all about women creative creativity sydney

It was all about women today at the Sydney Opera House. A series of talks were held at the iconic venue, which celebrated International Women’s Day through examining ideas that are important to women.

The All About Women Festival featured Australian and international perspectives on female experiences. The programme included many well-known speakers like Australian of the Year and domestic violence survivor/awareness advocate Rosie Batty, journalist Annabel Crabb, feminist commentator Clementine Ford and Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat Pray Love fame.

Elyse (from Notes on Bliss) and I went along to listen to two of the talks: Overwhelmed with Brigid Shulte and then How to be Creative with Elizabeth Gilbert.

Overwhelmed was first up, with Shulte (a Washington Post journalist and bestselling author) exploring the pressures women have on their time. Shulte discussed the overwhelming results of two unrealistic societal expectations: the perfect worker, who works long hours and has little work-life balance, and the perfect mother and wife, who is the caregiver and 50s-esque domestic goddess.

When both of these expectations combine and women feel that they need to meet both in order to be adequate, the result can be that we disconnect with who we really are. The frantic cycle of the daily grind of trying to be the perfect mother, wife and employee mean that there’s no time for creativity or reflection and therefore a loss of self.

Shulte shared poignant experiences from her own life to illustrate her points, which from the faces of those around me, moved many of the members of the audience. During the question and answer time at the end of the talk, the audience entered into a discussion with Shulte on how they might go about creating a more equal partnership with their spouses and more space in their schedules. The main message was to engage in open communication and change your own role in the relationship first.

I’m still processing her talk even now, in terms of traditional gender roles and their impact on women’s identity, and would love to read her book on the subject Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time.

After Overwhelmed, we had a half hour break to for some champagne and snack food, before going on to listen to Elizabeth Gilbert speak about creativity and women.

The author of Eat Pray Love explored the obstacles that women often face when attempting to create a creative work. Gilbert spoke about how perfectionism, feelings of unworthiness and thoughts of being underqualified can especially get in the way of women when it comes to creativity. On the point of creativity, Gilbert stressed that “done is better than good”. “A good enough book written this year is better than a perfect book written never,” she said.

Gilbert even shared an anecdote from her own career on this point, telling us that one of the characters in her most recent novel The Signature of All Things wasn’t fully developed and really just acted as a plot device. It was tempting to go back and fix the character, Gilbert said, but she had already spent four years on the book and wanted to move on to other things. “It’s all held together by rope and sticky tape from the back,” she said of creative works. Gilbert laughed as she recalled reading critical reviews of her books and feeling grateful that the reviewer “didn’t even see this other thing I really fucked up – sucker!” Gilbert stressed that the important thing was not how the creative work was received, but rather that it nourished and sustained the creator.

It was really inspiring to know that such a successful author also judges her own work harshly and struggles with fear! Many of the feelings and experiences around creating that Gilbert shared really resonated with me as things I worry about, or think about, or identify as my own bad habits.

In particular, I have the terrible habit of thinking I need to have a good space to work before I start writing. Before I can sit down and be productive, I tend to clean my room, the house, the bathroom, declutter, do the laundry and basically tick of my entire to do list. By the time that’s finished, I’m pretty tired and spend way less time actually writing than I do prepping for it. Gilbert suggested that people like me who feel like their environment is important to their work, need to break out of that by working in the least creative spot they can think of – like a bus shelter or the lobby of a large corporation. I haven’t quite managed that, but right now I’m typing this from bed in my messy room, surrounded by half empty cups of coffee and water, so I guess that’s progress.

Another thing I really took away from the talk was to just get on with it and create, rather than worrying about things being liked or perfect or marketable, or other external factors largely beyond my control.

Like Brigid Schulte’s talk, Elizabeth Gilbert’s session was also based on one of her books: the upcoming Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.

All About Woman is an annual festival, and definitely worth checking out in March 2016, if you missed it this time around.

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