After re-watching Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk on ted.com, and reading the Writing Spaces article “The Inspired Writer vs. the Real Writer” by Sarah Allen, I’ve come to the conclusion that writing can be difficult for everyone. Your issues may be with the actual writing process, or they could be with producing a work that others will find inspirational and worth reading. Allen and Gilbert both give ideas on how to confront the issues and challenges that hold you back from writing the way you wish you could.
Elizabeth Gilbert focuses more on the pressures a writer feels when coming up with ideas and producing a work. She shares her idea that instead of an individual being a genius, they have a genius. She focuses on the impossible expectations we have put on literary and artistic persons. The weight of possible failure and rejection pushes on these “geniuses” and causes breakdowns, and even suicides. Her ideas on how to help creative people manage with their ideas involves “divine cockeyed geniuses” and “mystical fairy juices.” If we blame our creative failures on the geniuses assigned to our case, instead of carrying around the weight of our failure, we won’t be so afraid to pick up a pen and a sheet of paper and give it our best shot. We can simply say that our genius was “lame” that day. On the other hand, we will also know that if we have a major success, our genius was just having a really good day and that can’t take all the credit.
Sarah Allen, on the other hand, believes that if a work is meant to flow together and turn out well, then it will. She doesn’t think there’s a genius assigned to her case. She doesn’t think she’s good a writer because the words and ideas don’t flow easily. She believes that an Inspired Writer is on to whom writing “comes easily.” This could mean that if you reach a rough spot in your writing, or you experience writer’s block, that your writing is no good. The Inspired Writer is like an expectation that is always hanging over you, and Allen believes that your best shot when you get stuck is to tell the Inspired Writer to shut up and let you write. (Which is much like Gilbert talking to the empty corner, saying that she showed up for her part of the job.)
Both Elizabeth Gilbert and Sarah Allen are trying to solve the same problem that all writers face. They are both broadcasting different ways to take the pressure off writing and being creative, so that people don’t have to fear failure or rejection. Their ideas are very similar in some ways. Gilbert described Tom Waits talking to the sky, telling some unseen force that he’s driving and to come back at a more opportune moment. This is similar to Allen’s idea of telling the Inspired Writer, who she describes as a romantic hero who is tormented by their need to write, to shut up. Their ideas are also very different. In fact, they are quite opposite of each other. Sarah Allen is telling people that no one is really good at writing, and that everyone struggles with writing and feels like their work isn’t worth reading or good enough. This is the exact opposite of the point Elizabeth Gilbert is trying to get across. She wants people to believe that if they put their trust in divine inspiration, it will be easier for them because it takes away the pressure. She’s not telling people that not everyone is good at writing; she’s saying that not everyone’s assigned supernatural power is good at writing. Allen says that writing isn’t for everyone, and Gilbert thinks that anyone can have a wonderful creative moment if their genius allows it. Sarah Allen isn’t claiming to be the Inspired Writer; she is in fact claiming that it doesn’t exist. Elizabeth Gilbert is claiming that the Inspired Writer does in fact exist, but only as a fairy or other supernatural being.
Will the idea of an Inspired Writer or a genius assigned to your case help everyone? Of course not. Elizabeth Gilbert and Sarah Allen are simply expressing the ideas that help them in hopes that it will make another writer’s creative process a little easier. Personally, I find Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk more inspiring than Sarah Allen’s essay. The trouble for me isn’t trudging down the paper and battling the writing process. For me, the difficulty lies with believing that my work isn’t good enough and that no one will want to read it. As Gilbert put it, I believe that my work is the worst thing ever written, not just bad. The revision of papers and the hard work involved isn’t what pushes me away from writing, its knowing that my work will be compared to work I feel outweighs mine. The idea that I have a genius assigned to me is comforting, in an odd way. Just recently I found myself mid-shower (I was shampooing) when an idea stuck me. Instead of feeling disappointed when I couldn’t remember every little detail that I had when massaging my scalp, I just thought oh well. I remembered Tom Waits and told the thought that it should come back at a more opportune moment. Couldn’t it tell I was busy?
I’m sure there’s as many different ways for writers to deal with the pressures that come with having that title as there are writers in the world. And hopefully, every writer will find the one that will work the best for them. Everybody has to have inspiration that comes from somewhere. Once you figure out where that somewhere is, your life will a whole lot easier. The next time you find yourself stuck on a paragraph or lyric and you’re wondering why you even bother, remember Elizabeth Gilbert and Sarah Allen and know that you’re not the only one who struggles. Everyone has been where you’ve been. Ignore the Inspired Writer and call on your genius.