Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Radio Lab says I'm a genius.

So it must be true. If you want to hear it for yourself, listen to this. You may be a genius, too. If you don't have the time or inclination to listen to the show, or you've just listened to it and missed the part where they said, "This conclusively proves that Ben is a genius," I'll explain myself.

It's an interview with Malcolm Gladwell. His theory about genius is that it isn't so much a result of innate ability as a love of what one is doing.

Let's pause and let that sink in.

The more I've thought about that over the past week, the more I've come to believe that he's right. He cites a couple of examples for his theory, but most of my thinking about this has been more personal. I can relate to what he says about love. I love writing. I looove writing. When I'm not writing, I'm usually thinking about it. When I have setbacks, like my critique group says I've gotten something completely wrong in one chapter and I realize I've done the same thing through the entire book, it only gets me down for about five minutes. Literally. And then I'm fired up to fix it. I don't mind rewriting entire books, because I love the book, I love the characters, and I love writing.

I know that doesn't make me a genius. It merely opens up the possibility. What's that famous quote about genius? It's ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration? Could that literally be true?

I'm the first person to admit that hard work can't get you everything you want. I feel that there's more to genius than hard work, and love is as good a word as any other. Einstein spent years thinking about light before making the connection with time. Why? Because he loved thinking about it. He wanted to understand. He had that intense desire that can't be summoned up by will, or competition, or passing interest. He didn't come up with the answer after working on the problem for a day, or a few months. He spent years on it, during which he became the genius who knew enough about that specific problem to make the logical leap that gave us relativity. It's probably safe to say that no one had ever spent so much time and energy on the question of what happens when you travel the speed of light. It wasn't easy for him by any means.

When you really love doing something, you think about it, you practice it, it becomes part of your life, an integral part of who you are. Rather than setting aside discreet chunks of time to work on it, it finds its way into everything you do. You're always practicing. In that way, it's not just about hard work. No amount of hard work can get you what a genuine love of the task will get you. In fact, when you love doing something, it ceases to be work.

Writers like to complain about how hard writing is, how much work it takes to create a really good novel. In reality, they don't want anyone to find out they're being paid to do something they'd do for free. Am I right? Most wrote for many years before getting paid.

The moral of this story is that talent doesn't come from nowhere. It develops from love. If you weren't born writing perfect manuscripts, don't despair. All you need is love—and someday you'll be a genius, too.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, so true! That's why I will never be a great flute player (just one example among many). I have a 'talent' for it, but I never have 'loved' it. Sounds like you will be (are) a great writer though!

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