Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Farewell to Genius

'Writers form themselves into the pyramid we see in all areas of human talent and human creativity.  At the bottom are the bad ones.  Above them is a group which is slightly smaller but still large and welcoming; these are the competent writers. [...] The next level is much smaller.  These are the really good writers.  Above them - above all of us - are the Shakespeares, the Faulkners, the Yeatses, Shaws, and Eudora Weltys. They are geniuses, divine accidents, gifted in a way which is beyond our ability to understand, let alone attain.'

-Stephen King, On Writing (2000)

I have spent the first half of my life rather blithely (and ridiculously - yes, I see that now) assuming I was a member of the final tier:  in with the geniuses.  It's mortifying to admit, but it's the naked truth.  I have actually been assuming that's just the sort I am by birth and that I haven't given notice to the world of this fact only because I just can't be bothered to really try.  I spun out lyrics in several bands for the better part of two decades and considered myself a gifted under-achiever.  Now that I'm really, really trying to write fiction (what I've assumed I was put here to do since I was a little kid), I know better.  I am not a genius.  I am not even in with the 'really good writers'.  I do have a gift and capacity for writing.  I am competent.  The sober self-assessment stops there.

King says his book is premised on the idea that competent writers can, with much effort, be trained to be good writers (even though good writers can never be trained to be great).  I consider myself on that training programme and no more.

Farewell to genius.  You were one of my more pleasant and comforting delusions and I will miss you.  But good riddance too.  For here's hoping you'll hold me back no longer from what I can really, by grace, achieve in this short bewildering life.