I’ve been hooked on TED talks by writers and creators lately. It was this particular one [Success, Failure and the Drive to Keep Creating] given by Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love that got me started. I come back to this speech every time I need a pick-me-up while lost in the wilderness of creation or in the pits of despair when things are out of my control.
In her speech, Gilbert talked about the struggles every writer faces: rejection, failure, feeling stuck in the same spot for years, being powerless in the publishing arena and facing things that are out of our control, like market forces and book sales.
On rejection and pushing through:
I failed at getting published for almost six years. So for almost six years, every single day, I had nothing but rejection letters waiting for me in my mailbox. And it was devastating every single time, and every single time, I had to ask myself if I should just quit while I was behind and give up and spare myself this pain. But then I would find my resolve, and always in the same way, by saying, “I’m not going to quit, I’m going home.”
And you have to understand that for me, going home did not mean returning to my family’s farm. For me, going home meant returning to the work of writing because writing was my home, because I loved writing more than I hated failing at writing, which is to say that I loved writing more than I loved my own ego, which is ultimately to say that I loved writing more than I loved myself. And that’s how I pushed through it.
On “going home”:
… the remedy for self-restoration is that you have got to find your way back home again as swiftly and smoothly as you can, and if you’re wondering what your home is, here’s a hint: Your home is whatever in this world you love more than you love yourself. So that might be creativity, it might be family, it might be invention, adventure, faith, service, it might be raising corgis, I don’t know, your home is that thing to which you can dedicate your energies with such singular devotion that the ultimate results become inconsequential.
On staying true to your craft:
The only trick is that you’ve got to identify the best, worthiest thing that you love most, and then build your house right on top of it and don’t budge from it.And if you should someday, somehow get vaulted out of your home by either great failure or great success, then your job is to fight your way back to that home the only way that it has ever been done, by putting your head down and performing with diligence and devotion and respect and reverence whatever the task is that love is calling forth from you next.
I’m a born worrier. People around me always tell me to stop overthinking. So it’s no surprise that I drive myself crazy going in circles in my head, thinking about potential outcomes (most of them not very pleasant) and obsessing over what I’m doing wrong to remain stuck where I am.
But I often find that losing myself in the story I want to tell not only takes my mind off these worries, it also reminds me of why I’m even doing this in the first place: because, like Gilbert, I love writing more than I love myself. It’s something I would do even if I weren’t getting paid for it; it’s something I do when I’m happy or down or troubled or angry; it’s something I will always do and can’t help but doing because making up stories is already a part of me — it’s in my blood.
I think there are some people who wander in life for years, not knowing what their purpose is, and lucky are the ones who find their calling early in life and therefore have years to work on it. So when you do find your calling, you need to hold on to it, nurture it, and keep in mind why you love it even when there are moments – many of them – when you feel like giving up.
So onward, storytellers. May you always manage find your way back home to what you love, and not waver in the face of failure.