Plodding toward Genius

A recent op-ed in the New York Times tells us that modern research dispels the myth of genius. Apparently genius can be nurtured with the right set of circumstances, the right timing and mentoring. I find it interesting that the example given is a young person with a gift for words. Ah, but wouldn’t it be lovely if we all found our proper mentors at precisely the right time!

But perhaps we writers – no matter what our age – can somehow mentor ourselves and each other through the plodding, incessant work of simply writing. Canadian novelist Pauline Gedge, author of Child of the Morning and many other excellent historical novels, calls writing “one-tenth good times of inspiration and nine-tenths sheer drudgery”. I couldn’t agree with her more.

So often writing is simply work – or perhaps not SIMPLY work, but work coupled with the self-effacing agony of doubt – doubt in one’s capacity, one’s stamina, one’s talent. We are filled with the hovering anxiety that we are hopelessly wasting our own and everyone else’s time. Yet as writers – despite logic, despite rejections, despite critical reviews or hard-bitten assessments from associates and even friends – despite everything, we trudge doggedly forward.

Perhaps there will be a payoff – somewhere down the line that telephone will ring with the golden news that we will indeed see our work published at long last! Perhaps all this drudgery is our required dues, along the lines of Malcolm Gladwell’s idea of 10,000 hours, that if we slog dutiful through years of practice, somehow, someday we will reap our just reward. Or, is the act of writing the reward in itself?

As Ms. Gedge writes: “The longer [the writer] has been writing, the greater the accumulation of evidence that indeed, he is ripening. One cannot keep writing without improvement. It is impossible.” Encouraging words, as is her attitude toward publication, that its inevitability is inherent in our undaunted progress, step by step along creativity’s illimitable road.



  • Sandra

    This was encouraging and comforting and a nice, swift kick in the pants. Love me some Pauline Gedge but love me some Judith Lindbergh even more. 🙂

  • Eli Z

    I think that a writer is better created through abject suffering.
    “Inside every artist there’s a child alone in the attic, crying for mommy.” – John Lennon

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