I recently finished listening to the audio book The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner. The author traveled around the world trying to figure out how certain places at certain times seemed to be homes for people of genius–not one but many in each place at each time. He found that ancient Athens, the Song Dynasty in China, Florence during the Italian Renaissance, present day Silicon Valley, Vienna in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and Edinburgh during the Scottish Enlightenment usually had some things in common: 1) a national disaster (the Black Death or defeat at the hands of an enemy or something similarly devastating); 2) a measure of personal freedom; 3) availability of mentors and/or collaborators; 4) and some source of funding (investors or patrons). He also found the geniuses themselves tended to have things in common. They often had lost one or more parents at an early age, they were prolific, and they didn’t let set backs slow them down.
How do I measure up, I asked myself. I lost a parent at an early age. I am doing my best to be prolific, and I’ve just had a set back that I’m hoping to rise above: my publisher dumped me.
According to Weiner, Picasso created vast quantities of art only a portion of which can be regarded as masterpieces. Mozart had many unfinished works (usually when a patron stopped funding for the project), but he still made a lot of music, and lots of it is considered genius. The lesson? If you produce enough and keep learning as you go, some of it has got to hit. A lot of da Vinci’s inventions were downright silly, but we still regard him as a genius. So my goal is to write as much as I can, hopefully each piece better than the last.
As for the set back, the bad news is my publisher dumped me. He decided that after seven months, my book is not selling well enough on Amazon (the only place he has put it), and he doesn’t want to take a chance with another. The good news is, my publisher dumped me, and I’m free to send my next book to someone better.
I learned a lot from this publisher–about excellent developmental editors, a source for good cover art, and lots about self promotion. I also learned this is not the publisher I want to stay with. Of course, rejection always hurts, but like all aspiring geniuses, I’m going to use this setback to make me better.
Weiner does mention one other thing necessary for genius. It must be recognized and, by those recognizing it, acknowledged as genius. There may be lots of undiscovered geniuses out there, but without recognition, who will ever know or care? So, there you go, the next thing on my genius check off list. Wish me luck.
Image: The path at Danebury Hill Fort, Hampshire, England. By Jonathan Hutchins.