Well, not exactly.
I've just finished an astonishing, hopeful book called The Genius in All of Us, by David Shenk. Shenk argues that we all have far more capacity than we give ourselves credit for; that through focussed application we can all become very, very good at what we dream of doing -- not only that, but we can, like the London cabbies he writes about -- actually grow our brains. The whole idea of "talent" is a red herring. People are not born with talent -- not Mozart and not Ted Williams. They became legends because they practiced really, really, really hard. But here's the real kicker:
|Shenk says these arrows should actually |
be pointing in the same direction
It's not enough to play a lot of soccer or chess (it's not enough to write for three hours every day including Sunday). It's not enough to go to a good critique group and attend tons of conferences. It's not enough to simply want it very badly.
"Deliberate practice requires a mindset of never, ever being satisfied with your current ability. It requires constant self-critique, a pathological restlessness, a passion to aim consistently just beyond one's capability so that daily disappointment and failure is actually desired, and a never-ending resolve to dust oneself off and try again and again and again."In other words, Shenk says that to attain expertise, you have to push yourself to failure, deliberately. Just like weight-lifters do in the gym. That's how you grow your writing muscles.
How many of us really do this, I wonder? I'm thinking about a series of exercises we might do as writers that would aim us toward small daily failures in a deliberate way. Do you all have any tricks you use to push yourselves beyond your comfort zone? And how does that work out for you? I'd love to hear about it.