Saturday, May 02, 2009


An interesting article on genius, by David Brooks, in the New York Times, regarding a subject to which I have spoken here a time or two.


Dan Moran said...

All right, that's a little freaky. I'm not laying claim to genius, but --

If you wanted to picture how a typical genius might develop, you’d take a girl who possessed a slightly above average verbal ability. It wouldn’t have to be a big talent, just enough so that she might gain some sense of distinction. Then you would want her to meet, say, a novelist, who coincidentally shared some similar biographical traits. Maybe the writer was from the same town, had the same ethnic background, or, shared the same birthday — anything to create a sense of affinity.I started writing my first novel, Third Degree Magic, when I was eight. About that time I learned that Mark Twain and I had the same birthday, Nov. 30.

This contact would give the girl a vision of her future self. It would, Coyle emphasizes, give her a glimpse of an enchanted circle she might someday join. It would also help if one of her parents died when she was 12, infusing her with a profound sense of insecurity and fueling a desperate need for success.My father had a near-fatal heart attack when I was 12, and my parents got divorced immediately afterwards.

Armed with this ambition, she would read novels and literary biographies without end. This would give her a core knowledge of her field. She’d be able to chunk Victorian novelists into one group, Magical Realists in another group and Renaissance poets into another. This ability to place information into patterns, or chunks, vastly improves memory skills. She’d be able to see new writing in deeper ways and quickly perceive its inner workings.When I was eight I read "Stranger in a Strange Land," which my mother had lying around the house. I'm certain I didn't understand most of it, but I read it. In my Junior High School library there was a copy of "Billion Year Spree," by Brian Aldiss -- and abruptly all those people writing the stuff I was reading were people, and I could see myself doing what they did. I sent my first story, "A Day in the Life of a Telephone Pole," to Galaxy Science Fiction when I was 13.

Then she would practice writing. Her practice would be slow, painstaking and error-focused. Then our young writer would find a mentor who would provide a constant stream of feedback, viewing her performance from the outside, correcting the smallest errors, pushing her to take on tougher challenges. By now she is redoing problems — how do I get characters into a room — dozens and dozens of times. She is ingraining habits of thought she can call upon in order to understand or solve future problems.I finished my first novel when I was 16 -- "The Weirdest Western," a novel about an alien invasion of Earth immediately following the Civil War. It was mostly a bad Maverick pastiche, with a hero named Bret, and it was about 600 pages of single-spaced type.

At the same time, I sent a relentless stream of short fiction out into the world. I had two hundred rejection slips before I made a sale -- and the one guy who actually wrote back to me was George Scithers, the editor at Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine. He rejected at light speed -- story off, 2 weeks later the rejection woud come back with some helpful hint or two -- and I'd try again.

I sold him my first story, "All the Time in the World," at 18. That story, expanded, I sold to Bantam Books (and my now-wife, Amy Stout) when I was 23.

I've known lots of people smarter than me. I haven't known many who worked harder at their writing in their teens.

Steve Perry said...

I didn't start trying to get stuff published until I was almost thirty. And Scithers was the guy who encouraged me, too -- my first sale was to him, even though it didn't come out first -- Asimov's was a quarterly, and Galaxy was a bi-monthly, I think, so the second sale came out first.

And I did a short story a week for forty weeks. I made a sale sooner, but I still got three hundred rejections that first years ...

Dan Moran said...

I think I've told you the story -- when I was about twenty I met a guy who was about the age I am now, and he was kind of hostile. He really resented the fact that I was a published writer .... how lucky had I been, to be published at 18?

Turned out he'd written one novel, sent it off once or twice, had it rejected ... and that was it.

By the time I was 20 I'd written about forty short stories, two complete novels, and had big chunks of not just my first novel, but my first, second, and third novels. (I still like reading the scene in my third novel where Trent meets Melissa du Bois for the first time ... I wrote that at 18. It's unchanged in the published novel. I couldn't write well when I was 18, but I could write dialog.)

And I'd been rejected way over 200 times.

Luck had zip to do with it. I don't think I got that across to him.