When you embark on a new endeavor—say, writing a book—you begin by doing the heavy lifting: you set out to learn. Perhaps you take a class. You talk to a mentor. You surf the internet or join an online community. No matter the method, you have to mine the raw materials, sort through it all, catalogue, arrange, cut, paste, and digest. At this point, you’ve banked scads of facts, advice and information. You feel confident you could hold your own in an elevator or at a cocktail party. Congratulations! You are the proud owner of knowledge. Yet as you sit down and try to synthesize all this knowledge into a piece of art, you have the nagging feeling something is still missing.
That “something” is wisdom.
You can acquire facts and figures, but if you don’t internalize them, they remain cold, distant, and just don’t resonate in a significant way. They may mean something, but they don’t mean something because you merely warehoused information like an encyclopedia.
Ah, but you are a creative being which means you have the incredible power to transmute rote learning and knowledge. Creativity is where the magic happens. You tap into that buzz of divine inspiration to leap from merely knowing something to feeling it in your bones. Yup. you’ve moved from knowledge to wisdom. Instead of simply understanding a simile is a “comparison using ‘like’ or ‘as,’” your creative wisdom conjures the words, “Her smile was like a morning in May, coaxing us from our seats.”
You may have acquired knowledge of the mechanics of writing a novel. You’ve heard phrases like “the first fifty pages” and “second act doldrums.” You know all about protagonists, antagonists, all sorts of tagonists. And that’s fantastic. You need that knowledge.
But to create art, you need to transcend. Until you begin feeling your story (or topic or theme or thesis) in your bones, your writing will feel like an encyclopedia entry, not a realized story. Don’t get me wrong, informative writing for encyclopedias and websites and pamphlets is important work. I’ve done my fair share of informative writing, and I am proud of what I’ve produced. But if we want to create art which connects to the world on a different level, we need wisdom.
Happily, this wisdom is everywhere. It’s the low hanging fruit of living, observing, and enjoying. It’s about noticing the way the lonely woman at the coffee shop absently twists her brassy hair in an attempt to hold back the tears. It’s about the heady thrill of a new crush. It’s about the first time you heard Rufus Wainwright’s heartbreaking rendition of Hallelujah. It’s about little victories, fender-benders, coins in the seat cushions, and the death of a parent. Wisdom springs from all of life’s “significant” moments, but just as importantly it thrives in those moments in-between. As a writer, you need to open yourself up to those in-between moments in order to drink up every drop of wisdom they offer.
Alrighty. You have your knowledge, solid if not very dynamic. You’ve tapped into your creative wisdom, cracking with energy but looking for something to transform. Now it’s time to throw an epic party for the whole shebang. Use your wisdom to mold your knowledge. Allow your creativity to color and spice your bland information. Stir that gurgling cauldron and ladle up your words, all piping hot with meaning and substance. Become the alchemist and use your wisdom to transmute your base knowledge into artistic gold.