You don’t have to be a genius to be competent.

There may be some geniuses who specialize in deep insight, but who are not very competent at applying their insights. However, I expect most geniuses are competent at whatever the lower level of their field requires, even if they wind up doing it in some quirky insightful way that isn’t standard.

So becoming competent may never lead to genius. But it’s not a bar to genius, either. And anyway, isn’t it good to have more competencies? Or to deepen, extend, or speed up one’s competent work in a particular field?

Example: I am competent at various types of mathematics, but I don’t have the kind of insight into math that Sir John has. Basically, I brute-force everything, but when I did more math than I do now, I learned to be fairly quick at figuring out which methods would not work and which were promising. This means I am not a mathematician, but still, this sort of competence is much better than being afraid of numbers or unable to process anything more abstract than a quadratic equation.

This year I have been working on my language competence. I am certainly more talented at languages than many people; on the other hand, I am not one of those who seem to pick up new ones almost effortlessly, and wind up speaking 16 of them plus being able to understand related dialects. I’ve known some people like that. I’d love to be like them. But I am certainly skilled enough to deepen my ability with two or three languages I have studied, and I take considerable pleasure in doing so. There is no point in mourning that I am not hexadecimalingual. That would just get in the way of working on (playing at) improving the ability I have.

Writing should be the same way. If I allow myself to be competent (which I am), and try to improve incrementally, rather than bewailing whatever I see as the flaws that keep me from genius, I’m a happier and probably more competent writer.

Onward and upward.