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Writers Get Frightened Of Being Writers

Back before the Enlightenment and, especially, before the Romantics, we didn’t think of people being geniuses, but having geniuses. Creativity and inspiration dwelled somewhere outside – as a Muse, perhaps, an actual spirit. In Latin, genius loci, the spirit of a place, was something that dwelled at a given site, the divine spirit given specific form and nature.***

The human’s work was therefore not to be the genius, but to listen to the genius. To catch some external music and set it down.

That sounds a little spacey if you put it as bluntly as that. And yet – you will all know what it feels like to be in true creative flow. The words just come. The vision. The characters. The dialogue. To be sure, it doesn’t come down perfectly: you still need to edit the damn thing. You still need to use your brain and craft to shape the material. But it feels like the origin of all that good stuff lies outside you – or, at the very least, way outside your conscious ownership or control.

Please read the rest in the email I sent to the JWC Pioneers.

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If you didn’t get the email, here is an excellent video about Geniuses and their Muses.

Thanks for sharing. I love that–being responsible to record the genius, not embody one.

This is interesting. The word, genius, in Latin, gets its root from gene-, which means to beget or to give birth (https://www.etymonline.com/word/genius). Genius was understood, as you say, as a kind of spirit. A deity that guarded and guided you when you were born. Governed you. As though there were many aspects of our lives, especially that were good, that were out of our control–or at least that we were led towards.

This is obviously quite different to how we use the word genius now and how we perceived genius in ourselves or others. While we still see genius as innate from birth, just as the spirit was innate from birth, we have divorced the word entirely from any kind of spiritual connotations; instead it seems more connected to the scientific sense of gene-, something to do with our biological makeup.

My question here is, what have we lost or gained by shifting the concept of genius from spiritual to profane?

We’ve lost humility but maybe have gained accountability.

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Have we, though?

Yeah, is that a legit trade off that’s actually happened? I find genius coming and going quite humbling, truthfully. If it were there all the time and easily accessible, I’m not sure how high my head would be stuck in the clouds!

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I think that EGO has to be taken out of the process. Otherwise, your head wouldn’t fit into any doorway. EGO can kill friendships and destroy business dealings. Just look at Hollywood for a million examples of EGO ruining everything it touches.

Fair points. Perhaps what @tcmacnevin is suggesting is that since we don’t see genius as an outside spirit anymore, but rather some quality about us within, then this may lead us to think there is something about us that is special (hence the loss of humility). But if genius is a quality that we have, and not some spirit, then we can be responsible for the works we produce (hence the gain in accountability).

If genius is a fleeting thing out of our control, then what claim can we have over the works we produce? I agree with @AdmiralNemo that ego can be damaging–but perhaps it could also be damaging to claim our works are not really our own, but our muses’.

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I agree with the ancients. Such muses and their bodiless intelligence only seem to come around under certain conditions. Or perhaps they have bodies in the unconscious. Idk. Not saying it’s spiritual for everyone, but it feels that way to me sometimes :relieved:

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Something compels me top write the things I do. I’m not a violent or scary person in real life. Perhaps I’ve tapped into a really interesting Muse.

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Interesting. What conditions? Can you recreate these or are the conditions out of your control?

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I don’t even need to be awake for my Muse to nudge me, wink, wink. My latest WIP came to me in a dream, one that I’m glad I didn’t ignore.

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The artists and writers, who did not view the work as their own, may have produced more quality work overtime I think. The ego ultimately interferes with the generation of that product. I don’t think that it is the view of the situation that matters as much as the result. The ego interferes with the production of the work. Genius as spirit, not as self, feels more truthful and produces better work, so it must be closer to the truth. I vote for genius as spirit. Just saying.

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So genius is not a physical, internal, genetic thing we’re born with? Is it really a thing of spirit, that can be summoned to those who are in the right frame of mind at the right time?
I can believe that there is an indefinable “Something” that is always nearby, gathering bits if ideas from the ether. when they have something we might be able to use, they drop it into our minds. But it’s a fickle thing, this Muse. You have to use what you are given. This is how the Muse survives for another day, another idea. If you ignore or dismiss these ideas, the Muse will either stop giving you ideas or will move on to another, more receptive and useful Host.
I do believe I am in the beginning of another of my tiny head colds. That’s where the above has come from.

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It feels true. That this muse exists outside of ourselves. But I’m not so sure that she has that much opportunity. People are not generally that willing to listen or to give her the time that she requires. Not many believe that she even exists! :slight_smile:

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And if our inspiration and genius comes from without, then is there a point to writers’ programs and workshops, to daily writing regiments, exercises or routines? How do you see the function of attempting to hone and cultivate your craft if inspiration is from an uncontrollable outsider to your own mind?

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Writing is a skill very different from woodworking. Almost anyone can learn to make a bench out of wood. Even I have done some good work with a screwdriver.
Writing cannot be learned or taught if you don’t have the spark of talent already inside of you. That’s why we have people like John Jakes, who just grind out junk that taps into a segment of the populace that wants to read imitations of Gone With The Wind, for instance.

The inspiration and genius are without, in my opinion. The role of the writer, as I see it, is to translate that nebulous vision into a substantial real-world text or product, though I hate that word. Abstract and ephemeral, the muse hasn’t the ability to communicate directly. She needs the writer to be translator. It is a symbiotic relationship, where they need, depend on and benefit from each other. :slight_smile:

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Mm I disagree with this. I think that writing and workworking, both art forms, have many similarities. In particular I think if I took a woodworking course for a year I could produce some decent stuff (even though I can’t now)–but I also think I couldn’t be as good as someone with a better intution of dimensions, forms, and material combinations. I think many folks could go through a one year writing course and come out producing decent stuff, though not as good as someone with stronger intuitions about word choice, pace, dialogue, and character development.

I think writing is a skill that requires practice, training, education, and exercise. My concern with genius being a Muse from without is that it lends itself to the idea that only a gifted few must wait around for the Muse’s call, whereas I think good writing is a more practical endeavor.

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