Therese here. Today’s guest is Joe Bunting, who’s here today to blog about two different sorts of writers: the Genius and the Late Bloomer. Joe, a self-professed Late Bloomer, founded the blog The Write Practice, a site that showcases craft techniques and then encourages writers to practice them for fifteen minutes a day, six days a week.
Thanks for being here, Joe!
If You’re Discouraged Because Your Writing Sucks…
I found one story in Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw particularly helpful in understanding my writing career. There are two writers. One, Ben Fountain, stutters toward a breakout short-fiction collection eighteen years after he quit his day job to write. The other, Jonathan Safran Foer, takes a creative writing class as a freshman in college, and then as a sophomore writes Everything is Illuminated in two-and-a-half months.
Sometimes life just isn’t fair.
There are, according to Gladwell, two different career arcs: the Genius and the Late Bloomer. Which one are you?
Let’s start by breaking them down:
1. The Genius.
Illustrated by Foer, TS Eliot, Faulkner, Stephen King, Kerouac and all those other writers who can churn out three-hundred page manuscripts in months, despite the fact they are not yet legally allowed to drink.
2. Late Bloomers
There are others who have a certain kind of genius they just haven’t realized yet. They have vision, they know something about what they’re trying to achieve, but they don’t have the skills to make their vision reality. They’re still searching for something.
There are plenty of examples of this breed: Mark Twain, who did not publish Huckleberry Finn until he was nearly fifty, Robert Frost, Daniel Defoe, William Carlos Williams. There are more outside the realm of writing, people like Cezanne, Alfred Hitchcock, Frank Gehry, and Gandalf (who was hundreds of years old before he really came into his own).
There is also me. And maybe you.
How do you know if you’re a late bloomer? Working off Gladwell, I’ve devised some test questions to find out if you are a genius or a late bloomer.
• Do you take longer than three months to write your novels?
• Do you sometimes stop in the middle of writing and say, “Oh shit! I don’t know anything about my subject. I need to go do research?”
• Have you been writing for years, but still often feel like a complete novice?
If you answered “yes” to any of these, you’re not a genius. Sorry! You might, however, be a late bloomer. There is one final test to be sure; this is the most important test.
• Do you have people who support your writing career unconditionally (and sometimes financially)?
If you don’t, you probably won’t be able to write long enough to find out if you’re a late bloomer.
What was true about Fountain’s career and many other late bloomers is that they had people who believed in them blindly. People who knew they had the courage and, yes, even skill, to be successful.
Do you have someone who would do what both Fountain and Twain’s wives did, basically bankroll their writing careers, allowing them unlimited time to succeed (and mostly fail) at their craft? Do you, at the very least, have people who will give you emotional support through your volatile relationship with your work?
Gladwell ends with Ben Fountain looking at his wife:
She was sitting next to him, and he looked at her in a way that made it plain that he understood how much of the credit for [his book] belonged to his wife. His eyes well up with tears.
I, however, will end with a quote from Ben Fountain’s Wikipedia page:
A novel, The Texas Itch, was scheduled to appear in 2009, but is ‘on the back burner’ indefinitely.
It appears that Mr. Fountain still has some blooming to do.
Thanks for a great post, Joe, from one Late Bloomer to another! Readers, you can learn more about Joe at his site, The Write Practice; and you can follow The Write Practice on Twitter and Facebook. Write on!
Photo courtesy Flickr’s Koinos Zoi Photography.