Four things Elizabeth Gilbert taught me about writing

Posted March 4th, 2014 by in

Me and Liz

Me with Elizabeth Gilbert

It’s not often you get the opportunity to meet someone you admire.

But this week I had the pleasure of meeting my one of my favourite authors, Elizabeth Gilbert.

Seven years ago I picked up a copy of Eat, Pray, Love and couldn’t put it down. Strangely, I discovered the book after returning from a 6-week trip to Europe, my first solo journey abroad. As expected, I related to the story well because I was in the right head space at the time of reading it. But I also found myself appreciating Gilbert’s talent for writing in such an eloquent yet concise manner. I feel I have learned a lot from reading her prose.

Elizabeth Gilbert signed my 7-year-old copy of Eat, Pray, Love.

Elizabeth Gilbert signed my 7-year-old copy of Eat, Pray, Love.

I went along to an event held in Melbourne which turned out be a lovely evening of music and conversation between Gilbert and her good friend Rayya Elias.

Gilbert shared some particularly insightful advice on what has influenced her writing and writing habits. Here are the key things I learned from her:

Write for one person only

While Gilbert couldn’t offer pointers on how to structure a book, such as using a specific formula or technique, she did offer an interesting piece of guidance.

“Writing for only one person, so you can engage the reader on an intimate level, is my best advice,” she said.

When you write with intentions to help or serve a large and diverse audience, it becomes a difficult task to fulfil.

Instead, write for an audience of one and you will be able to engage on the deepest level possible, advised Gilbert.

Be wildly ambitious

Gilbert said her ambition allowed her to be fearless when sharing her writing with others and when pitching her work to editors.

At the age of 18, Gilbert started sending short stories to editors at magazines and newspapers to get published.

“I was never afraid to be ambitious,” she said.

But don’t confuse ambition with being competitive, warned Gilbert.

She spoke of her ambition as her motivation, drive and eagerness to succeed but equally understood that ambition is closely aligned with challenges and requires effort.

“Learn early on that neither rejection nor failure nor criticism will kill you,” she said.

Manage your creativity

Gilbert said she commits to a single project at a time so she can give it her full creative attention.

She also believes that creativity is on offer everywhere you go.

Gilbert said a single moment or idea can offer inspiration but that it’s up to the individual to commit to it to make something of it.

Gilbert said creativity is best executed when it can be collaborated, whether that be with another person, in the form of a piece of art or, in her case, with her writing.

“Creativity and inspiration is a living force and we co-habitat with it,” she said.

Narrow your focus

Gilbert said she never doubted becoming a writer. “It (writing) was my one source of stability,” she said.

For Gilbert, the writing path has been straight and narrow, and she refers to her love for her work akin to the kind of love mothers have for their children.

In many ways, this narrow focus worked in Gilbert’s favour because she admits she was not distracted or pulled in different directions by other talents or interests.

“I’m very lucky because I’ve only ever wanted to do one thing with my life and I’ve only ever been good at one thing. I’m not interested in anything but writing and I’m not good at anything but writing.”


What is the most helpful thing you have learned about writing? Share it in the comment section below.