Do you know any dead strangers who you consider intimate friends? People who speak to your soul from the past? I have a few.This gray, crazy haired Albert Einstein, with his giant wiry mustache and kind eyes, speaks directly to my core and his words and ideas inspire me. Not only was he a genius in physics, but also in living a noble life. I feel like I know him, like he’s a friend with great advice.
Albert had a birthday last week, and I have been thinking about his life lessons lately. I noticed this morning that if you take his ideas out of context and apply them to writing, they are brilliant. He understands the writer as well as anybody even though he was not much of a writer himself. Why not learn writing from a genius?
- “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” Einstein divides intelligence into two parts, placing the most value on the imagination. This is powerful because we consider him principally as a man of science with great intelligence in the form of knowledge. However, even in science the imagination is supreme, as the scientists must envision their ideas before they become a reality. Einstein is famous for his thought experiments that helped him develop the theory of relativity. In one, he imagined a man riding on a rocket at the speed of light. As writers, we will improve our skills by remembering that imagination is an element of genius.
- “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” I once tried to write a piece on cognitive science and language, but I have yet to finish it. The reason I am blocked is that I cannot describe it in a form that my readers will understand. This is not a fault of my readers, but a failure on my part to fully understand the topic. I will be able to simplify the content if I study more about it. Research is an essential element in a writer’s life, and if you can’t write it simply, study the topic more.
- “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Sometimes as writers we get stuck in our writing habits, confining our ability to succeed. We must be willing to try new ideas when our current strategies aren’t succeeding. If you’re not drawing in traffic, for example, try promoting your blog on a new social network. If your writing posts using a formula or template, try writing with out one.
- “A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” When you avoid the trap of doing the same thing over and over, you open yourself to risk in trying something new. Risk is a positive thing because innovation will lead to success eventually. We will have failures along the way, but success may be just a few more attempts away. The only guaranteed failure in writing is if you stop.
- “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”Learning from the successes and failures in your writing will allow you to have hope for tomorrow. But, the must important idea here is to write in the present, today. Be mindful as you write, in the present moment, and allow the writing to consume you. Keep your mind from wandering outside the piece you are writing.
- “Try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man [or woman] of value.” Of course we want success and acclaim, but at the center of what we do, our writing should develop and express value within us. Maintaining integrity in what you write will enable this. Stick to your moral essence, focus on who you are as a writer, and write what you believe, whatever the consequences might be.
- “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.” Opposition will not disable you as a writer if you remember that great minds like yours always encounter conflict. Especially in art and writing, the greatest in the craft are often not recognized until they have passed. Consider William Faulkner as an example. He found it so hard to make a living selling novels that he went to Hollywood and wrote screen plays. He now is considered one of the great novelists
- “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Persistance is key in writing. Your ideas will go nowhere if you are not truly in it for the long haul. Often, it takes many years to establish yourself as a writer, but success comes by pushing beyond frustrations or boredom. Staying with a piece of writing longer usually makes it much stronger. He says here that how smart you are depends upon how long you are willing to dedicate yourself.
- “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Failure is familiar to great thinkers and writers. When you try something new, you set yourself up for potential failure. However, you also open the door to success, which can only happen when you try new ideas. Just think of how many different light bulbs Edison tried before success (3,000).
- “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.”Einstein reemphasizes here the need for us to alter our vision of greatness, genius, and intelligence. He suggests that genius is not found in the products we create, but in our determined curiosity. I find this all the time in my writing, and I usually write about things that have sparked curiosity in me. Curiosity fosters intelligence, creativity, innovation, and great writing.
Einstein never taught explicitly about writing, but in speaking of talent, genius, and the creative mind, he provides sound advice for those of us plugging away endlessly at the keyboard.