Joys Of A Workaholic Writer Wasting Time

I’ve been trumpeting to anyone within ear shot that workaholic artistic people frog-1339897_640with their powerful and constant and sometimes obsessive need to work at their craft so they might improve and be more successful are the hardest working and most productive individuals on this planet.

That’s all true, but today my plan is to not produce a thing.

Today I will explore the joys of wasting time.

When I was a business consultant giving presentations to executives I’d say “Ladies and gentlemen I have utmost respect for your capacity for work, and I know you think you’re a hard worker. But you should spend a day with a ballerina. Then you’ll see what it means to work hard.” I’d ask, “For example, how many of you feel so strongly about reaching excellence that you’d practice till your poor muscles screamed and your feet bled?”

But I’m going to waste time all day. I’ll just see what happens.

A number of studies comparing novices with experts in most fields support the idea that because of their great knowledge and skill, experts are able to accomplish with almost no effort what non-experts can accomplish only with difficulty or can’t accomplish at all. That’s just common sense, isn’t it?

But common sense or not, that’s not true of artistic work. In fact, the opposite is true. Expert artists of all sorts—you very well may be one–work harder, not less hard than non-experts.  So:

THE BETTER SCULPTOR, PAINTER, NOVELIST, ACTOR, OR POET WORKS HARDER.

But I’ve taken this Wednesday in August off and I’m not thinking of anything like that because rarity of rarities I don’t feel a bit like working and have frog-914522_640decided to play hooky. I’m playing over again and again Simply Red singing the exciting “Fairground” and I feel terrific.  I’m writing this and don’t have the faintest idea where I’m going with it, and that feels great. I feel free, as if I’m in a forest as the Zen people say sitting quietly under a tree, doing nothing, while the roses grow by themselves.

At the moment it’s 2:10 p.m. In a few hours my wife Diana will be coming home and we’ll go out to eat. But first I want to finish this, wherever it’s taking me.

My “Let’s accomplish absolutely nothing today” rebellious mood began this morning when I woke up in yesterday’s street clothes on the couch at five according to the TV I’d left on all night. I just lay there and thought of my goals for the day, the way I start every day—take a look at the long email an editor sent and write a response thanking him, and continue finishing up my book I’ve designed for those whom I call “Stage Three Creators” who are not Stage One or Stage Two creators.

(If you’re curious, according to me:

Stage I creators don’t know the first thing about their craft, but don’t know they don’t know

Stage II creators realize they don’t know the first thing about their craft. So they try to learn as much as they can about their craft

Stage III creators realize there’s a lot more to know about their craft than anyone told them)

But I could tell my goal-setting mind and my I’m-all-set-to- work-let’s-get-the-show-on-the-road mind weren’t synchronized today. So my normal write-read-study daily schedule was tossed out the window and I thought, “For today at least, good riddance.  I think I’ll just putter around the house without feeling guilty.”

I can’t be away from written words for more than a few hours. So I went downstairs to my bookcases and tried to find something that would make me

booksfeel I’d gotten something out of the day even if I didn’t write a word. I passed up Chekhov, Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway’s Death in The Afternoon, which I’d never read, and Flannery O’Connor whom I’ve never read, and John Cheever’s collected stories and Raymond Carver’s Cathedral, and so forth.

And there packed in among all my so-many books I saw that little paperback my father had bought me that early autumn afternoon he’d taken my older brother John and me for a commercial boat ride on Lake Michigan when I was eight or nine, I think—The Great Short Stories of Robert Louis Stevenson. Ten brilliant tales by the best-loved storyteller of all time, the book says. Dad had taken us to a book store in Chicago’s downtown (which we Chicagoans call The Loop) before the boat ride and told us completely by surprise that we could each pick out any book we wanted and he would give it to us. We weren’t rich. What a luxury for me to have my own book.

It was the first book I’d ever owned, that I’d taken my time going through the store and picked out myself. I can remember as though it is happening now looking over the racks for the right book—will it be this one or that one? I looked at the book’s price this morning—35 cents—and at the copyright date—so long ago. The pages are brown and the paper is brittle. The cover is bent but not torn. Through the years I’ve taken good care of it. Wherever I’ve moved, whatever heaven or hell I was going through, it’s come along. How could I possibly be without it?

