How to Stay Sane and Alive if You’re Creative

There are days when I’m consumed by my fears, anxieties and worry. The words don’t come. The pages are garbage. The brilliant idea slipped through my fingers, and it’s gone forever.

There are other days when I revel in the love of words like I’m rolling in lottery money, throwing it up to the air in great handfuls while I laugh. I could touch the sun. I could talk to god.

I am a writer. This is my lot in life, to endure great struggles and anguish, and to dance in fantastic victories with the deities of my talent. I delve into the depths of my own mind, searching for the stories and words that I want to drag out of the mire. I open my mind and let my creativity soar, spilling out onto pages.

Alright, so I’m waxing poetic. It happens. Truth be told, most days, I’m just myself, doing my job. And today I was doing that job, running down my to-do list. Here was something fast and easy – a video my friend Susan sent me. Probably something to do with law, no doubt.

Well, it was time to cross it off the list, so I clicked ‘play’ with a small sigh and sat back to watch, already dreading what was to come. A video that can hold my attention longer than 1.36 minutes is a meteoric miracle.

Do you remember the movie years ago? Jerry McGuire. All the women loved it for one sweet line: “You had me at hello.”

That was me. The woman on stage had me at hello. I sat there enraptured for the full 19.29, drinking in every word that flowed like water from Elizabeth Gilbert’s mouth.

(Run-on sentences, if you must know, but it was soothingly fitting.)

I even wrote a few words down, seizing them as mine. I whispered them aloud as my pen scratched the paper. “Swallow the sun, swallow the sun.”

If you write, if you draw, if you play with color or language, if you see shapes, images, words in your head… if you are in any way creative, then you need to watch Elizabeth Gilbert and hear her message.

And to Susan? I should have listened weeks ago when you sent this. Thank you, thank you.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Hi James:
    Someone sent this to me over email a week or so ago – I loved it, too. The woman is brilliant, and I’ve been thinking about what she said ever since.

    Christie´s last blog post…Know What You Want

  2. Thanks so much for this James – love it. A great message.

    Not only could I listen to her voice for hours on end, but that’s a fantastically natural presentation. I would dearly love to do something similar with as much grace in the future…which is kind of her point.

    “Just do your dance anyway.”

    Steve Errey – The Confidence Guy´s last blog post…Confidence Interview – Rebecca Thorman of

  3. Yeah, I watched this a couple weeks back after it showed up on TED. Absolutely great for anybody making a living as a writer.

    (As somebody who has become a full-time writer over just the last year, I’ve marveled at how difficult it is to maintain a healthy relationship with my work. It’s just not something you have to deal with as much when working the day job.)

    ObliviousInvestor´s last blog post…Weekend Reading 3/20/09

  4. Wow. What a great philosophy, and how freeing. Good or bad, it’s not ‘me’.

    Your first few paragraphs describes my world as well. Although I’m not a ‘writer’ as such – I write however I don’t call myself a writer – the truth there still applies.

    And I’m another who won’t sit and watch most video’s – this one kept me listening all the way through! It took me three goes to watch all of Jerry Maguire!

    Thanks for posting this!

    Melinda´s last blog post…Do You Have Blogger’s Block? Coming up With New Content Continuously

  5. I am glad you watched the Gilbert talk, it is one of my favorites at TED. A brilliant way of describing the creative process.

  6. James,

    I saw this video on the TED site about three weeks ago and was totally blown away by it. I think I replayed it two or three times to make sure it sunk in. It’s good to see it highlighted here in this post.


  7. I was sent this a couple of weeks ago but didn’t get around to watching it until this Saturday. My wife and I watched it together in bed. Absolutely wonderful.

    Writer Dad´s last blog post…The End of the Rainbow

  8. Seen it three times now, I love the idea of having a genius. It’s easy to imagine and it makes you a team, working together to create a thing of beauty.

    Stephen King talks about the same thing in his book On Writing. His genie is a basement guy, sitting in a chair smoking cigars, usually only grunting. As a writer you have to put in the hours and do the groundwork, Stephen says, but you need to be ready when the inspiration guy starts talking and feed you with little nuggets of gold.

