In life, says Elizabeth Gilbert, we are all handed one simple gift. Hers is writing.
Question: Why do you write?
Gilbert: Why do I write? I write for several reasons. Probably foremost of which is it’s the only thing I can do, to be honest. I say that because I have friends who, I believe, are cursed by being multitalented. And I do feel like that is a curse. Or if you’re not cursed by being multitalented, I know people who are cursed by having many different interests so their attention is kind of fragmented across many fields. And I think it’s difficult when you’re like that, unless you’re truly a Renaissance person and you can kind of handle all of it at once. I think it’s hard to sort of find your way and… You know, I just never was interested in anything else. I was never particularly good at anything else. There was… There’s no anything else that I wanted or craved or loved as much as this work. So in that one way, I would say that my life has been phenomenally simple. I’ve managed to complicate my life in all sorts of other ways. But just this was a kind of… I don’t know. I think in everybody’s life, there’s one thing that you get handed as a simple gift. And for me, it was this whole idea of writing.
Question: What is your creative process?
Gilbert: I follow my curiosity. I suppose that’s where most people’s creative processes begin, unless they’re sort of more analytical and intellectual about it and they actually set out to conquer, understand something which isn’t necessarily how I work. I always feel like it’s a tap on the shoulder that begins it, you know. And it’s not necessarily a passionate response at the beginning, it’s… Curiosity is the best word for it because you feel this little tap and then it just pulls your attention for a minute and you just think, that’s funny, why did I get that response, why am I interested in lobster fishermen, you know, why do I… what is that tweak something in me. And then, you sort of sniff it out and… And for me… I’m not a particularly imaginative person. I have a sister, Catherine Murdock, who’s also a writer, and she’s really a fabulist. Even when we were growing up, she was kind of like Scheherazade. You know, she can just invent things and make-up worlds. And I’ve never been that kind of person. My interest is much more about reflecting on the world as it is. Even when I was writing fiction, I felt like I had to kind of go to the places that I was writing about and roll around in them for awhile and, you know, just really commune with the people there and, like, taste the soil, you know, and learn about it. And so, my creative process is really… It’s really involving. You know, it’s really about a kind of all over sensory experience. And I can’t begin to write something until I feel like I’ve become a bit of an expert on it. So the writing comes last. And it’s all this buildup, all this research, all this thinking, all this contemplation, all this experimentation. And then, once I’ve got this collective of ideas and information and notes, I can sit down… And, at that point, it starts to feel like I’m an archeologist and that underneath all those notes, there’s an ancient city and I just have to kind of dust it and find it and piece it together and put the pieces of pottery and shards… kind of recreated it in some strange and a kind of indescribable way.