On Writing, Elizabeth Gilbert

Tidbits from a Copyblogger interview with Elizabeth Gilbert:

Before you begin to write, do you have any pre-game rituals or practices?

Clear off my schedule until I have a nice long block of empty time. Bow down. Ask for grace. Commit to the idea of collaborating with the book, not going to war against it. Cross fingers. Make a cup of tea. Begin.

How many hours a day do you spend writing?

Everything that needs to be done in my life has to be done before 11:00 am, or it won’t be done well, or may not even be done at all. I love the early hours because the world hasn’t tracked me down yet. My best mind is my mind at dawn, after a good night of sleep.

I usually wake up with the solution on the tip of my brain to the creative problem of yesterday, and then I go running to my desk to try to catch my intelligence before it drains out of my ears. By 2pm, I am useless for anything except simple manual labor.

Do you have any tricks for beating procrastination? Do you adhere to deadlines?

I abide by Goethe’s rule: “Never hurry, never rest.” I never go into crazy fugue states, but I don’t ever stop, either. I’m a plow mule. I’m very disciplined, and I have a great regard for deadlines — usually my own.

I was lucky enough to have had discipline instilled in me by my very organized and Calvinist mother, who taught us to work first and play later (and maybe not even play so much, actually).

She also taught us not to become perfectionists, which is where a lot of procrastination and time-wasting occurs. Nothing is less efficient than perfectionism. Her great adage, which I still adhere to, was:

Done is better than good.

I can tell you all kinds of specific things that are wrong with each of my books, but I’m not going to try fixing them, because then you fall down the wormhole, and the books are good enough already, and I want to move on to other things.

90% is truly good enough. There is not enough time in life to quest for perfection. Better to move forward. All this I learned from my mom. I was a lazy kid by nature, but my mother refused to allow me to become a lazy adult.


I think that loving one’s work is a marvelous trick for enjoying life. When people ask me if writing is hard or easy for me, I don’t even know how to answer that. Hard and easy don’t matter.

I don’t need writing to be easy; I just need it to be interesting.

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Questions of a Human Life

Elizabeth Gilbert:

My journey began with a series of questions. That’s how all journeys begin. The shape of my journey was a reflection of my own personal answers to those questions. The shape of your journey will be different from mine, but at bottom, our questions will be the same. These are not easy questions, by the way. They are merely the biggest and oldest questions of any human life:

  • Who am I?
  • Who does my life belong to?
  • What is my relationship to divinity?
  • What have I come here to do?
  • Do I have the right to change my own path?
  • With whom do I want to share my path — if anyone?
  • Do I have the right to experience pleasure and peace? If so, what would bring me pleasure and peace?
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Elizabeth Gilbert, on the Good Life Project podcast:

I always say this, because I always marvel at this: Any act of pure creativity is the most irrational thing you can possibly do with your time. You’re going to have an existential crisis, because it doesn’t make any sense.

Let me break it down to you, what this guy is about to do; if he says “yes” to the thing that ignited him. He’s about to take the single most precious thing he possesses: which is his time. We’re mortal. We have a very short amount of time here. And how you spend that time matters. And what you give it to has enormous consequences in your life. We’re deeply aware of the ticking clock.

He’s going to take the one thing that can never be replaced — which is his hours and days and months of his short mortal life — and he’s going to devote an enormous amount of energy and resources and power and trouble to creating something that nobody wants or needs. That nobody has asked him to do. It is a fundamentally really weird thing to do.

So, why in the world would you do that?

And I guess it’s because, when the moment that you do leave the party comes, you’re not going to be lying in your bed saying: “Man… it was so short, my visit here on Earth. Why didn’t I do the thing that ignited me to life? Because that was actually the only thing. And the rest of it, and all those rational ideas of stuff that was more important, I don’t even remember what that stuff is now. Why didn’t I do that thing? Why didn’t I do that thing I was called to do?”

I never want to be in that position. I want to be in the position where I can say: “I did all that stuff. I said yes again and again and again… to the irrational plan, rather than the rational one.”

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Depression & Curiosity

Elizabeth Gilbert, on the Good Life Project podcast:

Jonathan Fields: It’s interesting, you brought up depression and curiosity. It reminded me of a conversation I had a few years back with Chip Conley, and during our conversation, that was the first time I had ever heard somebody offer that there might be a relationship between those two. He said: “Look, people think the opposite of depression is happiness. The opposite of depression is curiosity. Because the moment you have the spark of curiosity…. it’s virtually impossible to stay in a state without possibility.

Elizabeth Gilbert: That’s why we have to be makers, too, because we are made to live in a state of vitality. We live in a universe of motion. All evidence points to the fact that we live in a world where things are changing every minute, every second. What is it, every five years — you have a totally new body, because you’re shedding cells and growing cells. It’s all in motion.

My friend Rob Bell has a great line, where he says, “Despair is a spiritual condition, because despair is the mistaken notion that tomorrow is going to be exactly the same as today.” That’s when you fall into despair, when you’re in a place in your life where you’re like, Ok, this is just all it’s ever going to be. It’s just going to be this. Every single day. The same.

And it’s a lie, because all history points to the fact that tomorrow is actually not going to be at all like today. The whole thing is shifting and moving, the ground under our feet is in motion all the time, and what all of the universe is asking you to do is step back into that current and participate with it. In creation. In becoming. In unfolding. In the movement. In the change.

And as soon as you can start to believe, “Oh, maybe it’s not always going to be exactly like this. And maybe my actions matter, because maybe the choices for how I’m spending my time will affect how tomorrow is going to be different from today.” That’s when you begin to reclaim your life.

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