What is genius? I don’t like it when people use the term genius, primarily because I think they misuse the word. I believe that genius is an aspect of our nature, rather than a character trait belonging to a select few. Although, I do believe that some people, for whatever reason, display a greater drive for genius. They have the ambition, curiosity, and willingness to be a channel for what wants to be expressed through them. 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. 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 connects to our desire for truth, our curiosity about a world beyond ourselves.
Writers frequently ask me, “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. Some believe that our creative gift is somehow a finite commodity, and that 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? Focus on the task at hand, tell a story, marshal your curiosity and your intuitive sense of how this world works, then put 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. Nurturing it, I can work with it on a daily basis. I can stop making assumptions about how I think the world works. I can start to get curious, investigate my own humanity as it pertains to the story I want to tell.
Sometimes interviewers have asked 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. Tell me your story 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.