As you may, or may not know, I’m back in school again, going for my Bachelor’s in Interior Design (with a minor in architecture). So now that I’m once again, theoretically, exposed to this font of knowledge and a diversity of opinions, I’ll periodically come across things I think are worth sharing with you all. Here’s the first.
Yes, it’s a video. Don’t freak out, it’s just under twenty minutes long, but it certainly doesn’t feel like it. The speaker, author Elizabeth Gilbert, is very entertaining and engaging, it’ll be over before you know it (which is kind of a shame).
Obviously, as a writer, this immediately had appeal to me and pulled me in. But it isn’t just that, I like the universality of Gilbert’s talk, how it can be applied to just about any craft. Art, writing, performance—it’s a sound theory with practical applications.
An interesting aspect of this is that it can easily be interpreted as shifting the blame, as not taking responsibility for our mistakes or shortcomings. From there it isn’t a far jump to stagnation in creativity. The whole process of improvement is based on learning from mistakes, but if we attribute our mistakes to some imaginary, intangible, and uncontrollable force, well the blame isn’t on us, is it? And then there’s nothing for us to “fix” because it isn’t our fault, not really.
Part of what drives us to constantly push to be better is that fear of failure, the fear of repeated mistakes, the fear of never being good enough. Gilbert is coming at this from the unique perspective of already having had a huge success, which comes with a completely different set of fears. I do agree though, regardless of where these fears originate, the weight of them can be crushing and is in part what leads to this notion of the depressed, suicidal writer (or the misunderstood, emotional artist in general).
I believe there has to be a balance between the two. Fear of failure has its uses. We need to recognize failure as our own shortcomings, so that we can strive to correct them at their core. This process not only serves the immediate purpose of fixing the current problem area but by us consciously strengthening our skills, prevents these shortcomings from manifesting again. Simply attributing it to an unknowable force can be seen as an easy way out.
That’s not to say though, that this concept doesn’t have its uses. Just as writers, and creators in general, need to know when to really kick themselves, when to be critical, when to ask the hard questions of “Is it as good as it can be, not just good enough”, we also need to know when to take a step back. When to leave the scene for another one, when to put the paintbrush down and pick up a piece of charcoal instead.
I like this theory of Gilbert’s, but as with all tips and tricks in regards to creative endeavors, I don’t think it’s an end-all solution, it’s just another step in the process, another tool to have at our disposal that it’s up to us, as artists, to recognize when it will be most useful to pull out.
Maybe the next time I’m headbutting my keyboard in frustration, I’ll direct it at my own genius and tell them to get their shit together. No doubt the cats will be a bit confused. Although no more than usual, I suspect.