Author of Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert has become an important voice for creativity itself. Her most recent book is Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. She spoke with 1440 with her signature candor and gift for “telling it like it is.”
1440 Multiversity: Do you have a daily practice?
Elizabeth Gilbert: I feel like my daily practice is curiosity and integrity—and that shows up in lots of different ways.
Writing is my job, and I’m so lucky that it is, but I think my vocation is really to just be interested in what it means to be alive—to be interested in other people’s lives and interested in my own; to get curious and notice things, like, Oh wow, that didn’t work at all. Oh look, that blew up in my face. Oh man, that doesn’t feel good. And not taking it personally, just looking at it all with a stance of: This is so interesting.
Personally, I think “interesting” is one of the biggest salvation words. People often say not to use the word interesting to describe things, but I love that word. For example, when I am spiraling into emotional drama, sometimes I can back off from it by observing that what I am doing and thinking and feeling is actually really interesting: Now isn’t that interesting that you think you’re the biggest piece of garbage in the whole world? What’s going on?
It’s about not skimming the surface, no matter what’s going on in your life. It’s about getting curious and interested in yourself—this being who is feeling and acting these ways.
Look again. Look closer. Be engaged. Be what the kids today are calling woke, be woke. W-O-K-E. That’s a better way to do things than to sleepwalk through it all.
1440: How has your book Big Magic changed you?
Elizabeth: It’s important to me to make sure in life that I’m always smoking what I’m selling. So I published Big Magic, a book about creativity, and then I find myself last year having these little creative impulses and not following up on them. Just because. They were impulses to write poetry. And I’ve never written poetry.
There’s a part of me saying things like, you know, Liz, poetry is a different thing than prose. You’ve never taken a class on it. You probably won’t be good at it. And nobody will want to see it.
I would catch that voice in my head and, having just put out Big Magic, I knew I had to respond to those impulses. I had to write this poetry because otherwise, I couldn’t get on stage and tell people to follow their creative impulses.
So I wrote some poetry. And as I say, “It wasn’t very good but nobody died from it.” Then I showed it to a friend of mine who’s a musician, and she said, “What we should do is just turn these into songs.”
The voices started saying, You’re not a musician. You’re not trained. You’re not blah, blah, blah… So, of course we sat down and turned them into songs. Then this friend said, “We should record them”—and we ended up in the recording studio the next month with a bunch of our friends who are musicians, and we made a song.
What is funny is that I was in a meeting with some publishers in New York the following week and they asked, “How was your weekend?”
I said, “It was so cool. I rented a music studio and we got some friends together.”
They said, “Oh, are you musician?”
And I said, “No, but we did it. We made something together.”
And somebody in the room got really perplexed and said, “But what is it for?”
And that is the million-dollar question. That is the whole point of Big Magic and what I know and believe.
What is it for?
It’s for because I wanted to.
It’s for because it wasn’t there last Thursday and now it’s a thing that’s in the world.
It’s for because I love the idea of cocreating the universe and being a participant.
It’s for a sense of community adventure.
It’s for because we’re not just here to pay bills and die.