Musings and Writing of GG Alexander

Savage Writing/Musing: The genius

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I forgot to post this last week! So sorry! The theme for the meet was “Inspiration” and I found no fiction forthcoming – mainly because I think it’s the wankiest, most navel-gazing shit when writers write stories about writers. So here is a little personal essay on that part of me that forces me to write.

The type of “genius” referred to here is the classical sense. Inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk which I watched years ago, before I had any idea who she was.


 The genius, the deity that appeared out of my brain age seven and has bothered me ever since, has the personality of a five year old. It is hyperactive, sulky, weird, and an all-round contrarian.

It told me I had to write, and gave me no choice in the matter. Had it asked my English teacher, I’m sure she would have told it that while I was competent at writing and quite enthusiastic about her class, I never had the perspicacity or the precision of language necessary to win the prize for Best in English out of our 60-pupil year group, let alone the talent required to be an author. No, the genius asked no-one’s permission when it decided to flood my brain with harrowing tales and melodrama and absurdity, again and again until I became addicting to creating them. If I had been given the choice, I might have relished being able to choose a vocation for my life, as opposed to merely deciding what I should do to keep myself alive while I chase my impossible calling. It might be nice having something you devote yourself to, something you do that has impact on the world, instead of being slave to your own hallucinations. Everything productive to society that I do is just time-wasting until I next write, is just an interruption to the daydreams in which I live my life.

So the genius grabbed me when I was too young to understand the implications, and ever since it has been my one dependable companion. The genius will never shout at me for hitting the ball out in rounders, or not invite me to its birthday party; it will never imply that I am too fat for that outfit or too ugly to get a boyfriend. Not because it is a kind spirit, oh no: it is because it is entirely self-centred. ‘Take this idea!’ it says. ‘And this! And this! Here is an image – isn’t it captivating? Here is a phrase, a specific collection of emotionally-laden words – can you imagine the circumstances surrounding the moment they’re said? Who cares about your life, your pain, they don’t exist to me – quick, take this plot before it vanishes!’

I enjoy the escapism the genius gives to me, true, but over time I have learnt its childish ways, and the problems having such a deity in your life can bring.

First of all, my genius is a plagiarist. It voraciously consumes everything that comes into contact with my mind, from books (the genteel, benevolent, socially agreeable influence) to films, music, comics, cartoons, video games, newspaper articles, pictures on DeviantArt and Google Image Search, random conversations, and comments on internet forums. Then, it decides to vomit up a tale that mixes them in the strangest way, the literary equivalent of seeing breakfast’s beans heaved out with 9pm’s red wine. ‘Cool atmosphere,’ it says of a video game, ‘now let’s put in the characters from that anime you watched two years ago.’

‘You can’t do that!’ I cry. ‘I need to be original! I can’t come up with some great story if it’s just going to get me sued!’

‘Too bad, you’re hooked,’ it says, knowing my addiction. ‘Oh, and I added in one of the guys from the first season of Big Brother too, I turned this character evil, made these two gay, and the whole thing now takes place on a spaceship on a generations-long trip across star systems.’

‘I don’t even read sci-fi,’ I sob.

‘Oh well, you’ll just have to fudge it. Bye!’

And then it disappears, leaving me to change names and dust over the similarities to the source material as best I can, like a murderer trying to hide a shallow new grave.

The unoriginality of the genius even stretches to plagiarising itself. I stop it, while it’s half-way through a gabble about new characters and their backstory, and give it a wary look.

‘Waaaait a minute, this handsome and emotionally tormented man is very similar to the handsome tormented man in the last book idea you gave me.’

‘But this one’s different!’ it lies, and continues on regardless. I have learnt to accept the archetypes with resigned humour, and try to differentiate them as best I can.

The second problem I have with the genius is that it is fickle. You would think such a brazen copycat would never run out of ideas, and that’s often true, except ideas do not come at a steady rate. The genius’s time schedule is more akin to buses than church bells: barren times of chewing over old ideas will always give way to four inspirations at once. At least you always want a bus when four come along at once, though. The genius delights in juggling beside me in the middle of the night, or in the shower, or during academic essays.

‘Hey,’ it saunters up, ‘what’cha doin?’

I tell it I am busy. Not listening, it replies: ‘Well, you’ll never guess what! There’s this king, and he’s actually an evil king but not that evil, because he becomes sympathetic throughout the story, and he has this power to inhabit other people’s bodies and be young again through them, and–’

I plead but it is useless. If I am in the shower, or just about to fall asleep, or during a walk, I ask it to hold the thought, hold the exact conversations and turns of phrase that are so perfect, until I can write them down. Then, when I finally have paper or am at the laptop, I turn and say:


It whistles.

‘Well what? I’ve forgotten.’

So I commit myself to making a half-rate faded photocopy of the perfect fantastic ideas of the night before.

It is one little revenge I have, being enslaved to such a creature: I am utterly incompetent at delivering its tales. Sometimes it gives me fully-formed narratives that hover above my head, just waiting to be transferred to reality; other times it gives me multiple ideas and we craft them together to make something interesting and really unique. It doesn’t matter: they all get botched in the journey between air and page. I am a faulty conduit.

‘No,’ it moans, ‘no, this has a completely different atmosphere to what I told you. Why does this part seem so short compared to my plan, and this part so long? Why has this unhinged character gained a sane and coherent view on life? Why has this sympathetic character become so annoying? Why can’t you do any of it right?’

‘You should have picked someone better,’ I tell it, ‘someone who reads intelligent books all the time and got prizes for English at school – not someone who spends half her life reading blog posts and forgets how to spell the word “occurrence.”’

It grumbles and gives no reason for having me over anyone else, because like Athena it burst from my head alone, and it is as stuck with me as I am with it. So we tolerate each other, and occasionally I write something good enough that it tips up its chin and says ‘Not bad. Maybe you might actually get something published one of these days.’

I have a moment’s happiness before it all starts again:

‘Anyway, I know you’re in the middle of a first draft, and that you have another book sitting waiting to be rewritten again, and a folder full of ideas that you’ve barely touched, but I was just thinking about the father-daughter relationship in this film you saw last month, and I was thinking how cool that would be mixed in with this…’


Written by G.J.

03/07/2013 at 8:02 pm

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