Tuesday, July 24, 2007

a holy calling

wow.

At 2 AM this morning I finished a book--Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert--that lifted my spirit above myself and out of the bitter fog of worry and fatigue that had been surrounding me of late.

Gilbert's New York Times bestselling account of her year-long journey through Italy, India and Indonesia in search of god, pleasure and renewal is exactly what I needed to read. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in spiritual and/or geographical journies, good food, honest self-examination and compelling, compassionate and witty prose.

naturally, I've been surfing the 'net for more info about her, her guru, and anything related to the book. Here are some of her thoughts on writing:

I believe that – if you are serious about a life of writing, or indeed about any creative form of expression – that you should take on this work like a holy calling. I became a writer the way other people become monks or nuns. I made a vow to writing, very young. I became Bride-of-Writing. I was writing’s most devotional handmaiden. I built my entire life around writing. I didn’t know how else to do this. I didn’t know anyone who had ever become a writer. I had no, as they say, connections. I had no clues. I just began.

I took a few writing classes when I was at NYU, but, aside from an excellent workshop taught by Helen Schulman, I found that I didn’t really want to be practicing this work in a classroom. I wasn’t convinced that a workshop full of 13 other young writers trying to find their voices was the best place for me to find my voice. So I wrote on my own, as well. I showed my work to friends and family whose opinions I trusted. I was always writing, always showing. After I graduated from NYU, I decided not to pursue an MFA in creative writing. Instead, I created my own post-graduate writing program, which entailed several years spent traveling around the country and world, taking jobs at bars and restaurants and ranches, listening to how people spoke, collecting experiences and writing constantly. My life probably looked disordered to observers (not that anyone was observing it that closely) but my travels were a very deliberate effort to learn as much as I could about life, expressly so that I could write about it....

As for discipline – it’s important, but sort of over-rated. The more important virtue for a writer, I believe, is self-forgiveness. Because your writing will always disappoint you. Your laziness will always disappoint you. You will make vows: “I’m going to write for an hour every day,” and then you won’t do it. You will think: “I suck, I’m such a failure. I’m washed-up.” Continuing to write after that heartache of disappointment doesn’t take only discipline, but also self-forgiveness (which comes from a place of kind and encouraging and motherly love). The other thing to realize is that all writers think they suck. When I was writing “Eat, Pray, Love”, I had just as a strong a mantra of THIS SUCKS ringing through my head as anyone does when they write anything. But I had a clarion moment of truth during the process of that book. One day, when I was agonizing over how utterly bad my writing felt, I realized: “That’s actually not my problem.” The point I realized was this – I never promised the universe that I would write brilliantly; I only promised the universe that I would write. So I put my head down and sweated through it, as per my vows.
--E.Gilbert

2 comments:

bevjackson said...

this is wonderful and so reminiscent of the Rilke stuff I've been reading of late. Thanks! I should get this book. (arghh, one more book)

Maryanne Stahl said...

I warn you, it will make you want to travel--probably to Bali to visit Richard Lewis!