Your Pen: An Untapped Resource
As a writer and poet, I am used to people reading my works then declaring that they could never do something like it, probably meant more for flattery than praise, at least so modesty dictates that I think. Some of the common remarks include; I can’t write, I’m not a writer, you are talented, this is a gift… you get the picture. I always try to convince these admirers that while writing is a skill, and naturally, practice helps to hone the craft, there is no special talent required to enjoy participating in this rather therapeutic art.
The argument about talent being innate as regards to art, as opposed to being the result of learning and hours of practice is one that is probably as old as artists. Of course, there are exceptions like Pablo Picasso who described himself to have been lacking in the ability to express the roughness of an amateur artist even when he was a child. A compliment I can only compare to Machiavelli’s oxymoronic phrase ‘evil virtue’. Prodigies exist in virtually every field of human endeavor, but they constitute a negligible minority compared to the rest of our population. For the most part, art, like any other discipline is sharpened by practice. Social scientist Malcolm Gladwell postulated the 10,000-hour theory, where he suggested that 10,000 hours dedicated to any craft was enough to attain mastery of it.
The difference between a master and a novice can be best described by an analogy with driving. Before we ever start driving, it is normal to watch drivers command a vehicle and wonder how we would ever be able to find a balance between the pedals, the steering wheel, and the road with drivers of varied levels of sanity. When we get behind the drivers seat for the first time, it is often a daunting experience. Some people even refuse to learn just out of fear. But fast forward to a few months of practice and we find ourselves driving and taking calls at the same time. At this point the act is so committed to our memory that we don’t even have to actively concentrate on it. We can zone out in thought and still manage to reach our destination. The same is true for art. It can be a difficult task to start, but over time with practice, a writer can find himself in a state of flow where they are so in sync with the art that even the passage of time is distorted. Psychologists have been able to identify this state of ‘flow’ in virtually every activity, and it has been noted to occur only when skill matches task. When the task at hand is beyond our skill level, we tend to struggle and run the risk of meeting with frustration.
The beauty of writing and poetry is that unlike painting and sketching, these are arts we practice on a daily basis even when we do not mean to. We are constantly reading, speaking, listening to music, writing essays for school, watching movies, the list goes on. We are no strangers to words or organized thought, so naturally, to a degree, there is a writer in all of us, and perhaps a poet too. For self-exploration and relaxation, the benefits of writing, as many writers will confirm, cannot be quantified.
A lot of the time we shy away from creativity because we have a habit of comparing ourselves with the best in the field. To people that feel this way, I suggest a lesson from the Love Jones where we are told by the lead male, Derius Lovehall, that the goal of creating a piece of art is to reach our own personal limit. Trying to create a definitive work that will not be surpassed is to be left for artists that have attained mastery and hope to do this.
If not for anything else, as an exercise for our brain and a play with our imagination, writing can be very beneficial to our mental health. Through literature we can learn to communicate better, and might even pick up perspectives of life we were previously blind to. It is certainly a journey worth every stride. So tell me, what have you done with your pen lately?