What pleasure it gives me to see that little book again and to hold it in my hands. It meant so much to me that day. During the boat ride (the boat was named The Blue Dog) I remember that I could hardly take my eyes off the book though it was a lovely day, the sunlight reflected so brightly off the towering buildings along Chicago’s luscious skyline, the surface of the lake blue-gray and green. But it was my book, the first book that I alone had picked out and now could read as many times as I wanted and could keep.

It’s back to work tomorrow for me, but now I’m thinking I don’t know if my father giving me that book was in any way instrumental in setting me off in the direction of a writer’s life. But here I am thoroughly, completely, and irrevocably a writer. And I’ve never since childhood wanted to be anything but.

Writer's Block

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Creative People’s Goals

I’d been talking to a novelist and asked her what she was up to. She said, “In the next three years I want to accomplish five things. First I will …Then … And also …” Was I impressed. She was clear and confident about her goals and I was shocked because many writers, like many artists, dancers, actors, composers, and other creative people don’t give their goals enough thought. So much so that I can just hear them thinking right now, “Oh, this post is going to be about goals—that kind of stuff. So I’ll read something else.” Big mistake.

In the business world goals are talked about all the time. Everyone who works in an organization has goals. But many creators have an aversion to goals that Set Goalsmystifies me. And they invent phony-baloney excuses for not pursuing them such as: “Creative people don’t need goals; they’re too spontaneous,” “I don’t see the value,” “I’ve never been able to stick to goals,” “I don’t have time for that,” and so on.

But the creator’s ever-active, never-resting mind—your mind, my mind–is confused when it doesn’t know what to do—when it doesn’t have clear, specific, empowering goals. (Be sure the goals are specific; general goals are meaningless.) The last thing a creative person needs is a muddled brain. So the mind’s greatest burden is to decide very clearly what must be done. When you discover what you must accomplish—today, in a year, in five–uncertainties disappear and you become productive. And productivity—the production of fine works one after another for the whole length of a successful career—is the main goal of creative people. Productivity is what all their routines and rituals are aimed at.

Many creative people don’t realize that usually the best in a field is also the most prolific. Except those who produce very little, but everything they do produce is perfect and hasn’t a single flaw.

Think Hard

Think hard about your creative goals because the more thought and the more intense the thought you give to shaping, reshaping, and fleshing them out, the  clearer and more specific they’ll become and the more strongly you’ll be committed to achieving them. That’s not just my opinion. It’s an indisputable fact.

The more intense you are about reaching your goals, and the more you talk about them with family, friends, and other creators and teachers and mentors the more likely you are to overcome obstacles and persevere and reach them. Simply stating a goal to another person–saying as that novelist said to me, “Here is what I’m going to accomplish”–increases the likelihood that you’ll accomplish it.

Then you feel a sudden zest, a tingle. Your imagination catches fire.  You’re Be optimisticfilled with optimism. Then you’re confident, and bear in mind that in every field on earth without exception–especially in the arts–more people fail because they lack confidence than fail because they lack talent.

It is confidence and not talent that’s the secret of most successful people’s success. Confident creators are rarer than talented creators. I take for granted that you’re talented. You wouldn’t have gone into acting, writing, painting, etc. in the first place if you weren’t talented. But if you have faith in yourself you’ll reach higher levels of success than other creators of equal talent who lack that faith in themselves. Think about that. Read that sentence again. You must never for more than five minutes lose confidence. Whenever you feel your confidence seeping away say, “Hey, enough of that.”

When your goals are highly charged  and you’re committed to them heart and soul, there’s hardly an obstacle that you can’t overcome—big obstacles, small obstacles, old obstacles, and new obstacles—no obstacle out in the world, and no obstacle in you. Then you have both tremendous power and clear direction.

Run Through the Tape

The majority of artists and writers, like the majority of all other people, relax when the completion of a task or the achievement of a goal—even the goal of happiness–is within reach. Is it laziness or weariness or over-confidence or burnout or because the pressure is off? There are theories, but no one has been able to adequately explain why. Many athletes relax in the vicinity of victory, and entire armies do too. And many individuals, athletes, armies, writers and other artists just plain give up and quit.

