Wednesday, May 28, 2008

1% inspiration


Thomas Edison said that genius was 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, and that applies to any great accomplishment. Here's another quote and a couple of stories along those lines, and although they're about the performing arts, they've inspired me when I've been in the middle of the hard work. The quote is from George Balanchine:

“I don't want people who want to dance; I want people who have to dance."

And if you have such a need to express a talent, nothing will stop you.

A boy learning the violin plays a piece for a famous violinist. At the end, the violinist tells him, "You will not be good at this. You lack the fire."

Crushed, the boy goes away. A couple of decades later, he is a successful businessman and he meets the violinist again. "Well, I went into business," he says to the violinist. "And I've done well. So I guess you knew what you were talking about when you told me I wouldn't be good at music after you listened to me play."

"I didn't listen," the old violinist says. "A lot of people play for me. I tell them all the same thing - that they lack the fire."

"What?" The businessman is outraged. "But I might have been a great musician if not for you telling me that I lacked the fire!"

The violinist smiles. "You don't understand," he says. "If you had the fire, you would never have listened to me."


To paraphrase another saying I heard: those who can be talked out of it should be talked out of it. Not many people see just how much struggle goes into a successful writer's career. Here's another violinist story that shows just how much you might give up for your dreams.

After a wonderful performance by a famous violinist, a member of the audience said to him, "I would give my life to play like that!"

The violinist replied, "I did."

6 comments:

Luc2 said...

So true. reminds of an anecdote by Stephen King in ON WRITING. It's about his son, and how he tried to learn playing saxophone. He dutifully did his lessons and practice hours, but never took the instrument out of the case on his own initiative.

I remember when I was young, every spare minute was spent playing basketball. But like the experts say: you can't teach size. I was 6 feet at age 13, but only grew one inch after that. But in writing, size doesn't matter. :)

Marian said...

I think some people see the activity as a means to an end, rather than as a joy in and of itself. So for instance, writing is important because it will make you a Published Author, or studying science is necessary because that's what Asians do if they're smart enough, and you need a PhD to get ahead in life. :)

Fortunately there are ways of separating the wheat from the chaff in this regard.

I was 6 feet at age 13, but only grew one inch after that.

I'm only five-one. I've often wished I were taller.

Marian, the shrimp

kiwi said...

... all true, but...

I want to write a story about those with fire who don't 'make it'. We seldom hear about them, only the successes and failures. There are great deal of people who have passion and work tirelessly. Heros and villians unfortunantely occupy either end of the spectrum of life. I say make everyday people the new heros, but this requires redefining what it is to be a hero. And this is no more important than in our writing.

Apart from Arya, I think even GRRM falls into this false dichotomy. His heros migth be flawed and well drawn, but every single one of them has something that makes them other than 'normal; art with the sword, title and power, wealth, magical powers, dragons ...

Marian said...

Death of a Salesman, with a happier ending?

I see what you mean, though. Especially in fantasy, you almost never have regular, ordinary people as heroes (I think Lawrence Watt-Evans is an exception). Perhaps because it's difficult to face the usual challenges of a fantasy world - magic, armies, prophecies, etc. with only good nature, passion and hard work? You need some talent, whether it's enough charisma to command an army of your own or enough training to make primitive land mines.

Of course, the challenges could be smaller ones, but I think that might be a little difficult to sell in fantasy. And then you'd run into the fact that some people like heroes a little larger than life, with skills they don't personally have.

Funny you should bring this up though... I was rereading The Fountainhead on the commute home today, and the chief antagonist in that one keeps trying to set everyday people up as heroes so that they can dethrone the actual heroes. Interesting to see it from different sides.

kiwi said...

... Antonia in 'My Antonia' by Willa Cather.

"Perhaps because it's difficult to face the usual challenges of a fantasy world - magic, armies, prophecies, etc. with only good nature, passion and hard work? You need some talent, whether it's enough charisma to command an army of your own or enough training to make primitive land mines."

I'm not convinced. It smacks of Darwin and his fixation with hierarchy. It says little about how the alpha male/female/other is often out smarted by lesser opponents and usually by not playing the game by it's traditional rules.

I often think we avoid these stories because its easier to embue the stable boy with the gold touch of destiny. Given him some exterality that evens the odds. It feeds into the so human need for meaning. I also thing it's lazy--at least it can be.

Here's what I mean. Our stable boy is not fated. He possesses no magical abilities. He is not a born leader or surivor, in fact he possesses nothing to lift him above his ordinary man/woman/other. The first thing that strikes me, and I suspect others, is, this is a break from tradition. The second is that our protagonist hasn't a dog show of defeating evil Lord X. The third is, how's the author going to negotiate this unknown territory?

I suspect the answer could be by taking a leaf out of the book of 'nature's sneaks' those members of various species that aren't the alpha member, but leverage off the alpha's talents to serve his own ends.

I guess the alternative is that we write tragedies.

Marian said...

I suspect the answer could be by taking a leaf out of the book of 'nature's sneaks' those members of various species that aren't the alpha member, but leverage off the alpha's talents to serve his own ends.

I think this could be done, but it would take a skilled author to present such a character and make them likable, much less the hero of the story. I like the idea of a someone influencing a person in power, because character-wise it's got a lot of potential, but if they're doing it for their own ends, they may come off as manipulative and sneaky. If they do it for the good of others, though, (like an adviser influencing a king while staying in the background and allowing the king to take the credit for whatever clever ideas the adviser comes up with) that would be much easier to sell to readers.

And it had to be an adviser, because I couldn't think of any way a stable boy could ever have enough influence over an alpha.

I'm with you on destiny, though. I'm very tired of stories where the hero is the Chosen One fated to destroy the dark lord and all the prophecies have told of his coming. The author might as well give him a virgin birth too.