Ordinary Genius: Why it's Hard to Recognize What You've Always Had

Like anyone else, writers are likely to take for granted their most valuable creative asset -- namely, their curiosity. After all, everyone is curious about something. Being curious does not require any particular talent. Nor does being curious require hard work or dedication. Curiosity, being interested, is simply a consequence of being alive, and aware that certain things naturally attract my attention and other things do not. My curiosity is as familiar to me as my reflection in the mirror.

It is different than, say, looking at a painting I love. Something comes to life in me with a speed that is as surprising as the painting is original. Though my experience of that painting belongs entirely to me, I cannot ignore that someone else was responsible for every brush stroke on the canvas. This intersection of what came to life in me and the awareness of another person's role in that holy experience is what I have come to name genius. Which is to say, genius is something most easily perceived in others.

In fact, it is so much easier to perceive in others that it is natural to believe that genius is forever a resident of a foreign country. My occasional attempts to attribute that quality to myself and my creations were profoundly disappointing. I could feel my starving ego hard at work, building and building what should be able to stand alone without effort. It's too much work living in search of constant praise, without which all my value collapses.

So much easier just to be interested in something. To be interested requires no approval from other people. To be interested requires no training or effort. In fact, true interest is identified by its effortlessness. That is how I know I'm interested -- that my attention has moved magnetically toward an idea where it can remain, held effortlessly by the weight of my curiosity. The only diligence necessary is the willingness to proceed without ever asking the question: "Will anyone else be interested in this too?"

That is the only worthy effort I ever exert while writing. Because this question of whether anyone else will love what I love has its own magnetism. Why? The answer only seems to foretell my very future. Although I have learned, slowly, by considerable trial and error, that despair waits inevitably for me every time I ask this question, still I can feel the itch to ask it again. And so I must go forward, learning again and again with every word, the difference between curiosity and fear, two strangely similar impulses pointing in thoroughly opposite directions.

Fortunately, in the end there is only one choice I can actually make. There is only choice that actually leads anywhere, there is only one choice that satisfies, one choice that enlivens, one choice that encourages, one choice that leaves me as curious as when I began. When I make that choice I never care whether it's called genius or not, I only care that I've made it, that I've rediscovered the pleasure of what I thought I knew so well.

You can learn more about William at williamkenower.com.