I love the fact that I’m bad at [things], you know what I’m saying? I’m forever the 35-year-old 5-year-old. I’m forever the 5-year-old of something.
The inventor’s real genius was not to build a chess-playing machine. It was to be the first to notice that, in the modern world, there is more mastery available than you might think; that exceptional talent is usually available, and will often work cheap.
And there lies what I think of now as the asymmetry of mastery – the mystery of mastery, a truth that is for some reason extremely hard for us to grasp. We over-rate masters and under-rate mastery. That simplest solution was the hardest, partly because they underestimated the space inside the cabinet, but also because they overestimated just how good the chess player had to be.
At some point, all first dates become the same. The beginnings of relationships are all the same, but deeper connections require understanding more and more about yourself to keep going. That’s what I think of mastery. […] It occurs to me that mastery is irrational. Pursuing it makes life more difficult and more interesting than people really need life to be. But people who are driven to mastery can’t stop. It’s either charming or boorish. I’m not sure which.
Single-minded focus too soon can be a hindrance. Better to branch out and learn how to practice and fail well.
Success is nice because then you don’t have to worry so much about having been unfairly robbed of your very richly deserved success. Success is bad because momentary good fortune can temporarily hide the fact that you are still, despite your success, full of shit.
So much good stuff here:
Interviewer: So much of your fiction is charged with social import. Given our recent political upheavals, have you ever thought of writing overt political satire?
Saunders: I’m not very interested in that kind of satire because it works on the assumption that They Are Assholes. Fiction works on the assumption that They Are Us, on a Different Day.
Any mastery you can achieve in writing is totally personal and incredibly nuanced. It’s a sort of antimastery, feeling comfortable with being unsure.
One of the wonderful benefits of energetically pursuing a writing career is that I’ve come to understand the staggering limitations of my abilities. […] So one way I cope with this humbling state of affairs is via a little mantra: If I just stay fully engaged in whatever has presented itself, things will be fine. That is, I try not to think about things like: Next, I begin MY NOVEL!
Because growth curves are asymptotic, I am convinced it is better to get pretty good at a lot of things rather than investing your scarce time in becoming marginally better at a couple of things.