Some years ago, I remember a colleague being totally engrossed in the new bestseller Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. It was about her life journey, through pain and confusion towards love and peace. Although I was not that interested in either the book or the subsequent movie, several years later, I watched a TED Talk by Gilbert which led me to have immense respect for her. She came across not only as articulate and witty but also vulnerable. She told her audience that we need to view creativity as something that is external so that we don’t get into a rut or find ourselves submerged by our fears. Being in advertising and marketing, and dealing with creative departments, her talk hit home.
Recently, I came across another beautiful TED Talk by Gilbert. In this one, she laid bare her soul and spoke about her fear that her next work would not be as good as Eat Pray Love. This is the sort of fear that can cripple anyone in the creative process and Gilbert warns us that success can be worse than failure as it brings its own set of expectations and pressures. She fought that fear and decided to write another book, which bombed, but she was not deterred and decided to write again and again. Why?
We live in a ‘flash in the pan’ world, where people, especially in our country and industry, are looking for shortcuts to instant gratification and success. Gilbert, while talking about the fears associated with writing after a success, spoke about her struggle with Eat Pray Love which was rejected for six years. She said she made it through those years of rejection because her love for writing was greater than the pain of rejection. She calls writing her ‘home’, her vocation and people who are creative can relate to that image.
Gilbert’s remedy for dealing with her fear that she would never produce a work as successful as Eat Pray Love, was to go back to doing what she loved (as she puts it) more than her ego – more than herself. She brilliantly explains something that only people who have experienced great success and failure can testify to – that in your mind both are the same; both have thrown you out of your equilibrium.
For the past few years, another woman has impressed me with her prowess and creative chops – Taylor Swift. Swift like Gilbert has experienced immense success and even greater rejection. She is acknowledged as an expert storyteller and visualiser, her lines are so potent that in a few words, she can express what other writers cannot in an entire paragraph.
Recently, I was pleased to watch a video where Swift spoke about Gilbert’s TED Talk and how on some days you are inspired, while on others you just have to keep at it, honing your craft. She said that in her songs she writes the chorus first. (I think the way successful people view the creative process is to have an idea or central theme and then add meat to it.) She also uses her phone to write down random lyrics and words. Her method allows for random ideas to come in. She has spoken about how she rejects the first combinations or images that comes to mind because she does not want to use popular expressions; rather she wants to add a twist and surprise people. One of my favourite lyrics from Blank Space is “New money, suit and tie, I can read you like a magazine”. The obvious choice would be book.
Twyla Tharp in her book on creative excellence says the same thing – reject the first 20 ideas that come to mind. Creative ideas take time, something local comedian, Danish Ali spoke about. His video Rishta ka soda, may have gone viral, but he spent a month writing the script.
Both Gilbert and Swift attest to the power of expression rather than success and adulation. In our industry, young creatives feel straightjacketed and misunderstood and struggle to maintain a balance between what the client wants and what they want to do. A word of advice for them from these women: expression is its own reward, success and failure are insignificant, popularity is welcome but not essential, just concentrate on your ‘home’.
Tyrone Tellis is Marketing Manager, Bogo.