“Let’s face it, this fellow cannot write.”
– Bob Manning about a young Tracey Kidder
“It is better to pursue and to perform your own duty imperfectly than someone else’s perfectly.”
– Krishna to the reluctant warrior Arjuna, The Gita
“The life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise this year higher than man has ever known it, and flood the parched uplands; even this may be the eventful year, which will drown out all our muskrats.”
– Thoreau, conclusion, Walden
1. The potential for defeat abounds.
Tracey Kidder was twenty-seven years old when he walked into the hallowed Boston offices of The Atlantic Monthly, one of the United States’ most respected and longest running magazines, and asked for a freelance assignment. He found encouragement from an editor, Richard Todd, thirty-two. (1)
Kidder starting submitting several freelance pieces to Todd. Some of them were workable enough that Todd could help Kidder shape them into something publishable. Many were not.
Atlantic’s chief editor, the notorious and tenacious Bob Manning, once scrawled on one of Kidder’s pieces a note:
“Let’s face it, this fellow cannot write.”
But Kidder did write. He had to write. And eventually he learned how to write like a captivating author.
Had Kidder ever heard or listened to the publisher’s voice, Dr. Paul Farmer’s story of wanting to cure the world would never have been told in Mountains Beyonds Mountains, readers would never have experienced the inspiring story of fifth-grade teacher Ms. Zajac in Among School Children, or had their minds cracked wide open to a whole new computer wave that not every one could see coming in 1981 as Kidder (and Todd) saw in The Soul of a New Machine.
And Kidder might never have won the Pulitzer.
Tracey Kidder, that kid who couldn’t write, is known now as a master of creative nonfiction and literary journalism.
Kidder had three things working for him that can work for any of us.
He found the kind of writing he loved to do – literary journalism – and he became devoted to mastering it even when his pieces were not accepted (and even though he feared the public seeing his really bad writing that Todd got to see).
He let his audacity override his doubt. Seth Godin would say that Kidder let his hubris fly. Judging from Richard Todd’s accounts, Todd would probably agree.
Kidder found a mentor, Richard Todd, whom he didn’t bow down to but whom he respected enough to keep his editorial direction. For over 20 years.
That is, Kidder learned his stuff. For over 20 years, he learned the choices writers in his field make to tell a good story. He learned how to get out of the way of the story he needed to tell. He made choices for the good of the story and of his readers’ experience – not for the good of his ego or the market.
He wrote really crappy stuff, by the way, including a novel based on his experiences in Vietnam that he and Todd can laugh about now.
2. Your writing potential is like dynamic water.
Every writer has dormant potential to be realized. Potential is not some static entity, already programmed, simply waiting to be plugged in like a computer. It’s not an, “Either you have writing potential or you don’t” proposition.
Your potential is like dynamic water.
When harnessed, your potential rises and rushes forward in full power.
And it serves entities far greater than your little self.
You have a book running through you. If you can find the methods, habits, and support to harness it, you can step out of the Amateur Bubble and step into the Apprentice-Artist Arena and ultimately flourish in the Artist-Maestro Stadium.
Anyone can do this.
3. Your potential is an acorn.
Being and becoming an Artist means you learn like an Artist.
You learn to think like an Artist. You learn to work like an Artist. You find support like an Artist.
To become an Artist, you don’t just plug in the Mac Air and expect the Artist to come alive and be realized. (Tweet this.)
You don’t just churn out stuff and expect the world to applaud and “get” your genius and then when the world doesn’t applaud just pout that you’re a misunderstood genius.
Aristotle and his Greek compadres called the force of potential a daimon. We each have a number of daimons within us. The parenting daimon. The consultant daimon. The creative daimon.
And within each of us, beyond nurture or nature, is an acorn of sorts. It’s our calling, our own wisdom-duty, to find the attitudes, actions, and learning to let that acorn flourish.
If we don’t? We risk alienating ourselves and resenting or living vicariously through our children and others who pursue their own potential. And we perpetuate the message to ourselves, our loved ones, and others that some of us just don’t have the right to pursue own potential.
4. Pursuing our potential brings us the deepest joy imaginable.
According to Aristotle – and later to Carl Jung and to Abraham Maslow – we complexly wired human creatures are happiest and most deeply gratified when we pursue bringing forth that potential.
And we’re happiest when we nurture that potential not just for ourselves but for loved ones and for other ones – our audiences, our patch of the planet – whose lives will be the richer for your having done so.
When all of our daimons, when all of our potentials, are harnessed and being fully realized, we are in eudaimonia. The closest English translation for eudaimonia is “happiness.” When Jefferson drafted the United States’ Declaration of Independence, he consulted Aristotle’s Ethics and wove in the phrase, “the pursuit of happiness.”
It is our right to pursue our potential. Declare yours. (Tweet this.)
But that doesn’t mean we’re entitled to applause or an advance, lol.
That pursuit of that excellence, that highest good within you, that best in you, is called Arete. Artists pursue Arete.
Arete is the Artist’s virtue.
5. Don’t find your passion. Find your devotion. (Tweet this.)
Passion is fickle and high-voltage followed by erratic crashes. Devotion is deep and abiding.
If you’re a writer, be devoted to the page – its challenges, limitations, and possibilities. (Curious about what I’m devoted to? Jen Louden asks in this interview.)
Sure, let your hubris fly. You need a little audacity to override the voice we all have that says, “Who are you to write this book?” and “You don’t know what the he*l you’re doing.” and “Let’s face it, this guy cannot write.”
But find the support, too, to give your audacity a flight pattern. Tracey Kidder had Richard Todd.
You are not born a Maestro writer. You are not born a Mastermind. You do have dormant potential. You can pursue mastery of that potential without controlling it or stifling your love of writing.
Pursuing excellence heightens your love and heightens your happiness. (Share this on Twitter.) You learn what choices you have as a writer. You learn to finesse the page’s limitations with skillful know-how.
You learn how to craft stories and unfold ideas and programs on the page that really do engage minds, captivate imaginations, and open hearts. In short, that enrich, entertain, if not change minds & lives.
All in a way that feels part and parcel of who you are as an Artist. The Apprentice-Artist-Maestro gets that without ever losing the Amateur’s love.
The love amps up.
If you love how writing and expressing yourself makes you feel, then imagine that loving feeling amplified by 100 when your work lodges in the hearts and minds of your patch of the planet, and you sense what potential realized as an Apprentice-Artist-Maestro feels like. That’s the feeling of your deep water rising.
Pursuing your potential is an Art. And you can learn it.
Find your devotion. Let your hubris fly. And find your trusted support. (Tweet this.)
I’ll repeat: Mastermind Authors nourish their potential with the right mindset, skill set, habits, and support. And you can learn all of these. I have only a few Mastermind Author spots left in the Your Captivating Book Program. The Mastermind Author segment affords a rare mentorship opportunity.
If we’re a right fit, I will be honored to help show you how to nurture your acorn, harness your potential, finesse your art, and rise to your wisdom-duty.
- Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 845,679.9441 to schedule a 20-minute pro bono chat with me to discuss whether or not this is a good fit.
- Wait and I’ll unfold a few details in the days to come (but don’t wait too long).
What does it feel like when you pursue your potential? What mindset, habit, or support most helps you? Whose voice have you listened to to remind you of your potential?
Thanks for running with me,