What Kind of Genius Are You?

Does your work burst like fireworks or must it age like wine?

Until yesterday I was rolling along from Texas to Twentynine Palms, California with my two dogs, Milly and Mimir (also known as the M&M’s). It’s a fairly long drive that streaks through gentle plateaus which are congregate into herds, fiercely rusted rock formations, and mountains that fold upon themselves, looking from a distance as if they are as soft as dunes.

My eyes were saucer dishes for most of this drive, but I desperately needed something to listen to. In my search for a good podcast, I happily uncovered Malcom Gladwell’s ‘Revisionist History.’

As it is stated on the podcast’s website Gladwell reinterprets “…something from the past: an event, a person, an idea. Something overlooked. Something misunderstood.”

The entire project is fascinating and I wholly suggest you all give it a listen, but one particular episode intrigued me as an writer.

Gladwell invites his listeners to follow him as he investigates two forms of genius. He puts two different painters into each camp. Picasso is his prime example of explosive genius. Genius which is near instantaneous and is as clear to anyone as if it is a volcanic eruption. On the other hand, there is Cézanne.

Cézanne was never happy with his work. He would toil on one piece again and again and again until he reached some sort of satisfaction. So unlike Picasso. So undramatic. But genius just the same. The kind of glacial genius that would, in time, carve out majestic canyons.

Gladwell’s research got me thinking.

How many Picasso-like writers are there? I can’t imagine that there are many. The concept of writing an amazing poem or story immediately is incomprehensible to me.

And isn’t every student taught in school to work like Cézanne ?

Draft the work first, then revise, then edit, then revise, then edit — while this process is what truly elevates my own writing, I understand that there must be others out there who can only find this structure to be truly tedious.

So what do you think, writers? Are you a student of Picasso or Cézanne?

Let me know in the comments!

2 thoughts on “What Kind of Genius Are You?

  1. Given that I just spent the entire day today re-envisioning and reworking a piece of fiction I thought I was done with in the 1990s, I’d say that places me firmly in the Cezanne camp!


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