Elizabeth Gilbert on How to Summon Your Creative Muses & Curiosity vs Passion

“At least put a bra on… .” And, “…don’t show up at your writing desk in your pajamas… ” Elizabeth Gilbert advised writers and other creatives at this month’s reading in Arizona.

“A lot of people subscribe to a cockamamie theory about waiting for inspiration,” when in reality ideas are all around us. We must draw them in, and if we’re showing up disheveled in our pj’s and without a bra—writers might scare away the ideas and inspiration that freewheels through the universe looking for a human in which to alight.

“Inspiration is something we must draw in… . Ideas are living forces that circle earth looking for a responsive life force to work through. Inspiration must find receptive conduits. Once in a while you’re relaxed enough to capture [creativity]. Be the conduit.”


-having a personal exchange with Elizabeth Gilbert. Photo by Selina S.


I wonder if this explains why children are so creative? Negative self-talk, bad habits and ill-handled negative life-forces have not jaded them—unlike adults, children have no creativity-repelling juju encircling them like that cloud that cartoon character Linus carries across each panel of the Peanuts.

On capturing creativity, Gilbert suggests:

1.)  Keep the conversation going with creativity

2.)  Treat the process with respect (back to that bra thing)

3.)  Ask yourself what you came here to do (whether that questions pertains to your journey on earth or your moments at your desk)

4.)  Don’t wait for your world to be perfect to start writing. If that’s your expectation, you’ve come to the wrong planet.  The perfect day will never come, so sit down and write your book.

5.)  Be compassionate with yourself.

6.)  Don’t ask what you’re passionate about. Ask what you’re curious about.

I love this last one. It spoke so deeply to me. When I was a young mother years ago with a toddler and a baby, my husband founded a business in the days when the word passion had first been usurped by the corporate world.

Corporate America wanted rainmakers and changemakers—and passion was the buzzword du jour that corporate cultures encouraged their talent to roll up their sleeves and mainline, ad nauseam.

Far from family and a support system, I tended our young children and home as my husband circled the globe passionately creating a sustainable business and professions for others.

After tending sick babies, handling emergencies, and caretaking on my own—the last thing on my mind when my husband returned from his rainmaking—was passion–whether creative or carnal. And, I quickly learned that my unrealized passions often turned to resentment if too deeply examined at that point in my life.

But, I had the reserve to remain curious. Curious about what other writers produced, curious about the stack of poems in my desk drawer, curious about how to grow a garden in the desert, curious about the stories that had brought me to that point in my life.

But, even today, the word passion still feels tainted for me. So, I loved how Gilbert opened a way for me to consider curiosity in place of passion.

While Elizabeth Gilbert inspired several epiphanies with her exchanges that night, for me the most important was realizing that my refusal to let go of curiosity allowed me to reclaim my passion—when the children grew a bit and enough stillness returned to my being, creativity began to take root again.

Gilbert’s humility spoke deeply to me: “I don’t tell people to follow their passion anymore. It’s not helpful.” When she said this, I sat up.

I abhor clichés and the hijacking of great concepts. And, not only had passion been hijacked by corporate America – it had been hijacked by everyone and everything else. For me, the concept of passion – for things both carnal and conceptual —was a concept I’d fallen for at first blush only to have—like some new soul mate–whisked away by some popular crowd never to return.

So with my heart in the palm of her hand, Gilbert redrew the idea of passion in terms of curiosity:

“I tell people to follow your curiosity. It’s more accessible… it just asks you to turn your head…” something everyone can and should do. “With curiosity, the stakes are so low, it’s like stepping across lily pads. You can live and die a very interesting life when you just follow your curiosity.”

In this way, Gilbert allows people who have not yet found or claimed a passion to have a place to relax. With curiosity. And, when we relax, we allow ideas and creativity a porthole into our being. We become the conduit.

For more on Elizabeth Gilbert’s views on creativity. Go to this TED talk. It’s one of the more inspired talks on creativity around. For a world-class in-depth exploration of another creative concept called creative flow, see Otto von Munchow’s blog.  For my very amateur iPhone video segment of EG speaking on creativity in Arizona this month go here.

How do you view creativity, passion and curiosity? What vices and devices keep you showing up in your creative space?

13 thoughts on “Elizabeth Gilbert on How to Summon Your Creative Muses & Curiosity vs Passion

  1. I agree that in order to get on with writing you just have to sit down and do it, not wait until everything is perfect, but I also have found that when I have too many things going on in my life (commitments, responsibilities, interruptions) I can’t write. I need the luxury of an uncluttered mind in order to write well. So somewhere in there is a compromise, or the need to clear the slate so creativity can return.


  2. I rarely show up to write in my pajamas, but this morning I did, and the first I read was this blog post–HA!!! I feel like I got caught being lazy 🙂

    Follow your curiosity–what a great way to look at our creative life. Thanks for sharing, Renee!


  3. Oh gosh yes, Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Your elusive creative genius” is inspiration itself, left me with tears in my eyes (the product of a good old Olé!) I’ve also seen her “Success, failure and the drive to keep creating” which is not as wildly inspirational, but more like excellent advice from an inspired life. Awesome as Gilbert is, and interesting as her thoughts are on dressing for creativity, for me, the fewer things to do on the way to the laptop, the better!


  4. As I read Gilbert’s thoughts on nurturing creativity, I was drawn to #6 about curiosity and see that it is the same one that touched something in you. It’s great perspective. I need to remember that.


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