    Ever since I saw this talk I started to imagine this, and talk to my genie too – when I’m alone in the room 😉 – Now I need to make it a place where it feels home (a farseeing place, Stephen King calls it), my intuition tells me it should be on a mountain top. I vividly remember one in Jasper NP, near Miette Hotsprings…

    Lodewijk´s last blog post…Watch Your Language

  9. LisaNewton says:

    Like you, videos often lose my attention very quickly, so, I started this video in the background and continued to work on a blog post. But, as I was hearing it in the background, I started really listening and watching.

    Thank you. Even though I don’t consider myself a writer per se, I do consider my blog, which is an artistic expression of myself via my writing and photographs and travels, to be a creative expression, so I so share some of the same feelings as people who are more creative.

    Even now, as I’m writing this comment, it’s dawning on me that even if no one came to my blog, I would still need to put up my thoughts, photos, writing, and travels. It truly is a need, and I love it.

    However, I also want to share it, so I do hope people come, because, as Elizabeth said in her speech, I will still do my “job.”

    LisaNewton´s last blog post…Macarthur Park is going to The People

  10. Hi James,

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I welled up at the end. Very powerful stuff.

    We are not alone 🙂


  11. Christopher Garlington says:

    It’s cold, gray, and wet here in Chicago at 9:15 in the morning and I have a book to edit and rewrite.

    This video was well timed.

    Christopher Garlington´s last blog post…I never cared for Twitter

  12. Hm. It seems that I’m more behind than I thought – everyone but me has seen the video. Alright, well, yes, you should all watch it again, so there! Nyah!

    @ Writer Dad – You realize that almost begs the question about what happened *after* the video… Um, almost.

    @ Conor – No sir. You’re not alone at all.

    @ Lode – I’m all for talking to myself and seem to do it more since I’ve been online. 😉

    But I’m with you. The concept of disengaging from our creativity is fabulous. Other people do it all the time. “I had a bad day.” They don’t say, “I created a bad day.” Disengaging from the pressure of creativity is a very, very smart idea. There’s no reason for creative types to become raving alcoholics consumed by depression, as Elizabeth so clearly states.

    That said, is it too early for Shiraz?

    @ Bengt, Christie and Mark – And you guys didn’t TELL me about this video? Sheesh!

    @ Melinda – It’s not me either. I’m glad that I can blame someone else 🙂

    @ Oblivious – You said it right there. We have unhealthy relationships with writing, and in extremes, too. Maintaining those relationships is really, really, really stupid and a killer. So don’t sustain them, and simply show up for your job.

    @ Steve – Ah, yeah, I love public speakers who have that much grace and elegance. She was just beautiful, just by the way she delivered her message.

  13. Pretty rare for me to actually watch an entire video, especially one that is nearly 20 minutes in length.

    I’m glad I stayed.

    You know I write about inspiring writers. It’s what I do. I found this to be particularly inspiring and amazingly enough it ties into what I was planning to post today.

    Folks – take the time to watch the entire video. It’s worth every minute.

    And James, thanks for sharing it with us.


    Tumblemoose´s last blog post…Your writing is killing your writing

  14. rjleaman says:

    I too was out of the loop on this video, James – so I thank you so much for putting it put where I’d find it. The timing is actually, accidentally, very good: I was up until almost dawn, doing what Gilbert would call that “mulish” showing-up-for-the-job, and so am beset this morning by that gut-deep anxiety that inevitably comes with sleep deprivation and a think-it’s-finished draft.

    Can I come back as Elizabeth Gilbert in my next life, by the way? I’m sure I’d be a much better writer if tall and blond and elegant and graceful and…

    And I thank you, too, for that rare precious glimpse of your own occasions of angst and self-doubt – astounding and heartening to see that even the fab James Chartrand can have those moments! 😉

  15. @ Christopher and Tumblemoose- You’re welcome 🙂

    @ RJ – You realize that you had me sitting up straight saying, “What? What’d I say?” I had to come back to read lest I’d accidentally dropped my pants somewhere along the way and revealed a bit too much. 😉

    I grant you permission to come back as Elizabeth if I can come back as Hercules.

