Genius, Process, and the Problem of Work

The YouTube vid above is a 20-minute lecture by Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love; The Last American Man, etc.). She’s talking about creativity, a topic she’s particularly interested in as she tries to continue to be creative in the wake of the phenomenal success of her last book (the aforementioned Eat, Pray, Love). She talks a lot about disowning the idea of being a “genius” — that she won’t take full credit for her creative inspiration. Instead she thinks of it as coming from some other source. Separate. Disembodied from her. All she does is show up at her computer, ready to do the work of channeling it.

So I showed this video to The Writing Lifers. One of whom (I won’t tell you who but her name rhymes with Xamber Xholloway) was uneasy with the idea of seeing creativity as work. Making it a mindless trudge.

I’m somewhat sympathetic to that idea, but with an important reservation. An individual’s creative process works best when it is actively cultivated. Whatever metaphor you want to use to help you consistently cultivate your creativity is fine by me. If “work” doesn’t work for you, come up with something else. Play? Exercise? I like the idea of “vocation” because there’s a sense of a higher calling to it. Thus: ritual, commitment, transcendence. But that’s just me. One famous writing teacher (which is an oxymoron if I ever heard one) used the metaphor of “cooking.” What’s the metaphor for your process? More important, what active, persistent steps are you taking to cultivate your creative process?

2 thoughts on “Genius, Process, and the Problem of Work

  1. Clay Greene January 25, 2010 / 4:06 pm

    I think of my writing work as having two parts. There’s the composition and the study. I’ve got to be studying “all the time,” even when I’m not composing.

  2. tjbeitelman January 25, 2010 / 8:45 pm

    And then of course there’s “composing” as a musical process, putting on paper the largely inarticulate — or at least unexpressed — gestures that are swirling about in somebody’s brain. I like it.

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