There are times when I'm in the zone, kinda like Zen driving, where my brain is as fast as my typing and the product of my writing is coherent and profound. I still take a little extra time to revise my writing, but it is in those times that writing feels like a blessing, a gift that dilates the portal between my thoughts and my audience's understanding.
But most of the time when I sit down to write, it takes me nearly an hour to complete what others may have spit out in fifteen minutes at the same quality. I am such a perfectionist, exacting in my words, weighing out their rhythm and their meaning on a set clumsy, rusty scales. In those times, my brain feels like a miser, forking over a paltry collection of words only after much tensing of eyebrows and cerebral exertion.
Maybe it's because my thoughts are jumbled in the first place. I feel fairly stupid most of the time because it often takes me a few moments longer to get a joke, to find an axis of valid analysis, to follow the Reece's Pieces path to understanding. Perhaps it's not a matter of stupidity but rather that my mind has created unusual pathways between concepts and images and sounds and words that don't match up to the norm. Whether I'm stupid or just different, it's still frustrating.
Or maybe it's because I'm just not very good at what I do. Talent is often undiscovered or lost because it never had the benefit of training to make it effective, beautiful, poignant. But what if I don't have any talent at all, that that my only slightly better than mediocre ability to write is merely a skill that has been trained good high school English teachers and an Honors College curriculum.
How can you measure talent? Is it much like beauty, relative to aesthetic values of the outsider? Is the speed of an action indicative of one's natural ability? Or is speed also a factor of training and concentration and practice?
Since I haven't had the time or inclination to draw anything in years, not many people know that I'm a fairly good artist. But drawing and painting have always been the same as writing for me. I usually took the longest of all the students in my art classes to complete a project or to even get started in the first place. It always made me wonder if I lacked the spark, the vision, the well of ideas that good artists and writers have. I still worry if I'm not original or creative enough to advance beyond anything more than repetition and restatement of what other people have said or done.
I wondered, too, if I liked the product of my art and the praise it brought more than I liked doing the artwork because I found a little bit of struggle or sometimes a lot in nearly every piece I've ever drawn or written or painted or sewn or cooked. But I've since dismissed that worry at least, because I know now, with the wisdom of a few more years, that I do love the act of creating as much as the creation. Otherwise the frustration I experience would have led me to quit years ago.
Perhaps that's why art can be simultaneously challenging as well as exalting, because it becomes an exercise for purging of the soul, honing of the mind, straining for purity and clarity of the body, like the exhausted satisfaction at the end of a dance class or, for my more yoga-loving friends, relaxing after holding a very difficult pose.
It's those flashes of awareness and brilliance that I only sometimes find that keep me writing. Even though I have doubts about my own talent, I know that without writing, what little creativity is in me will dry up for good.
I, think, too, that perhaps my biggest challenge is just concentration. I have trouble staying focused, leaping around from point to point in an essay. I'm ridiculously easy to distract, not just by real things like the television or Windows games or email or bulletin boards, but by my own mind: rambling thoughts, shopping lists, weekend plans. I am my own saboteur. Not only do I have to get over the hump of procrastination and distraction, I have to prolong that concentration so I can stay focused long enough to follow an essay or a task to completion.
The process becomes even more difficult for me if it's something I don't necessarily want to do, like write a paper for class. The depressing part for me is not only that I have trouble finding the willpower to work on the boring things, but I also sometimes can't even stay focused on the things that I actually want to do. And I am certain that the fat of my body, its sluggish chemistry, has the same effect on my ability to think as it does my ability to run.
So I ask, how do you gauge your own talent? How do you stay focused? In order for an ability to be a natural talent rather than a skill, but it also being naturally speedy? Is quickness of thought and action a true measure of talent? Where do most of your ideas come from?