The creative process: Something to muse on

I learned an old thing in a new way recently, that when applied could be transformative for anyone who struggles with harnessing creativity – and taming the ego. Here’s the thing: “It’s not about me.” Success – or failure, for that matter – doesn’t have to define you.

Author Elizabeth Gilbert (see the book review below) gave one of the most insightful TED Talks I have ever heard, discussing the origin of inspiration in creative writing.

Gilbert was motivated to find a way to understand and contain her surprising success after penning the best-selling memoir “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia” (Viking Adult, 2006), without succumbing to the doomed realization that her best work might be behind her. She looked to history for the answer and discovered a way to do her work but detach herself from the outcome. She found her muse.

I encourage you to listen to her 18-minute TED Talk on her creative process. It is a delightful yarn and can be applied to many areas of life. (Visit and search for “Elizabeth Gilbert: your elusive creative genius.”)

The heart of her insightful presentation is that prior to the Renaissance, it was common knowledge that writers and artists received their words and plots, paintings and carvings, from a source outside of themselves. The Greeks referred to this helpful presence as a “daemon” and the Romans called it a “genius.” A more common reference in our day is that of a “muse.” These inspiring “others” got much of the credit for the creative works of that era. The author or artist was simply the conduit. This worked perfectly, alleviating the mere mortal of the angst he or she might feel in pursuit of exceeding his or her greatest work or at the prospect of being crushed by a lackluster performance.

Then came the Renaissance, when suddenly the human being became the center of the universe and any magical assistance from outside was dismissed. You no longer had a genius, you became the genius. The malleable human ego was constantly being judged and always found wanting.

Moving forward, our artists and writers frequently came to a sad demise, often at their own hand, because they could not contain their successes or failures. Our fragile human psyches were not designed for this kind of pressure. Gilbert describes it as “trying to swallow the sun.”

“Maybe (artistry) doesn’t have to be quite so full of anguish if you never happened to believe, in the first place, that the most extraordinary aspects of your being came from you,” she said. “But maybe, if you just believed that they were on loan to you from some unimaginable source for some exquisite portion of your life to be passed along when you’re finished … it starts to change everything.”

I’m just saying … not to brag, but I have always known how tragically deficient I am on my own. My dear mother did not try very hard to divide me from my imaginary friends, who still today are a source of great entertainment and wisdom in my inner landscape. I am never quite alone in that way.

Now, if you will excuse me, my daemon/genius/muse is telling me to button this up before everyone wants her attention. (She just can’t take that kind of pressure.)

Sharon Lennox-Infante is a Certified Life Coach who lives and works in Los Altos. For more information, visit

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