There’s nothing more motivational than listening to the struggles and realizations of an author who “made it.” I’ve said it before, and I’ll no doubt say it again. On Monday, I attended Literary Arts 30th Anniversary Party, where I was able to hear Colin Meloy, lead singer of The Decemberists and author of the series Wildwood, play a few songs and listen to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, (among others) speak.
For those of you who don’t know, Literary Arts (LA) is an Oregon-based nonprofit literary center that was formed thirty years ago, in 1984, with the mission of bringing “authors and thinkers” to the Northwest. LA hosts lecture series that bring in over two thousand readers; they host workshops, seminars, and programs for high school students. They’ve also helped support many Oregon authors throughout their careers, like Cheryl Strayed for one.
Gilbert seems like the best friend we’d all love to have; she’s got a great sense of humor, an adventurous spirit, but most of all, she’s sure of herself. Not just because her best-known novel, Eat, Pray, Love, spent nearly two-hundred weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List. Although, that’s plenty enough to make a writer feel sure of herself.
Maybe it’s that, as Gilbert said of herself (quite depreciatingly), she isn’t good at anything besides writing. It must be difficult to be good at a lot of things, she told the audience. How do you know where to direct your passion? That struck a chord with me. I’m not amazing at everything I do, but I’ve always been a good student with a hunger for knowledge. I love astronomy and history. Sometimes politics when I’m not too down on the world. And growing up, my being on the honor roll and needing to always be right led my parents to believe I’d make quite a successful lawyer. I can even sing without breaking glass (although, stage fright makes this difficult to prove). Point being, becoming a writer isn’t generally something a parent dreams for their child. And when there’s literally nothing stopping you from going for that law degree (or some other—stabler—career) besides a persistent itch to write and tell stories, it’s difficult to convince yourself that you aren’t, indeed, making a huge mistake.
“Creativity and fear,” as Gilbert said, “are conjoined twins.” It takes courage to be a writer. Courage to acknowledge fear’s presence, but to let fear know that it won’t control the journey. Gilbert told the audience that she has witnessed many writers—writers just as good as her, if not better—who gave up on themselves. They weren’t happy with the work they were producing. It didn’t meet the expectations they had set for themselves, and so they quit. They “pre-decided,” as Gilbert put it, that they weren’t good enough.