The Genius of Writers

Published or unpublished, writers can all experience moments of fear. We can and frequently do have crises of confidence: moments where we wonder about the reaction people will have to our work, moments where we wonder if our writing is ‘good enough’, moments where we can’t write at all because the pressure to produce something brilliant squashes our self-belief. How can I write something brilliant when I don’t believe that I am brilliant?

In the TED talk below, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of the internationally successful memoir Eat, Pray, Love, talks about a possible way of ‘diverting’ our fears by re-thinking the concept of genius. Instead of putting so much pressure on ourselves to be a genius, she says, we should go back to the concept that existed in ancient Greece and Rome. The idea then was that people were not geniuses in themselves, but that they had a genius – a disembodied spirit or ‘daemon’ that fed the artist with ideas, wisdom or talent. This meant that any brilliant work that an artist produced was not through their own inherent genius, but a genius that came to them from a mystical source.

Gilbert gives examples of modern-day poets, songwriters and other creative individuals who describe a sensation of their work ‘coming to them’. Poems fly in across the landscape, new melodies pop into a singer’s head while he’s driving. The sensation is powerful, mysterious, and sometimes arrives with incredibly bad timing.

The author is not necessarily saying that we should all start believing in magical creative spirits again. Rather, she makes a compelling case for thinking about our creative work in another way – a way that distances us from being so personally implicated in our work – so that we can manage our expectations, egos and performance anxieties.

Well worth a look!

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