Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Gilbert
LK: Eat, Pray, Love has sold seven million copies worldwide, and has been translated into 30 languages. Feeling any pressure with this next one?
LG: When somebody has an enormous success in this culture, people start asking two questions, which are "What are you doing now?" and "How are you going to beat that?" And I have to say, I love the assumption that your intention is to beat yourself constantly—that you're in battle against yourself. This sort of cannibalistic self-competition...this is largely why people Britney out.
LK: I'm so glad Britney is finally a verb.
LG: And you can make it a gerund: "I was trying to avoid Britneying out." I think I'm really fortunate that this happened to me when I was in my late 30s, not my early 20s. And it happened on my fourth book, not my first. And it happened after I had already gone through a depression, a divorce, years of therapy, a lot of self-reckoning, a spiritual journey. I was in the lucky situation of knowing who I was. And, more important, who I wasn't.
LK: Meaning what?
LG: Meaning I'm not what's being said about me, either in the highest praise or the highest criticism. I know I'm not a self-indulgent idiot; I also know I'm not the second coming of Deepak Chopra. If I had believed either of those, or both, as some people do when they get famous, that's when the mental illness arrives.
LK: Do you sense with this book that people are expecting Son of Eat, Pray, Love?
LG: People want three things simultaneously from your next endeavor: They love what you did, so they want more of that. But they also want it to be totally different, because you have to show that you're reinventing yourself, à la Madonna. And they want it to be better. The same, different, and better. So, no pressure there. Done and done.
I remember being in English class in college and we were discussing To Kill a Mockingbird. And this pimply-faced 19-year-old boy next to me goes, "Harper Lee—one-hit wonder." [Laughs] And I was like, there's something wrong with that. This isn't a pop song; if you have written the definitive 20th-century tome on racism, compassion, and forgiveness, you can take a pass for the rest of your life, if you want to just garden after that. You know, it's crazy. It's just so nuts.
LK: Before this version of Committed, you had completed a 500-page manuscript that you ultimately trashed. What was wrong with it?
LG: When I went back and looked at the first chapter, I could see so clearly, even sentence by sentence, where it was my authentic, current voice, interspersed with attempts to delight and entertain millions of readers whose names I don't know, by throwing in stuff that I thought they might like. Strained attempts at humor. Strained attempts at goofiness that wasn't really going on during the year I was writing about. It wasn't a goofy year. It was a pretty serious year, you know? It just didn't sound right; it just didn't feel right. So I took some time off, and found that my mind kept going back to the marriage book, just thinking, "I do want to tell this story. I just have to give myself permission to hope that my readers will grow up with me."
We Hear You!