It’s not unusual for Elizabeth Gilbert to be in Australia. In fact, I saw her at the All About Women day last year at the Opera House, presenting with her friend Rayya Elias (whose memoir Harley Loco is an excellent read). She also told the audience tonight that she has step-grandkids in Australia. She has connections here, that’s for sure.
She’s also one of the favourites of the Sydney Writers’ Festival scene and spoke tonight as one of four speakers invited for a ‘mini march’ writers’ festival.
But really she’s also here to promote her latest book ‘Big Magic’, which MC Rebecca Huntley recommended we buy three copies of (Huntley never told us why we needed three copies, but I suspect it’s so we have one for us, one to give away and one to keep to give away because it’s the sort of book you just want to give away.
At first Gilbert sounded just like her book. I’d listened to the audiobook before buying a hard copy, so it all sounded very familiar. But Huntley asked some good questions and Gilbert was able to wax lyrical off script a bit.
However, it was during the audience questions that the Big Magic started to happen. Please bear in mind that the following is not a transcript of what was said, and should not be used as attributed quotes, it’s just what I wrote down as quickly as I could:
Q: ‘How do you cope with it when your loved ones are mean or hate what you’re doing?’
A: ‘As soon as you try to make someone feel a certain way about you, you’re in a bad neighbourhood, where you’re going to get mugged. You’re on a bad highway. And you have to know “Which highway am I meant to be on?”‘
Q: ‘How do you remain supportive of creative friends when they’re working on really bad ideas?’
A: ‘The less you worry about what other people are doing, and focus more on what you’re doing, the better off you’ll be. Again, which highway are you on? Which one are you meant to be on?” Gilbert’s comment reminded me of a story she told earlier in the hour about an Irish journalist asking her whether she worried that her book would mean that a whole lot more mediocre writers producing a whole load of more mediocre work. She dismissed the comment outright as it is such an anathema to her idea about just producing the work and working hard at it.
Q: ‘How do you deal with it when an idea has left you but you keep trying to plug away at it?’
A: ‘This comes down to accountability. You need to work out whether you’re quitting (you’ll get a horrible empty feeling and it’s because you know you just need to do the work and you’re quitting the idea. It will feel bad like when you quit people or projects before their time.) or whether you’re surrendering (which will feel positive, gentle, like a release).
Q: ‘Do you find meditation helps with flow?’
A: ‘Anything I do that is good for me ie more sleep, eating properly, exercise, is all good for my writing. I don’t meditate, but I do have ‘silence baths’ where I just switch everything off. Some would call it a nap, but I call it a silence bath.’
Q: ‘How do you remain interested in the work?’
A: Most fascinating things in life are 90% boring. Travel? Mostly sitting around, waiting, sitting alone in hotel rooms feeling lonely, wishing you were at home watching Netflix. But then something amazing happens. You step outside and have an experience you could only have in Singapore, or whereever you are. Marriage is the same – 90% boring. People seem to think you have ‘life’ and ‘creativity’ like they’re mutually exclusive. But they’re the same thing. You just have to keep turning up day after day, put in your 30 minutes each day, and it may not get interesting until the 29th minute on the fourth day but you won’t find out unless you start.
Q:’How do you choose who you’re writing for? (this question was from a girl who did activist/social consciousness art and music)
A: I choose one person. I always have just one person. For example, Eat Pray Love, was for a close friend. I find that without that you lose the pulse, the human connection. If you’re writing for everyone, you’re writing for no-one.
Gilbert has strict rules around Q&A’s and even though it got a bit off-agenda at the end ie people making statements instead of questions. Overall I thought both Elizabeth Gilbert and Rebecca Huntley did a great job as quest and interviewer respectively.