What to do if you’re not a genius (and what to do if you are)

The Pulitzer-prize winning writer Bernard Malamud, in an interview in The Paris Review, had some advice for writers. This advice applies to all of us.

First, for those of us who are non-geniuses. He said, “if you’re not a genius, imitate the daring.”

This is pretty specific. Artists of all kinds – painters, musicians, writers, etc. – are routinely advised to imitate the great artists in their field. Ironically, this imitation, when fully learned, provides the technical skills and foundation for real originality.

Malamud goes further. Don’t just imitate the great ones. Imitate the daring. Daring is what is required. Leaps into the unknown are not for the faint of heart. And leaps into the unknown are the only actions that can move your life closer to what you dream of. 

I’m endlessly inspired by people that are daring. They might be musicians or other types of artists, or they more likely are living a quixotic life. When in doubt, us non-geniuses could use more daring.

But what if you are a genius? Malamud has different advice for you. “Assert yourself, in art and humanity.” No need to imitate anyone or anything. Just assert yourself and your passion. Don’t hide any longer. That is of course its own form of daring. Assert yourself in your craft and your work. And assert yourself in your everyday life, your interactions at home, in the shop, everywhere. 

There you have it – two bits of advice for everyone – geniuses and non-geniuses alike. Although I suspect we all have parts of us in each category. So we might as well follow both pieces of advice. 

 “…if you’re not a genius, imitate the daring. If you are a genius, assert yourself, in art and humanity.” – Bernard Malamud, Paris Review interview

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