    @ Lisa – That’s exactly what I did. “Video, mutter mutter… video… what’d she say? Hm. Mutter… what? What was that? I have to listen to this…”

  16. Wow, I hadn’t seen this, but I’m so glad I did. Reminds me of The Golden Compass in a way…the book mind you, not the movie. Great video and I’m going to find a book of hers just to hear more.

  17. Urban Panther says:

    Okay, can’t watch the video from work … sigh, so will have to come back to this tonight. Holy, 20 minutes? I think my video watching attention span is even shorter than James’. Well, we’ll see.

    So, why am I commenting if I haven’t watched the video? Because of Writer Dad. Watched it in bed with his wife. Geesh! Why did he have to add that little tid bit of detail? He’s such a master at dropping little teasers and dashing off again. Likely cackling madly as he does so.

  18. What a brilliant speaker, just thought I would take a glimpse and ended up watching the whole video. Its very true the pressure each of us puts on on our creative process and the failure we feel if it doesn’t quite meet our expectations or others. I do like the idea that you are being used as a vessel for the which inspiration can be channel through you and sometimes it simply passes you by. Have you by any chance read her book?

  19. This is a great video. I saw it a few weeks ago, and it’s had a pretty big impact on my thinking about creativity, consistency, “showing up,” the muse/daemon, all that stuff. All of which can only help me in my work. I’m glad the folks here liked it too!

    Catherine Cantieri, Sorted´s last blog post…The Sorted Seven – No. 3: Your Calendar

  20. James,

    Oh, yes! Saw this a couple of weeks ago. So awesome. Glad to watch it again.

    There was not a word in her talk that I didn’t relate to and wish I’d said first, because I’ve thought a lot of it but never so clearly. Love that feeling. Like RJ, I want to be her in my next life. Doggoneit. The list of people I want to be in my next life is so long!

    “I would please like the record to reflect today that I showed up for my part of the job.” Yeeeessss.



    Kelly´s last blog post…MCE Round Table: Your Big Mouth and Other Biting (Wit)

  21. James, I have tweeted about this movie several times.

    This video is one of my favs at TED Talks.

    Bengt´s last blog post…Spring Cleaning

  22. WOW
    Thank you for sharing this James.
    I think our modern humanistic society is completely missing the magic of existence, to our detriment. We have bought into the idea that we are the masters of our surroundings and nothing could be farther from the truth. The ancients knew more in their lives of awe than we ever will as we commit magic to the trash heap.
    Once in a while a modern woman is able to glimpse the IT. And once in a very great while someone is blessed with the words to allow us mere mortals to glimpse the source. Elizabeth was that conduit for me.
    I am in awe again.

    Andy@no carb foods´s last blog post…Zero Carb Foods and Glycemic Index

  23. Her idea of externalizing creativity is beautifully expressed and I can see the incredibly power in it. I also think she captures the power of the thoughts we generate to effect the emotions we feel and the need for us to proactively manage our thinking inn order to live happy well adjusted lives.

    A few years ago, I did a month long course (full time, hospital based) on living a happy, productive life with chronic extreme pain. A couple of the key principles revolved around: Disciplined living, breaking the connection between how I feel and what I do and monitoring thoughts for whether or not they are realistic and helpful and replacing those that are not (CBT).

    The argument here I find works from the same base idea, when we subscribe to the belief that creativity is by definition dangerous and destructive. We create a link that need not exist. Whether or not creativity is a damaging is something that is within our power to control by the way we think about it and the way we choose to behave in response to it. She gives interesting insights into the technique set that she uses to manage this, as the ideas are basically similar, changing her thinking model about creativity and changing her work pattern to be list dependent on emotion/inspiration.

  24. @ Maree –

    When we subscribe to the belief that creativity is by definition dangerous and destructive. We create a link that need not exist.

