always, Always, when given the choice, choose creativity over fear.