Do Writers Need Protection from their Failures and Successes to Continue to Write?

I recently watched a TED Talk video by Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert. It was called Your Elusive Creative Genius.

Gilbert discussed the impossible expectations placed on artists, particularly authors. She admits, her greatest accomplishment—the Eat, Pray, Love novel—is probably behind her, so how is she to go forward and continue to write?

She takes us on a trip back in history, when the people of Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome believed spirits who lived within their walls visited artistic people. These invisible spirits assisted the writer, so the writer could not take full credit or all the criticism for the completed work.

Distance is a good thingIt was wonderful! Yes, but I didn’t do it alone.

It was horrible. Yes, well, I can’t take the full blame.

The Greeks called their creative imp a damon. The Romans called it a genius. The distance between writers and their damon (or genius) protected writers from their work, and gave them freedom to continue with writing because they didn’t have to take full responsibility.

The Renaissance period changed this. The two (writer and genius/damon) became one, and the writer became fully responsible for the successes and failures of their work. Gilbert suggests this was a bad thing, and it has been killing artists for the past five hundred years.

To hear Gilbert explain this better than I can write it, watch her TED Talks video Your Elusive Creative Genius.

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16 thoughts on “Do Writers Need Protection from their Failures and Successes to Continue to Write?

  1. Interesting thoughts here Diane. Us writers may not be living in ancient times, thus no creative imps that we know of, but often I will revisit work I’d previously abandoned and question myself, “Did I write that?” Surprising myself as though some muse came along and fed me the words. 🙂

    • Debby, I am like you. There are times I read something I wrote long ago and wonder if I really wrote it. I love it when that happens. When I’m in the ‘zone’, I write quickly without looking back, and I sometimes don’t remember what I wrote.

      So perhaps there are imps in our subconscious.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  2. Great idea. I feel my inspiration often comes from someplace outside my sense of self/ego, be it a spirit or the subconscious mind. Remembering that is good, not just for the protection/humility of the ego, but also for patience. Spirits/muses can take vacations just like you or me. It doesn’t mean they won’t return or that as writers we won’t be inspired again.

    • I agree, Ted. That’s a great way of looking at it. Although I think I have control over my ‘imagination’, I often find out I don’t. As you say, sometimes it takes a vacation. When this happens, I keep busy with other things until it returns.

      Thank you for visiting, and for leaving a comment.

  3. One thing I learned in my professional career that has become useful in my writing career is to be discerning about which criticism and praise you pay attention to. The easiest to discard is the chronic type, criticism or praise that comes from people that can only praise or criticize by nature. This feedback is useless because these people will criticize or praise everything. I look for the constructive type. Maybe a reader that points out that the middle of your story is lacking or they didn’t like the ending. Those are things I can latch onto. When a reader takes the time to tell me they like my writing style, I do whatever I can to find out more about them so that I can identify my niche. I tend to be more analytical than personal when it comes to feedback.

    • Constructive feedback is exactly what a writer needs. Saying it is horrible or wonderful is sort of meaningless. Although you like to hear someone enjoyed your story, it’s better to here why they enjoyed the story.

      That’s a good attitude to have: being analytical rather than personal when it comes to feedback.

      Thank you for visiting, and for leaving a comment.

  4. Interesting. I do think distance is important, in whatever way we achieve it. Putting something as personal as one’s art out there for public comment is hard, because it’s a given that not everyone is going to like it. I write the best book I can; I put my all into it and have to be satisfied with that. ❤

    • Diana, I know a few writers who fear putting their work out for public comment, so they write and tuck their stories away, never to be seen by the eyes of others. I was that writer in my teens, though I knew somewhere along the way, I wanted someone to read it because I started sending short stories to magazines in my early 20s. That first sent query took a lot of nerve. I recall the attitude I had to develop the nerve to send it: all they can do is say no, and if they don’t like it, well too bad for them.

      Perhaps I was sassy, but it worked. That first one was followed by countless more. I do what you do; write the best story I can and be satisfied with it.

      Thank you for your comment.

  5. I think it is a very hard road to travel when we open ourselves up to criticism, be it positive or negative. Distance is necessary, call it the alter-ego, to take the brunt of the reviews. In this way, we can continue without fear of rejection or success.

    • Perhaps it is just me, but I believe it would be more difficult for timid writer to share their work publicly today. Why? It seems we are now a society of opinions. Everywhere I go and everything I do generates opinions of others.

      We could blame it on Facebook. It makes us feel as though we have to leave a comment, even if it is simple LIKE. Blogs fall into the same category because the comment square is right there, waiting for your opinion. My teenagers comment or provide their opinion on so many things, I starting to think I should wear a shirt stating, “The comment section has been turned off.”

      They have grown up with Facebook and the need to leave a comment. Or perhaps it is just teenagers. These are my first, so I have none to compare them to.

      We also live in a world where negative comments are thrown like rice at weddings. A timid writer watching this show might think twice or three times before putting their work out for review. Distance from our writing then becomes a lifeline.

      Thank you for visiting, and for leaving a comment.

  6. I recently spoke to an author who had all but given up due to some bad reviews. I was encouraging and thankfully they didn’t give up but I think that having that distance would be a good thing, especially for any authors/artists who suffer from depression. It would be good to shoulder some of that blame on something else, and likewise stop the success going to somebody’s head.
    I didn’t know about the damon/geniuss. Thank you I think I’ll pass that on.

    • I think separating the two (writer and genius) is a good thing to and will benefit many. I often ‘separate’ from myself when I’m deep into writing, so I know the feeling of something ‘invisible’ (inspiration perhaps) taking control of the words. I sometimes discuss/argue with this ‘inner voice’ over what might happen. Perhaps it is because I often let loose with the Me, Myself and I phrase. We sit here together and write. I am never alone. I relate this to the three ‘layers’ of humans: body, soul and nwyfre (that which connects body and soul).

      I was often told Harper Lee suffered from the opposite of failure: success. Her one book (aside from what was released recently) was too successful for her to write another.

      Thank you for visiting, and for leaving a comment.

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