I’ve attended some talks by some amazing women writers recently, and met many others in the process. It’s been a privilege to listen to the extraordinarily brilliant Margaret Atwood, the generous and witty Dervla McTiernan and the warm and inspiring Elizabeth Gilbert, who I was lucky enough to see at at Business Chicks function at the invitation of the lovely people at the Australian Writers Centre.
Each time, I come away from these events feeling incredibly grateful for the insights of women who are prepared to share their journeys and to tell the truth as they see it. There’s always something to take away. Recently I’ve been trying to embody the ‘everythings-gonna-be-alright’ attitude of Gilbert (learned from her friend Richard-from-Texas). Gilbert has spent a couple of decades finding out what matters to her, and from what I could gather, those things are truth, vulnerability and finding a state of relaxation.
If I had to name a thread that runs through all the talks by these women though, it seems to be bravery. It takes courage to face up to your creativity, to carve out the time from the very little that you have to nurture your creativity, and to draw a line around yourself, creating boundaries that allow you to operate in a creative space and stop others from encroaching into it with their own needs and wants (as Gilbert speaks so eloquently about). As part of a busy family and as someone who is involved in many and varied work and community activities, this can be hard. I find my boundaries are easily blurred, because I forget to draw them, or I allow myself to become distracted or disenchanted or lazy.
I heard Elizabeth Gilbert talking elsewhere about tipping the fulcrum that balances fear and curiosity. If you’re more curious about something than you are scared of it, she says, it makes it easier to live a creative life. I’m always a bit fear-filled, there just seems to be so much to fear — planetary destruction, the idiots in charge of governments, the corona virus, the moment-by-moment possibilities of living as a parent and knowing what could happen to your children if they, or you, aren’t careful. But the positive side is that fear drives the process of my creativity. The most compelling scenes in my writing come from deep places of fear. Maybe writing about them makes me a little bit more hopeful that they won’t happen in my own life. Maybe I don’t want to be rid of my fear completely, because facing it down means I am driven to write.
And then, once written, it’s out there for all to see, which causes… eek, more fear. I was asked the other day in an interview, ‘how did it feel when you became a published author?’. I knew the answer to that question was probably meant to be ‘amazing!’. But what I actually experienced was mild angst — a cloying fear that people could now see all my insecurities on the page and see what a nutter I really am. I had to be brave to let those words out into the world. So I guess there’s a balance between fear and courage. I wonder if I’ll ever get it right, because being the relaxed woman that Gilbert talked about being, did seem like a really wonderful idea!