On Attaining Mastery


In Robert Greene’s book Mastery (Greene, 2012, p. 249) he writes about the historical figure and author Marcel Proust. Proust had an experience reading a book that changed his perception of reality. His own struggles to write novels chased him his whole life and he, although devoted to his trade, hadn’t “become”. Much of his first writings were chores in the creation process, but also ran too long or weren’t developed enough to catch the attention of the public or raise sales worthy of calling novel writing a career. Printing books was expensive and not getting a hit, as it were, meant an aimless career that would disappoint his own father –a hit to his identity far worse than the public’s conclusion on his early talents. This wandering-writing phase that is so common to a person just using the basic elements of natural creativity that Robert Greene defines this as “low-level creativity or the natural associating power of the human brain” (Greene Mastery talk at Google). Being a writer just to write down one’s own thoughts only takes an audience down the narrow path of an even more narrow writer that is only churning out ideas without rich experiences from life that could otherwise make a good work great. It is the experiences in and of the writer’s life that can grant one the keys to the true and sustainable creative kingdom where masterworks can be drawn from.

In Marcel’s wander-writings, “He seemed to have no discipline and no real career aspirations “ (Greene, 2012, p. 251). His passion hadn’t been realized because of his discipline and knowledge base –or his lack of experience in the depths of a story and what the real world could add to it. Ultimately, “what mattered was to get to work. Something would come of it.” (Greene, 2012, p. 253). Getting to work meant to throw himself into the workings of people in various richly textured and wonderfully human environments. Marcel eventually discovered himself as a writer by launching into that reality, embedding himself in the real world in an incredibly profound way.

Robert Greene (Greene, Google Talk, 2013) mentions the idea of the “Active Imagination” and that an active imagination, similar to Henry Ford’s creative observation of the Model T assembly line, allows for the maximum potential of creativity brought about by simple observation itself –standing still and watching what’s right in front of you. Marcel Prost entered into his observation phase by literally placing himself into crowds, operas, brothels, and deeply human and flawed environments –in many cases inside the core of filth. He took extensive notes on anything and everything he heard and saw around him. The canvass of life was before him and he became a man documenting what he saw, felt and experienced. It didn’t help that he knew he was going to die, but it certainly accelerated his life task.

Ultimately, Marcel’s embedding allowed him to engage the ideas within the experience and in turn translate his experience into actual books –partly under pressure, but also built on passion and observation. By the time the book Swann’s Way was published, he had created an almost entirely new way to narrate to a reader –letting a reader become the book and feel as if the book was speaking to them directly. This was a new way of writing and changed his path and moreover changed the way literature could be created and expressed. It could even change an audience in wholly experiential ways.

Similar to Proust, Benjamin Franklin, at the end of his life, also embedded himself in the lives of Parisians. He had been a man of integrity and influence in both his early and later years, but when he went to France in his very last days, he became, in many ways, a true, low down and dirty Parisian. In doing this, Americans in their prudishness judged his character instead of seeing that he was so involved in “being of the people” that what was missed was the reality that in this embedding of one’s self allowed Benjamin Franklin to cut a very profound deal with the French King. Had he not jumped in, been a charmer, and ultimately a Parisian, Franklin would not have had his great success with the King –he, in essence, succeed by becoming what the King enjoyed the most –the people of his land. To see an American appreciate the French culture was an honor that positioned the Americas for a better future. Green in his Google talks explains this process of entering the world to engage and enrich a “willingness to run freely in all that knowledge” (Greene, Google Talk, 2013) By entering the full world and becoming a truer and woven part of it, the best bits could be absorbed, documented, and shared. This opening of the child mind to the absorption of the maximum creative experiences allowed for massive changes to Franklin and Marcel alike in their works.

In seeking to understand the culturally and creatively brave figures of Franklin and Proust, a benefit can be added to a mastery journey. It’s clear that the final days of both Benjamin Franklin and Marcel Proust showcase the necessity to enrich ones exposure to life. Settling for holding still –for writing what one already knows rather than agreeing to also write about what one doesn’t know is the way of creative death.

Rather than falling off a moral cliff into debauchery as Marcel did at his end and Franklin certainly engaged, I would like to take a similar but cleaner approach to embedding myself into the story. I believe that this can be done cleanly through architecture, the wilds of nature, and the small towns of western New York in a sort of “Stephen King approach” to the possibilities of stories contained within “environments”. Being more aware of my surroundings and finding a clearer, more dimensional mind, allows for the expansion of this working vacation into a trip influenced by the absorption of the real environments around me. That is an exciting proposition of a trip indeed.


Greene, R. (2012). Mastery. New York, NY: Penguin Group (USA) Inc. P.249
[user talks at google] (2013). Robert Greene – Mastery – Talks at, retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1197&v=J4v_34RRCeE
Greene, R. (2012). Mastery. New York, NY: Penguin Group (USA) Inc. P.251
Greene, R. (2012). Mastery. New York, NY: Penguin Group (USA) Inc. P.253