Friday, February 24, 2012

Tipping Toward Genius

I had finished writing a middle-grade novel and was wondering what the next book would be, for there’s always the “next” for this writer. I was in that mode where I was sure the creative juices were gone and I’d never get a new idea ever again. (My family and friends tell me I always do this, but each time it feels like the first time and I panic.)
Malcolm Gladwell claims in his book The Tipping Point, that there is a point where social epidemics, be they fashion trends, diseases, or behavior patterns, will tip into a new mode, a new paradigm. And it’s often the little things that make the difference.
I definitely have my tipping points like when Quicken acts up, the computer is slow, and I discover I’ve made an error in the lunch date time. I tip. But I wanted something to tip me into a creative frame of mind.
And it happened, just as Gladwell predicted it would. It might not make logical sense, but it worked. Here’s how it happened. (I love these serendipity events and mine seem to come in 3s.)
First. I read the book Room by Emma Donoghue. I loved it. Had to read it two more times right away.  It’s written from the point of view of a five-year old boy. I am always amazed at how much I take for granted, how much is just background material. Here’s a child, literally new to the world (can’t tell you why as it will spoil it for you when you read the book), and he notices everything. Most of my language is in clichés, hackneyed phrases that have lost their cleverness—their patina. That little boy woke me up to find new ways to see common things, to be willing to get out of my ordinary ruts.
Second. I watched a TED Talk by Linda Grey, author of Eat, Pray, Love.  She said the early Greeks talked about a genius from which ideas came to people. It did not reside within people. You couldn’t say, “She’s a genius.” For the idea or talent came to the person from outside—from the genius. The Romans did a similar thing only they called it a daemon. It too was outside of the person. And then at some point in history someone said, “He’s a genius,” and we were all doomed. That phrase put that inventor of ideas right into the ego domain and we’ve been stuck there ever since. I had certainly been stuck, for when I was twelve and had finished reading Tale of Two Cities I longed with all my being to be a writer, but I knew I couldn't be for I didn't have the talent, the genius. It took many years before I even attempted to write anything.
Third. I had a conversation with my friends Peggy & Tom. They’re taking a course at the University of Washington about the aesthetics and religion of Native Americans. They tell me that the Native Americans compared that “flow” of ideas and talents to a river or stream that came from a source and flowed through each individual. I would say it’s the Muse or the Holy Spirit coming from the Universe/God and it’s available 24/7 to everyone.
I tipped!
Just the other day, I got an email from my cousin asking what I’d done to prepare myself for writing my blog. Had I read a lot? Taken courses and seminars in writing? Studied? Could he learn how? I answered “Yes” to all the questions. You see, I also had read Gladwell’s book The Outliers and know that it takes about 10,000 hours to get good at anything. So I walk a delicate line between working at the craft and listening to the muse. Gotta have both. So now I’ve got an idea for the next book; I’m making notes, doing research, calling on the genius/muse, and listening hard. Have you tipped lately?


  1. This is FANTASTIC....and exactly what I needed today! Love and miss you!

  2. Really thought provoking and inspiring post Ruth. I've heard lots of references to Gladwell's work, but beyond the bits and dabs on outliers that I appropriated for my work as an "agent of change" in my education role, I confess I haven't read it the way it deserves to be read. Maybe it's time that I do. I just posted a review of a book I just read by Paul Auster called Timbuktu, which is told through the viewpoint of a dog. It affected me in much the same way that you have described The Room affecting you here. I think your friends Peggy and Tom are onto something. I've long believed that creative ideas come from the "ether" "life force" "chi" "universal flow" the "vortex" - call it what you will. I've had experiences of literally "channeling" ideas, creative works, solutions to problems from that "place" where my muses speak to me. Great blog post Ruth! Thanks!