I was having lunch in Palm Springs last month with a group of people and one of them turned out to be a writer. She was a writer of business books, who had also been a professional speaker and was happy to learn I was a writer as well.
“What is your expertise?” She asked.
“My expertise?” I said. Somewhat taken aback as I tried to digest her question along with the short ribs and cornbread. I think I took an extra gulp of pale ale to get it all down.
“Yes, what is your background of expertise to write your novels?” She asked.
“Ah…I use my imagination,” I answered, “And I have these crazy ideas…sorry…that’s all I have.”
Well, she laughed. But in a good way. She said, “That is fantastic, I can’t wait to read your books.”
Well, I don’t know if she has read any of my books, and doubt if they are her type, but then who knows? But this does bring up the question of expertise over imagination and ideas. Which is of more value?
I propose we need it all, but without imagination where would Gene Roddenberry be. Yes, the vey man who gave us the wonders of Star Trek. Gene was an air force pilot, which could have given him some expertise in flying, but he wasn’t an astronaut. And how he’d ever come up with Captain Kirk and Spock beaming down to a planet was probably not in any flight manual. He’d used his imagination.
And before him, there was Jules Verne. He was considered to be one of the father’s of Science Fiction. His expertise was he was trained to be a lawyer. Neither of these men were rocket scientist and yet they gave us this wonder of space and science fiction.
Now, take a look at J.K. Rowling’s who gave us the Harry Potter series. Is she a bonafide Wizard? I’m not sure, but I think her area of expertise is more in the area of her wonderful imagination.
Yes, in writing, we do need some expertise. In planning to write my very first book, although I had the plot, the character and the action thought out, I hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to do dialogue.
I started with Writing Level One at Mount Royal University, and sat in back of the room (yes the old grey haired guy) and learned this fascinating craft of how to make characters talk to each other. To me, it was like seeing that the Wizard of Oz could actually come from behind the curtain.
There was something else I learned. You can have all the ideas and imagination but without the effort and the hard work of sitting down and putting it on paper, none of it will mean anything.
I just read this quote from Stephen King, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
And there you have it, right from King’s mouth as it were. Here is Stephen King with some of the greatest volumes of work in the market for readers, and his claim to fame is he was an English Teacher who loved to write.
Now, that begs the question, will all English Teachers, and people who study English become great writers? I mean after all, that is their area of expertise – you’d think the world of writers would be full of English majors.
Well, I did have another conversation that same day, and it was on the golf course with a some friends from Canada. My friend remarked to me how his wife had a degree in English and was a great editor, probably one of the best he’d ever seen.
“Why doesn’t she write something?” I asked.
“She says she doesn’t have any ideas,” My friend answered.
So here it is. I think expertise is great, but without imagination and ideas all the expertise in the world just lies there like a unused sports car all full of gas and no idea of where to go. With a little imagination and just a the germ of an idea there can be one hell of an adventure.
You can make up the rest of the story from there…you get the idea.