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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

The Maestro’s Artistic Darwinism or What’s Passion Got to Do with It?

goldfish canstockphoto5844496 (2)When the Maestro told the young musician “You lack passion” (see previous post), he was acting as, Paige McKinney pointed out in her comment on that post, an arrogant, self-appointed “agent of artistic Darwinism.”

This is the other reason I hate the Maestro story: the violin master is exclusionary. He filters people out. Personally, I think the world is a better place when everyone contributes their creative gifts. I prefer to filter people in.

It’s fine for an individual to limit how many students s/he takes on because teaching does take time and creative energy away from the teacher’s own creative work. But the Maestro didn’t say “I’m not willing to teach you.” He said the young violinist didn’t have what it takes to “make it.”

Experienced writers sometimes do this when they say, “If you want to be a writer, you have to ________”  and fill in the blank with “write 4 to 6 hours a day” or “write 2,500 words a day, 365 days a year” or whatever their current writing practice is.

What gets filled into the blank is rarely something a new writer has the time or skill to do. In all likelihood, it’s not what the experienced writer did when s/he first started; it’s something s/he grew into.

goldfish canstockphoto2399633 (2)Think You’ve Got What it Takes?

The aspiring artist (writer or musician) stands on one side of a huge chasm and the experienced artist stands on the other side and says “If you want to get where I am, you have to take this enormous leap of faith.”

Most aspiring artists look at the chasm and are filled with understandable fear, and walk away. Their fear stops them. But not because they lack passion.

When the young musician asked to play for the Maestro, he wanted what any aspiring artist wants – the reassurance that he had the talent to make the leap. That if he invested his future, all the time and energy and money of going to music school, and invested his dreams and hopes and poured his very heart and soul into music, that he wouldn’t crash and burn at the bottom of that huge chasm.

Aspiring writers want reassurance that they have talent, but talent isn’t what determines success. Anyone who has a basic level of verbal intelligence and writing ability can master the craft IF they are willing to put in the time and effort. And it’s a lot of time and effort – 10,000 hours to mastery as Malcolm Gladwell says in his book Outliers.

It’s not talent we need so much as willingness to do the work. You don’t have to leap the chasm; you can find a route into and across the canyon and back up. You can reach the other side, not with a huge leap, but one small, manageable step at a time.

The catch-22 is that reasonable people don’t want to invest 10,000 hours without some assurance that they have what it takes to make the investment worthwhile, but the only way to find out is to invest the time.

What Kind of Guarantee Can I Get?

goldfish canstockphoto3359699 (2)We all would love a guarantee that if we invest our time, creative energy, heart and soul into writing, it’ll be worth it.

On one level, no one can give us that guarantee. Because what we do is creative, it is by its very nature unpredictable. Every new writing project is different from the ones we’ve done before. We aren’t manufacturing widgets on an assembly line, so we can’t know how to make this project work, how long it take, how well it will turn out or even that it will turn out at all.

Every artist’s workspace and history is cluttered with at least a few false starts and dead ends.

Yet, on another level I know that you CAN be successful if you are willing to put in the time and the effort to learn craft skills and to develop a reliable writing process based on sustainable habits. (One place to acquire those skills is the Loft; one place to acquire those habits is my Discover Your Way Around the Writer’s Block class.)

Perhaps not “bestseller success,” certainly not “overnight success.” But if success means creating a piece of writing you can be proud of that reaches at least a small audience, I can guarantee you can get there. If you have a basic level of verbal intelligence and are willing to put in the time and effort, you can do it.

I assure you that your time, energy, money, passion, talent, time away from family and friends and self-respect won’t be wasted. I assure you that you don’t have to leap and let your heart and soul crash and burn at the bottom of that chasm.

I promise you that it may not work out exactly as you want it to, but you do have all the passion, courage and talent you need to handle whatever comes.

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8 Comments on “The Maestro’s Artistic Darwinism or What’s Passion Got to Do with It?”

  1. Lyn March 20, 2014 at 3:29 pm #

    Thank you very much for your inclusiveness.


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  5. Joel D Canfield May 16, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Filter people in. It’s the only way.


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