Are You the Genius, or Is the Genius Working Through You?

I don’t share videos often, because I know many of us don’t have time to watch them. But this talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, touches on some fascinating ideas about the origin of creativity. Gilbert discusses the concept of the individual as a creative genius versus the notion of the artist as a conduit through which creativity flows. She links the end of the historical belief in an outside “daemon” or “genius” to the growth of both narcissism and paralyzing self-doubt in contemporary writers.

Highlights for me include her interactions with poet Ruth Stone and musician Tom Waits. Stone told Gilbert about poems barreling down on her while she races to get a piece of paper, only to continue on to be written by another poet if Stone doesn’t catch them in time. Waits shared a significant moment in his creative life with Gilbert, discussing his interaction with a piece of music when it came to him while he was driving down the freeway and unable to capture it.

The video is just under 20 minutes long—well worth a listen if you have the time.

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18 Responses to “Are You the Genius, or Is the Genius Working Through You?”


  1. 1 Heather Conroy November 3, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    I haven’t always stopped for a TED talk, but one day I did. Now I always do. The speakers invariably carry me along on their coat tails. I always wait for the hush that descends on the audience about half way through which indicates to me that the audience is along for the ride as well.

    I love this one Sandy. Thanks for posting it. I can’t begin to list all that I love about it. The stand out moment for me is her message about giving your muse a good talking to and sharing the responsibility.

    • 2 stranglingmymuse November 4, 2009 at 12:27 am

      I agree with you Heather, there’s a lot in Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk to love. I’m glad you watched it and found it as inspiring as I did!
      –Sandy

  2. 3 Jess November 5, 2009 at 12:55 pm

    I absolutely loved this TED talk.

    I tend to put an extraordinary amount of pressure on myself to be “productive,” whatever that means, in all areas of my life. It was nice to be encouraged to cut myself a little bit of slack on the creative front. Another reason I like NaNoWriMo!

    Thank you for posting the Gilbert video, and for your list of NaNoWriMo tips several posts back.

    • 4 stranglingmymuse November 5, 2009 at 1:44 pm

      Glad you loved the talk, Jess, and the NaNoWriMo tips — thanks for letting me know!

      So, the fact that you consider writing a novel in a month a chance to cut yourself some slack makes me think you may be just a bit of an overachiever…? I recognize the symptoms from personal experience!

      Best of luck with NaNoWriMo, and thanks for stopping by and commenting.

      –Sandy

  3. 7 slacker-chick November 5, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    I saw this video a few months ago and was also struck by how she coped with being asked, “Aren’t you worried that your next book won’t be as big as your first?” and how you just do what you are here to do – she writes – that’s what she does – whether you make it “big” or not – just write.

    • 8 stranglingmymuse November 6, 2009 at 10:13 am

      Yes, it was a striking moment when she said the reality is her best work may be behind her…then made it clear that she still needs to keep doing the work.
      –Sandy

  4. 9 brownec870 November 10, 2009 at 11:33 am

    As a fellow writer myself i really enjoyed that. I have always loved TED videos 😀

  5. 11 Kid In The Front Row December 3, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    That’s one of my favourite talks of all time! Posted it on my blog some months back too. Amazing.

    • 12 stranglingmymuse December 3, 2009 at 7:40 pm

      I agree — and worth watching more than once.
      –Sandy

      • 13 Heather Conroy December 3, 2009 at 11:48 pm

        I went off and read Eat Pray Love and then watched the TED clip again-awesome!

        • 14 stranglingmymuse December 4, 2009 at 12:02 am

          Heather, I’m woefully behind on checking out your blog and those of all my blogging friends due to crazy busy-ness in my life right now — but I did wind up briefly clicking over to you after you commented on Kablooey’s blog. I noticed you were reading Eat, Pray, Love, and wondered if this video influenced your decision to read it. Did you like the book?
          –Sandy

          • 15 Heather December 4, 2009 at 12:21 am

            I did like the book once I got over the mess of it! The writing style was a bit informal and chaotic. So many thoughts and ideas on a single page. I nearly gave up after the first 10 pages. Then I got used to her writing style and I enjoyed it. I found her very self effacing, and I think she held back at times. However I learned alot and I was fascinated by her spiritual journeys through meditation. Surprisingly it did not make me yearn for a similar journey. I am looking forward to her next book where she writes about marriage. I’ve been married for over 20 years now so I’m interested in her insights.

          • 16 Heather December 4, 2009 at 12:22 am

            I forgot to tell you that the video did influence me to read it. I love the video and I have replayed it a number of times.

            • 17 stranglingmymuse December 4, 2009 at 6:19 pm

              Thanks for the book review, Heather! I haven’t read it, or anything by her. I hadn’t heard about her book on marriage, but I looked it up after you mentioned it — sounds interesting!
              –Sandy


  1. 1 Creative Inspiration vs. Writing as a Job « Strangling My Muse Trackback on February 20, 2010 at 7:05 am

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