Are You (and Your Genius-Level Writing) Ready?Written by: Michael Kim
Published: Aug 9, 2016
In an episode of Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell examines how works of genius evolve over time.
He presents two types of genius people: The Picasso kind and the Cézanne kind.
Pablo Picasso was a Spanish artist, well known for Cubism. He worked fast and prolifically.
Paul Cézanne was a French post-Impressionist painter who worked slowly. He once said, “I am progressing very slowly, for nature reveals herself to me in very complex forms; and the progress needed is incessant.”
People like Picasso finish projects fast, seemingly producing work easily. They may find success early in life, such as Orson Welles, who made Citizen Kane when he was 25.
People like Cézanne endlessly tinker with their work, never satisfied. Cézanne was famous for his “doubt.” According to philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, “he would take hours sometimes to put down a single stroke.”
Creative genius is not birthed overnight
If we’re talking about forming a canon of great work or becoming a master, then putting in the 10,000 hours of practice is not exactly overnight.
Is it possible to be discouraged because you hear overnight success stories? Almost all the time, those successes did not exactly occur overnight. You don’t hear about the stories of people living in their cars, working two or three jobs, getting rejected by publisher after publisher, or, being in that “in between” stage, where a singer or writer has an agent but is stuck in relative anonymity.
As far as a genius idea, it may “come to you” in a dream, but the execution of it takes time, energy and multiple drafts.
So how do you know when to let others in on the project?
Know when something is "ready"
Unfortunately, no easy answer exists. One thing is certain, though: eventually, people will need to be exposed to something - whichever draft or version of the project you call it - which means admitting it’s ready enough, even if it's not perfect.
Gladwell talks about the song Hallelujah and how it became a popular tune, covered by many artists. The songwriter, Leonard Cohen, is a Cézanne type, working on the song for years, writing over 80 verses. Another singer, John Cale, took his song, selected verses, tweaked them and covered it. That led to a cover of Cale’s version by Jeff Buckley, which became the most famous cover of them all - a cover of a cover of a very different original song.
Bob Dylan asked Cohen how long it took him to write the endlessly unfinished Hallelujah. He replied, “two years.” Cohen asked Dylan how long it took him to write I & I. Dylan replied, “15 minutes.”
Cohen is clearly Cézanne, while Dylan is Picasso.
By the way, despite painting hundreds of paintings of the same still life object or model, Cézanne's work was at some point ready.
How do you know your screenplay, novel, song, or illustration is ready?
You may never have an exact answer, but know that working on the same thing for a lifetime is not exclusive to it being ready.
It may be fun to guess whether you are more Cézanne than Picasso or vice versa, but the important question is: are you ready for others to be ready for your art?
Questions? Comments? Write me at InkTipStoryPower (at) gmail dot com
Michael Kim has worked in every department at InkTip. He is now the VP of Product Development & Media. Besides making music, he likes debating art and culture and petting other people's dogs.