Meeting your idols, your heroes or your girl crushes is always dangerous. Disappointment is the most likely outcome. Having admired someone from afar for years or decades can elevate them to impossibly unrealistic heights.
Last night I met one of the women who has been hugely influential for me as a writer, a creative person, a feminist and just a person in the world trying to work shit out. Elizabeth Gilbert did not disappoint.
In fact I’m still buzzing from the few hours we spent together. I feel invigorated, inspired and I sort of want to just sit quietly on a beanbag and think about all the things we talked about, both on stage when I interviewed her for the Brisbane Writers Festival, and off-stage both before and after the event.
Since I’m a writer though and not very good at sitting still and thinking, I’m going to process the experience by writing about what I learned from Liz. Here we go.
1. It’s a myth that to be a ‘proper’ writer you have to quit your job or carve out months to write a book or write for eight hours a day.
This was a relief because I’ve secretly always believed that’s what proper writers do and I find it incredibly tough, both logistically and mentally to sit down and write for hours at a time.
“Do an hour a day,” she suggests. I can do that.
2. Ask yourself, ‘What are you prepared to give up to do that creative thing you say you want to do?’
She spoke about a woman on Facebook complaining to her that she didn’t have any time to be creative. “But you’re on Facebook,” she pointed out to much laughter from the audience. To carve time out for creativity, if that’s important to you, there are choices to be made and they’re not always nice ones. To finish one of her books, Liz had to give up watching The Sopranos, among other things. “I never did find out what happened,” she said. But she finished the book.
3. People like you better when you say yes.
Part of the process of working out how to navigate your life and conserve energy for creativity involves saying no to people. Letting them be disappointed with you. “There’s a myth that drawing boundaries and saying no will make people respect you more and like you more,” she said last night. “That’s bullshit. People like you more when you say yes to them. Yes, I’ll pick up the kids from school. Yes, I’ll maintain this toxic friendship, yes I’ll do a three hour book signing, yes.” You have to learn to be OK with disappointing other people because the alternative is sacrificing yourself. And you shouldn’t be OK with that.
An example she gave was that she no longer does book signings after events. It drains her too much because she says she has to meet everyone at the place they’re at. One woman might be in tears and want to tell her a story about how Eat, Pray, Love changed her life. The next woman might have a book she’s desperate to get published and wants some tips. The next woman might not have been happy that she didn’t get what she wanted to hear from the event she just attended. And everyone wants a selfie. Three hours later, she’s shattered.
“It’s changed my life” she told me about saying no to book signings. What’s important to her though, is that she explains to the audience each time why she’s not doing it.