Genius: young and old, early and late

Malcolm Gladwell, of The Tipping Point and Blink fame, has a really interesting article in the latest New Yorker, concerning “literary genius.” The main examples he makes use of are Ben Fountain and Jonathan Safran Foer, but he also mentions Picasso, Cezanne, Hitchcock, and Twain.

(via Galleycat)

I wonder about some of it. At least in terms of the two examples he uses, as both authors are still reasonably early in their careers (lives notwithstanding). Also: I know that part of Gladwell’s schtick, so to speak, is the whole Blink effect; that we decide everything right away, and I wonder if that conflicts with Chris Anderson’s idea of the long tail, i.e., selling less of more. Gladwell’s theories seem to work best on a short-term level; Hollywood blockbusters, first impressions, that kind of thing, but consider the opposite: the movie that has a modest opening but goes forever. It’s rare nowadays mainly because of quirks in distribution, but the idea of the sleeper hit used to be rather more common, I think.

Then again, maybe I wonder because I’m on the closer side to 31, which makes me feel a bit like a late bloomer. I started the novel that became The Prodigal Hour during my senior year of college, for all intents and purposes (though I’d begun the story years before), and I only actually finished it this past, what, July? August? Something like that. Over that decade, there were drafts and revisions and rewrites, over and over again.

Then again, I’m really only 30. I could still make that thirty under 35 list, and I still have a good few years for a shot at it.

But really, I think that what Gladwell misses is that it’s not a binary thing. It’s not an either/or situation, and I neither do I think it’s related to the writer, or the way writers create.

I think it’s related to the story. Some stories simply necessarily take longer than others, in telling and in execution, at least in doing them justice. Some stories take a while for gestation, and some even need to wait until you’ve got the craft to support your talent. During my twenties, I was often told I had a lot of raw talent, and really, I think it took more careful study of craft, not to mention greater discipline, to begin to refine it.

Me, I don’t worry about the timing, so much, most of the time. Most of the time I try not to think too much about the ultimate grail quest of getting published, mainly for the reason that so little of that quest is under my control. Gladwell mentions the market in his essay, which is an important consideration. Especially from my perspective: being a new and unpublished writer, I keep reading doom-and-gloom articles that the current state of the economy means fewer and fewer publishers are willing to take a chance on writers like me.

Then again, I look at that statement and I think: how is that different from usual?

One thought on “Genius: young and old, early and late

  1. MIKE ON THE ROAD

    If you write then you are a writer. There is a big difference between writing and the business of writing. I personally remain true to the writing and learned this year after writing 10 books that at some point one has to let go of the book and let it have a life of its own. Believe and Try is my motto! And as long as I never quit doing what I love to do then I will always be a writer. I hope this brings peace to the spirit of the writer in you and releases the creative forces on to the page everyday of your life. And I hope that you will let the books go out and let them have a life of their own. I did on my first one this year, which I wrote in 1999 and believe me it was a great relief and I started writing again after getting so frustrated in 2001 when I had finished the 10 books and not knowing what to do next as far as the business of writing goes.
    Kindest,
    Michael


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