This is the third part of a four-part series. If you missed parts one or two, you can read them here and here, respectively.
Stage 3: Adulthood.
I like to say the main difference between me now, as an adult, and me as a teenager is this: now I know I don’t know anything.
While wisdom does not always come with maturity, the two do usually walk hand-in-hand. Do I think I’m wise? I do, but in the same sense as Socrates. He was called the wisest man in Athens, and he said he was wise because he admitted he didn’t know anything. Only by acknowledging ignorance in something can you be open to learning. To loosely quote the movie Avatar, it’s hard to pour water in a cup that’s already full.
Literary adulthood isn’t the point at which we’ve come to recognize the bounds of our writing ignorance; it’s just when we admit we have writing ignorance. The first time you look at your writing and think it could be better, and that someone might be able to give you some good advice, is when you earn your grownup writer pants. Unfortunately, that moment is rarely achieved in a pleasant way. For many, myself included, it comes after being beaten senseless with less than complimentary feedback, usually repeatedly and brutally. After the third or fourth concussion from trying to walk through a wall, you start to realize the wall isn’t going to disappear, and maybe you should find another way in. After receiving a number of rejections from agents and publishers, I decided perhaps it was the manuscript. I wrote a short story, which I posted online. It was fairly well received, so I decided to make it into a full novel. The Stolen Child was born. Now, if I’d still been a literary teen, I would’ve just started submitting that story. Instead, I decided I was going to make sure it was the best it could be. I bought some books on character development, read articles online, and then I bought a book on editing, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers. I won’t turn this into a commercial for the book. I’ll just say that I got a lot out of it, but I was also ready to learn because I’d admitted to myself that I didn’t know anything. When I reached a point where I knew I couldn’t take my book any further, I decided it was time to put my money where my mouth was, literally. I hired an editor. Again, I don’t want this to become a commercial, so I’m not going to mention who I hired. However, I knew it wasn’t going to be cheap, so I spent a LOT of time researching editors before deciding on one. If you’ve read my other posts, you know it was brutal at times. But I forced myself to hear what was said, to really listen and try to understand. That, in essence, is what makes us adults, no matter the realm; writing, life, music, driving, what have you. Taking criticism, especially harsh criticism, isn’t easy, but to my mind, it is a defining characteristic of maturity.
Stupid people don’t learn from their mistakes. Smart people do learn from their mistakes. Wise people learn from other people’s mistakes. We should hope to be smart, but strive to be wise.
To be concluded next week with senility.
You mentioned Socrates. I believe the most valuable advice he gave to humans and to writers is,
“An unexamined life is not worth living.”
That’s a good quote. I don’t know if it’s what you mean, but I think Socrates was more interested in the pursuit of knowledge than in the attaining of it. To me, that quote is akin to walking through a forest and not taking time to look all the plants, flowers, animals, and life around you.
I believe Socrates wanted his students to know themselves and act pursuant to that knowledge. Be deliberate, be good, be careful, be yourself, and know that it is you. I believe for Socrates he viewed much of the unhappiness around him among human beings resulted from actions not reflecting the human beings as they actually were.
I have to disagree with you there. I don’t think Socrates would say he knew himself. His very nature was such that admitting you knew yourself meant you couldn’t learn anything new about yourself. That’s not to say that he didn’t want people to try and know themselves, but to always do so from a place of ignorance.
I would, however, agree that he wanted his students, and all people, to be good. After of course carefully examining what was good. You comment though about unhappiness stemming from actions not reflecting who the people they actually are is more akin to Plato and his ideas of true forms.