I don’t like it when people use the term genius, primarily because I think the word is misused. I believe that genius is an aspect of our nature, rather than a character trait belonging to a select few — though I do believe that some people, for whatever reason, display a greater ambition, curiosity, and willingness to be a channel for what wants to be expressed through them, while in others this potential lies dormant, and is never realized.
Webster calls genius a “natural ability” or “a strong inclination,” as well as “a great mental capacity or inventive ability.” Frankly, I’m not crazy about their definition either. I don’t think it gets to the full truth.
I believe that genius is, quite simply, our innate potential to evolve. It is universal and lives in all of us, and when manifested, can achieve feats that defy our expectations. Genius is connected to our desire for truth, our curiosity about a world beyond ourselves. I am frequently asked, “Can you tell me if I have talent so that I don’t have to waste my time writing only to discover that I’m a fraud?” There is an inherent assumption in this question that our creative gift is somehow a finite commodity, and that most probably we are cursed with too little to even bother getting started. My answer is that if you have a desire to write, then why not write? Why not let go of the result for a little while and focus on the task at hand, telling a story, marshaling your curiosity, your intuitive sense of how this world works, and putting it down on paper. You might even discover what Don DeLillo calls the writer’s dirty secret. It’s actually fun! (It is true madness when we are so result-oriented, that we would consider a joyful, invigorating activity “time wasted” because it didn’t bring us fame and riches with our first gallop out the gate). Be curious about your fears, your troubles, your foibles, but only as they work in service to something universal, something that can lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves. It is through our own personal transformation that we become able to help others through our art.
I prefer to think of genius in terms of a relationship. I can have a relationship to my genius nature. I can nurture it, by working with it on a daily basis. I can stop making assumptions about how I think the world works, and I can start to get curious, investigate my own humanity as it pertains to the story I want to tell.
I was asked once in an interview if I had any advice for aspiring writers.
Advice? I don’t have advice. Stop aspiring and start writing. If you’re writing, you’re a writer. Write like you’re a goddamn death row inmate and the governor is out of the country and there’s no chance for a pardon. Write like you’re clinging to the edge of a cliff — white knuckles, on your last breath — and you’ve got just one last thing to say. Write like you’re a bird flying over us and you can see everything, and please, for God’s sake, tell us something that will save us from ourselves. Take a deep breath and tell us your deepest, darkest secret so we can wipe our brow and know that we’re not alone. Write like you have a message from the king. Or don’t. Who knows, maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who doesn’t have to.