My Thoughts, The Writer's Life

Absent Brilliance

Brilliance isn’t something you can buy for yourself. You can only receive it as a gift.

Some writers – I’d call them The Lucky Ones except for the fact that their brilliance is usually accompanied by a corresponding (and non-returnable) insanity – are granted the gift by the gods. Or The God. Or the universe. Or fate. (Pick one.)

They’re born with it.

They can’t deny it. They can’t escape it. It is woven into their being. Tell them to write something bad, they’ll try, and brilliance will whisper in the words they choose to leave out.

The naturally brilliant are not perfect. Far from it. But there is an innate and immutable beauty to their imperfection. They know this. They breathe it. They choke on it. The imperfection is where they find the best stories.

Then there are those who aren’t born with brilliance, but are awarded the next best thing: the Badge of Brilliance. Maybe someone gives it to them for a short story. Perhaps they get it for a novel. Or a blog post. They might get it once or a dozen times. It’s given to them by strangers and friends, by the well-informed and the uniformed alike. It means the most when the badge comes from someone they respect, like another writer. A brilliant one, preferably. Some who are given the badge are too humble to wear it so they stuff it in a purse or a pocket. Others display it like a neon sign.

There’s a third group and it’s a Very Big Group. It consists of people who weren’t born with brilliance, and who haven’t been given the badge.


Ah yes, the Yet.

The Yet can be a motivator. Who doesn’t want to be called brilliant? Even those who would ultimately stuff the badge in a purse or a pocket want it. Brilliance is a writer’s brass ring. And so those who haven’t touched it (or those who want to touch it again) work hard to earn it. They read and write and study and hone their craft in pursuit of it.

The Yet can also be a monster. What if brilliance continues to elude them? What then? They become discouraged. Confidence dwindles. The dream crumbles. Writing just isn’t fun anymore.

Maybe you weren’t born brilliant. Maybe you’ll never wear the badge. So what?

Are you writing? Are you telling the stories you want to tell? Are you trying to become the best writer you can be?

Then here’s some good news: You can find happiness and fulfillment and success and maybe even wild success without having been called brilliant once. Because even absent brilliance, you are still the only person who writes like you. And there are people out there who happen to like the way you write. Or will.

I think that’s brilliant.

13 thoughts on “Absent Brilliance

  1. Thanks for this eloquent reassurance.
    I think I would like a badge.
    But I wouldn’t wear it in public in case people expected me to live up to it. Worse, they might even start telling me about that great idea they had for a book but just didn’t have time to write. That’s the trouble with badges. Be nice to have one on a mantelpiece, though. In my own home, where only I need see it, and only now and again when my doubting soul demands to be fed.
    I have applied for one. Let’s hope it arrives soon.

    1. Thanks for calling my words eloquent. Do I get a badge for that? Also, now I have a title for my next book. Well, maybe not my next book, but it’s on the list: The Trouble With Badges.

  2. The Yet. Is that the person who works all day, goes to her kid’s games, serves on three community boards, and still finds time to write. That Yet is also known as perseverence. If, and when, that Yet turns into brilliance, this post will be one to remember.

  3. I don’t think there’s such a thing as a brilliant writer. Some have moments of brilliance, some are even fortunate enough to have many of them, but writing is sort of like golf. There’s no such thing as a perfect game, but the ones who still pursue the impossible are the ones who get it right more often than not.

    Pessimistic? Yeah, probably.

    1. You’re probably right. But I believe some writers have a thread of brilliance that precedes their first written word and weaves pretty much through everything they write. Even the bad writing has evidence of this truth in it. But then again, I could be wrong. Brilliance doesn’t always mean “right.” Wait, did I just call myself brilliant? Er…no. I was making a general statement. Context just made it seem like I was talking about me. If I were brilliant I wouldn’t make that beginner’s mistake.

  4. I’m probably just haggling over price here, but I don’t really believe anyone is born brilliant. I believe people have certain aptitudes for things, partly through genetics and partly lifestyle, and some people are lucky enough to have the right conditions so they become a prodigy with seemingly no effort.

    Great writers all have one thing in common: they wrote a lot. And no amount of raw talent will let you write War and Peace when you first pick up a pen.

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