Particularly when a long time is necessary to achieve a goal, you may become exhausted and disheartened. It’s only then, when you feel you’ve given everything that should reasonably be asked of a person and can’t go any further, yet continue bravely on nevertheless, that you show your true worth.

The best-trained track men and women don’t run to the tape, they run through it. They race to an imaginary finish line a few feet farther than the actual one. Run through the tapeIt’s that imaginary line they are racing to reach. There’s a tendency in many people not only to relax when they’re approaching their goals, but also when they’ve reached them. I know a man who had been trying to get a book published for years without success, but lost all ambition once he was told it was to be published.

We have to learn to pour it on and run through the tape and pursue our goals with unwavering, powerful commitment, striving much harder, not less hard, the closer we get to reaching them. Tell yourself, “Run through the tape. Run through the tape.”  When your friend Kate or Jack or Milly or Bill is easing up tell them, “Run through the tape. That’s the only way you’ll succeed.”

Stick like Glue

Stick to your creator’s goals like glue. Never let a gap open between you and them. Many people fail to reach their potential because they let too much distance open up. Or they let too much time elapse and lose momentum. Or they lose focus, frittering their days and years away as if they have an unlimited supply of them.

Whatever creative success is for you, attach yourself to it. Where it goes, you go. Always be gaining ground on your goals, your dreams. Never fall back. Never get so caught up in the B.S. of daily life that you forget all that your craft means to you. The creator’s life is the best life—you know that. If you’ve gotten sidetracked, straighten up and set out again with determination and courage. Fear nothing.  If you need to make changes, make them, sacrificing this, sacrificing that—they were mere impediments. Constantly remind yourself of your goals. Then stick to them like superglue.

© 2016 David J. Rogers

Parts of this post are based on material from my book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life.

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Serendipity in a Creator’s Life

My journey on the life path of the writer (you may be on a creator’s life path too)–studying writers and the writer’s life, and writing and reading a great Road with the-sun-470317_640deal of my time, setting writing as a high priority in my life; thinking of it all the time; sacrificing for it—was shaped by serendipitous experiences which are probably not very different from yours.

In the third grade when I was seven, the teacher, Miss Gross, stood at the front of the room and read to the class my theme–I’d described playing football. I’d said when I was tackled “I fell to the ground like a blob of jelly coming out of a jar.” Miss Gross said to the class. “David has used poetic language. He’s written what’s called a simile.” That single little event—her saying that and showing admiration for those few words,  and making me feel that it was somehow worth commenting on—immediately sparked something in me, let something  break free in me.

David youngRunning home down the street after school feeling wonderful and liberated—when I was young I was almost always running–I decided I would become a writer if there were such people and make similes as often as I wanted all the rest of my life. Miss Gross then encouraged me and worked with me and nurtured me. She arranged for my stories and poems to be published in newspapers and magazines. She asked me to apply myself and work hard at the writer’s craft. I was awarded first prize in a regional essay contest.

What if there hadn’t been a generous, giving Miss Gross in my life? What if she hadn’t been that kind of extraordinary teacher who holds students in highest regard and inspires them to aim high? What if she hadn’t cared enough to help me?

At about the age of nine I happened to be playing in front of the TV instead of playing tag outside with my brother and sisters when an old black and white English movie came on.  I knew nothing about acting, but there was one actor Laurence Olivieron the screen who I could see was doing something remarkable. He was just different, unlike any of the other actors, though I couldn’t say how. But I could see that something right there on the screen. What he was doing, how he was acting, the impression he was making made me feel a sensation which I now know was awe. I realized I was watching some exceptional thing I had never seen in movies before, in my life before. I pointed to him and asked my mother who that was. She was a movie buff. She knew. “That’s Laurence Olivier. He’s the greatest actor in the world.” Even so young I had recognized supreme mastery, the highest attainment of an art.

I decided that I wanted one day to be able to affect people the way his performance had affected me—he had made me gasp. And I thought the best way to do that was to write things so beautiful that people would gasp too. A major event for me in college involved another teacher, Dr. Hunt, a well-known visiting professor of creative writing who one day read to the class a piece I’d written. (The assignment was to describe a person by describing a piece of clothing they were wearing, and I wrote “My Father’s Corduroy Jacket,” the best writing I’d done to date.)  When she finished reading, she said, “A teacher waits her entire career for a student who can write like this.”  She had me visit her in her office and helped get my work in a prestigious literary journal. So there was my second encouraging Miss Gross who happened to be on the faculty for one semester—the same semester it fit my schedule to take her class.

