Elizabeth Gilbert is probably best known for the autobiographical book/movie Eat, Pray, Love. In my opinion, that was not her best work. Commercially successful, yes, but neither literary nor inspirational.
People ask if she’s afraid she’ll never be able to top that mega-success. As if she should be terrified of ending her career ‘on a scrap heap of broken dreams with her mouth filled with the ash of bitter failure’. Gilbert admits that her best success probably is behind her, but she has come to grips with that.
What is it specifically about creative ventures that make folks think we live in danger of becoming undone by our gifts? Why is anyone comfortable with the assumption that creativity will ultimately lead to anguish? Gilbert says:
I would prefer to keep doing this work that I love.
And so, the question becomes, how? And so, it seems to me, upon a lot of reflection, that the way that I have to work now, in order to continue writing, is that I have to create some sort of protective psychological construct, right? I have to sort of find some way to have a safe distance between me, as I am writing, and my very natural anxiety about what the reaction to that writing is going to be, from now on. And, as I’ve been looking, over the last year, for models for how to do that, I’ve been sort of looking across time, and I’ve been trying to find other societies to see if they might have had better and saner ideas than we have about how to help creative people sort of manage the inherent emotional risks of creativity.