Jack Wang: How to be a genius

In honour of the December 25 broadcast of "How the Grinch Stole Christmas!" with WireTap's Jonathan Goldstein, we're devoting ourselves to Canadian children's authors and other Seussian surprises here at Canada Writes.

In his Seussian writing tip, the co-creator of the eye-popping (and word-defining) Cozy Classics series ruminates on where genius really comes from.

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"When his editor at Random House called him the only genius among his authors, Theodor Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, who was all about the joy of play through words, replied, 'If I’m a genius, why do I have to work so hard? I know my stuff looks as if it was all rattled off in 28 seconds, but every word is a struggle and every sentence is like the pangs of birth.'

Geniuses make it look easy. A choir of muses sings to them all day long. But genius never comes easy. And no one is born a genius. Geniuses work to become geniuses. In How the Mind Works, Canadian-born cognitive scientist Steven Pinker explains how:

'Geniuses immerse themselves in their genres. They absorb tens of thousands of problems and solutions, so no challenge is completely new… They work day and night… and the epiphany is not a masterstroke but a tweaking of an earlier attempt. They revise endlessly, gradually closing in on their deal.'

If you want to write a children’s book (or the Great Canadian Novel), read hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands. The more examples you bank, the more strategies you’ll have for solving your own artistic challenges. Then don’t just write but rewrite. As Dr. Seuss himself explained, 'To produce a 60-page book, I may easily write more than 1,000 pages before I’m satisfied. The most important thing about me, I feel, is that I work like hell—write, re-write, reject, re-reject, and polish incessantly.'

How to be a genius: read voraciously, revise endlessly. There’s no other formula."

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Jack Wang is one of the creators (with twin brother Holman Wang) of Cozy Classics, a new board book series that presents well-loved stories through 12 child-friendly words and 12 needle-felted illustrations. His fiction has appeared in Joyland Magazine and elsewhere. He teaches writing at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y.


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