To create beauty—to write beautiful poems and stories—I decided depended on how moving the subject was and also the beauty it was expressed with, and Writing near a treeI placed a great deal of emphasis on the imagery in the writing.  In college I’d read Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur,” and was greatly impressed with its beautiful language. I never forgot Hopkins and years later (before Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble) I had the urge to read a book studying his imagery so that it might affect my imagery. Wherever I traveled—and I did extensively, big cities, small towns–I visited new and used bookstores and in every bookstore I browsed for such a book, but never found it.

Once I was to give a speech in Rock Island, Illinois. It’s a small city in the western part of the state that I had never visited before. I discovered that the hotel I was to stay in had just been built and had opened its doors only a few trash-25081_640days before. It had hosted a conference for fire fighters. The attendees had left just the day before. The event at which I was to speak came next. I arrived at midnight and was given the only available room. I laid my bags on the bed, and then noticed something in the trash basket. Apparently it had been left by one of the firefighters and the maid had overlooked it when she cleaned the room.  There it was: a full-length book on the imagery of Gerard Manley Hopkins—another serendipitous event, the only available room, a fire fighter who liked Hopkins too, and a maid who’d forgotten about a trash basket.

Years later I’d been writing and researching fifteen or sixteen hours a day for many months to meet a book deadline, neglecting my wife, neglecting my children, concerned only with putting enough words on a page to satisfy me—words, words, words, words, words–an abstract existence. Everything, every experience that would go into the book had to be translated into language.

That night I’d had it; I couldn’t work another minute, stoic though I am; could not pull from my agonized brain another word. I quietly so as not to wake anyone left my home at about 3:00 a.m. and walked the Chicago streets trying to decide if I wanted to continue leading a grueling, neglectful life like that or follow a more conventional life, committing myself to “a regular 9-5 job.” It was a cool, pleasant night—very dark—with a soft, filmy mist in the air. Should I continue a writer’s difficult life?  Should I just finish this book and give it all up?

Then I noticed ahead of me something on the sidewalk precisely in the middle of a pool of bright white light cast by a street lamp, as though it had somehow Spotlightbeen known that I would find my way to that little street, and that object—whatever it was–had been placed there as though in a spotlight very carefully for me and me alone to see. I went to it and bent down and picked it up. It was a book—of all things a book–not a glove someone had dropped, or a scarf, but a new, thick hard-cover book. You see: I could not get away from the written word. I took this as a serendipitous sign that like it or not a writer’s life—imperfect, isolated, and much too demanding–was my identity and that it was futile for me to think writing would ever not be at the center of my existence.

It was a waste of time to imagine that I could ever get away from a life that had been shaped by Miss Gross, Laurence Olivier, Dr. Hunt, a literary fire fighter and forgetful maid, and the lesson of that book left for me in the pool of white light late at night on a Chicago street.

I’m sure you’ve had similar serendipitous experiences steering you straight to the craft you love and will always love–your writing, painting, acting, dancing, singing. And if you have the time I’d love to hear about them.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Filed under Becoming an Artist, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Goals and Purposes, Personal Destiny, Personal Stories, Self-Direction, Serendipity, The Writer's Path, Writers

Awakened to a Waiting Destiny

Throughout all my grade school and high school years the only things I could think of that distinguished me in any way at all from my classmates was my David youngability to write a decent composition and to run faster than all but  one other boy my age in the city of Chicago. I realized those abilities weren’t in the grand scope of life all that earth-shaking. In most other areas I was about average or a little above or a little below. I was shyer than most and much less inclined to study than most. My report cards usually said, “Needs to apply himself.”

Yet I remember that one day in the fourth grade as I was standing in line the thought came to me forcefully and abruptly that something quite possibly extraordinary was up ahead for me in my life. I was stunned. After all, I wasn’t much to speak of. So why was I being singled out like that?  But BOOM, there it was, a secret promise life was making to me–a pact was being made, a deal struck, a bargain arranged between an eight year old and the life he would later lead, a waiting destiny. I knew I should keep the experience to myself and not divulge it to any living person lest they think I was crazy, or a braggart, or most reprehensible of all, that I’d gotten too big for my britches.