    I fully agree. I think creative people create much of their own agonies, and rewiring the thinking patterns is very crucial. Good on you for mentioning cognitive-behavioral therapy – that stuff works.

    @ Andy – I especially liked her description of the dancer who is pointed at and called Allah. Then he wakes up the next day and realizes he’s just a guy. Pretty hard situation to face, and one that doesn’t have to happen. Being a conduit is a much better mindset to have.

    @ Bengt – Well sheesh, tweet the link when I’m around! 😉

    @ Kelly – I know I’m in the top spot on that list. Admit it.

    @ Catherine – Hm, yes, maybe we should start calling our muse a daemon instead!

    @ Urban – He may cackle, but can he swagger?

    @ Khaled – I haven’t read it yet, but I picked it up last week after watching this video. Have a feeling I may not enjoy it (a little too spiritual for my tastes, perhaps?) but I’ll report in on that.

    @ Nathan – I have to watch the Golden Compass too. Didn’t realize there was a book, so I’ll pick that up as well!

    James Chartrand – Men with Pens´s last blog post…How to Stay Sane and Alive if You’re Creative

  25. Yes, dear James. I want to come back as you. Then Steven Fry, Katherine Hepburn, John Adams, George Sand, and anyone who ever dated Gary Cooper. 😉

    Until later,


    Kelly´s last blog post…Building Your Business With a Poem?

  26. I had a very similar experience with this video. A writing friend kept insisting that I watch it, and I kept not having time. When I finally got around to seeing it, I was inspired and had to blog about it. Wonderful. Great Blog post – thank you.

    uppington´s last blog post…I Am Here – and Headed There

  27. Urban Panther says:

    @James – only you can swagger, my dear James. Only you.

  28. Wow, thanks for sharing! This was just what I needed when I’m comatose in bed with ill health. Good stuff!

    Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach´s last blog post…FINALLY! Probe launched into Acai Berry scam diet products

  29. I just discovered TED recently. I frickin’ love that site. I should watch a video from it every morning to make me feel all inspired for the day ahead. Then I’d never procrastinate again.

    Except for the procrastinating of watching those videos. Sigh. I’m a bad girl.

  30. This video is excellent. I hadn’t seen it yet and has many little pearls. I found myself laughing outloud at certain points as well.

  31. This talk might just be my first step in recovering my sanity. What she talks about is exactly how my creative process works and I’ve kept ignoring it and trying to convince myself I wasn’t the creative type, just some guy who happened to be clever with words!

    Thanks man, you made my day, my month and possibly my year.

    ChattyDM´s last blog post…The Dungeon Reality Show: Half-Time Showdown, Part 1

  32. Wow this caught me off guard. I was looking for something that would help me be sane, because everything I say is either to stupid to me or to complicated to everyone else even if I take a page to explain a simple subject. YES i know its not simple but it is to me.

    This was able to wake me up and make me re-read it because it is what I needed at the moment.

  33. Awesome vid James, thanks for waking me up.


  1. […] How to Stay Sane and Alive if You’re Creative at Men With Pens […]

  2. […] to Men With Pens. And there was the revelation that my view of the world in … ten minutes. Elizabeth Gilbert saved my sanity. If you don’t feel like watching the video, here it is in one sentence: […]

  3. […] through my friend e of Geeks Dream Girl, I stumbled upon this post by James of Men with Pens. It discusses how to stay sane and alive if you are a creative person.  […]

  4. […] Update April 17, 2009 Men With Pens write about How to Stay Sane and Alive if You’re Creative. […]

  5. […] Gilbert, who wrote a book called Eat, Pray Love, once gave a TED speech that suggested creative people are pretty emotionally twisted. Do you think that’s […]

  6. […] through my friend e of Geeks Dream Girl, I stumbled upon this post by James of Men with Pens. It discusses how to stay sane and alive if you are a creative person.  […]

  7. […] Update April 17, 2009 Men With Pens write about How to Stay Sane and Alive if You’re Creative. […]

  8. […] search brought me to a particular blog that gave me the answer. It then brought me to an inspiring Ted Talk by Elizabeth Gilbert, author […]

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