I managed to keep this strange experience to myself for more than thirty years, never telling a soul, but never forgetting it. By accident it popped out of my mouth one night while I was speaking to a large audience. I’d been excited. I’d been in a groove. My spoken words had gotten ahead of my thoughts. As soon as it registered on me that I’d just divulged my secret experience I felt embarrassed. I was a professional, but I’d gotten off the topic and I wasn’t supposed to do that. Who was I to think that what had happened to me would be of interest to 6,000 strangers? I wasn’t that important.

But all around the auditorium—to my left, to my right, in front of me–I could see people smiling and nodding. Some had tears in their eyes. While describing people-545549_640my hidden childhood revelation I’d been describing theirs too! The cat they too had been holding in secret was finally out of the bag, and they were relieved to find they weren’t alone. We talked into the night, men and women, some young, some older, some confident, some timid telling their story as I’d told mine, often for the first time.  We were good friends now.  We had a lot in common. What a night.

Since that day I’ve often described my premonition to audiences large and small to see if anything similar had ever happened to any of them. So many people confess to having had that same sudden and overwhelming sensation of being selected for something specific that’s going to happen and will benefit them and perhaps many other people too in important ways. I’ve always suspected that for every person in the audiences who has the courage to raise a hand and admit to having had the identical experience, there are others who have reservations about appearing too big for their britches or divulging such secrets.

So what I realize now is that at some point in many lives there’s an experience foreshadowing a destiny that’s waiting and calling for us. We’d been selected highway-498304_640for a particularly exceptional undertaking and are being told about it—given hints and notifications that life is holding fruition in reserve, and that something worthwhile and wonderful in the swift flow of time is in store for us. It is not wishful thinking. It is not a fantasy or an empty dream, not mystical, not otherworldly, but a fact as real and as solid as any other fact. A hard and fast promise of what at last we really will become.

However modest and self-effacing you are I think you have the feeling that you are special and that you’re supposed to enjoy a life that’s also special. You know with no doubts whatsoever that you’re intended to lead a life that has meaning and to do significant things. You realize that you must hold steady to that goal, undeviating, even if you haven’t achieved it yet and don’t know exactly what it is, or when it will appear, even if from time to time you’re afraid you’ll never achieve it.  When this awareness of a waiting destiny strikes you it’s an intimation of things that surely will come.

Even as a boy I knew that.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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The Perfect Creative Personality

The Perfect Creator Is Bold

What have you been working for these years and developing your talents for if not to set your creative potential free? And you will not do that without being bolder.

I know a painter. The best teacher she ever had gave her the best advice she ever received. He looked at her as she painted and said, “You’re being too careful. Make bolder strokes.” He went away. She followed his advice. The teacher came back and studied her work. He raised his voice and said, “Bolder.” Later he came back again and said, even louder, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?” It’s worthwhile to say to ourselves from time to time in our creative lives, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?”

The argument easily can be made that boldness in and of itself is what brings success in life. It’s a quality of excellence, of greatness, in every discipline, paint-33883_1280every field, especially in the arts where courage isn’t a luxury but a necessity. The great creative personalities couldn’t have attained success had they not taken bold risks. Even becoming creative at all carries risks. Creating seriously isn’t a typical life. Most careers are much less risky.

For almost all people—creative men and women among them–the problem isn’t being too audacious, but not being audacious enough. Boldness is the power to let go of the familiar and the secure. It isn’t something you save for when your life and your creativity are going well. It’s precisely when things are going badly that you should be boldest. When things look grim and you’re most discouraged, increase your determination and go forward boldly. Boldness brings a new intensity and sets you apart. When the situation is unclear but the outcome is important, be bold.

I’m interested in the samurai way of life and wrote a book about it. I find in it many analogies to creative peoples’ lives. In kendo—samurai swordsmanship—there’s a move that requires the swordsman to pass very close under the arms fighter-155746_150of his opponent. It’s not a difficult move, but taking the chance of coming so close to the opponent frightens the swordsman. It’s only the fear of taking the risk that prevents victory. But accepting the fear and edging in close anyway can bring easy victory. The great swordsman is bold and knows that the greatest rewards lie one inch from the foe’s blade. Your greatest future success in your creative life may lie close to the blade.

 

The Perfect Creator Is Sincere and Has Integrity

The true center of our experience with any kind of creation is the sense that someone with a mind, a personality, and a range of experiences is trying to communicate with us. That sense accounts—if it’s favorable–for much of the pleasure we get from the work or performance.  What a creative person is water-lilly-1227948_640intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally radiates in the work and can’t be hidden. Herman Melville said, “No man can read a fine author, and relish him to his very bones, while he reads, without subsequently“ forming “some ideal image of the man and his mind. And if you look…you’ll find the author has furnished you with his own picture.”

The  most loved creator is the one who’s able to develop a relationship with the audience that goes beyond liking and beyond friendship to intimacy, and that comes from above all else the sincerity we find in the work or the performance. Sincerity is what I sense all through the works of Pulitzer Prize winning author James Agee. Anyone who can write so beautifully and so sensitively, honestly, and intensely must be trying to pass on to me something that he cares deeply about.  (See especially Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.) The sincere, intimate creator invites us in to her inner life and says “Here I am.” The sincere creative man or woman is trying hard to convey something directly to me as well as he or she is able. And I respond.

Good creators have integrity. They are whole and authentic. When we have integrity we guarantee we aren’t faking, or deceiving, or compromising. It’s futile to think we can hide ourselves from the audience for very long or fool them into believing we’re something we’re not. The person we are—with our history and our points of view and perspectives and opinions–comes through clearly.

A creative person’s authentic voice isn’t achieved by adding something, but by the opposite process—by subtracting what’s pretentious or phony. Every creative person is different from every other. There are no duplicates. But whatever he is like, we’re trying to locate him, understand, and admire him.

 

The Perfect Creator Is Fearless

All athletes, business executives, adventurers–and cab drivers, accountants, homemakers—and all creative people of any kind know that the single emotion that most often holds them back is fear. Hardly a single day goes by without most people being afraid of something.

Every early morning I go to my work room upstairs and settle down to write. I’ve been writing so long and have produced so many words that generating work-space-232985_640text is second nature to me—easy, effortless, without strain. Yet, there is another emotion that is there with me some days, and certain days it’s powerful and tries to keep me from work. On those days I pause, fold my hands in my lap, gaze at the screen and ask myself, “What are you feeling now? Why are you hesitating?” And I answer, “What I’m feeling right now is fear.”

Author Joan Didion wrote, “I don’t want to go in there at all. It’s low dread every morning.. I keep saying ‘in there’ as if it is some kind of chamber, a different atmosphere. It is, in a way. There’s almost a psychic wall. The air changes. I mean you don’t want to go through that door.”

I ask myself, “What am I afraid of?”

Bear in mind that I’ve had many successes in writing. I’ve proven myself. Also, I am no coward who’s easily intimidated. I once rescued a woman from a would-be rapist–chased him, caught him, fought with him, wrestled him to the ground, and held him till the police came. I was heroic. Yet, when I sit at the computer to do the thing I do better than I do anything else, sometimes I’m scared.

Each time I visited a painter friend I saw the same unfinished painting on the easel. Nothing about it changed month after month. Not a single new brush stroke touched the canvas. Then she moved away and I didn’t see her for a number of years.  When we got together again I asked, “Whatever happened to that green pastel that was on your easel so long?”

She said, “I never finished it.”

I said, “You were afraid.”

She said, “I was terrified of it.”

The goal is to be fearless when facing your creative responsibilities and tasks and obstacles, as many creative people are. Or to learn to be unafraid, or being afraid, to face up to fears and conquer them. There are creative people who are totally fearless. They don’t experience any fear whatsoever, the way some soldiers are fearless—and happiest–when under fire in combat.  Such creative people have a high threshold of fear, just as some people have a high threshold of pain.

janet self protrait3

Janet Weight Reed, self-portrait http://janetweightreed.co.uk/

There are creative people who experience fear and are stopped by it. They may be superb creatively but that doesn’t matter. They’re at fear’s mercy. When you’re stopped by fear, you have only the slightest chance of being successful. That’s why the top is such an exclusive place—because fear stops so many people from reaching it. Thousands upon thousands of wonderfully talented creative people fall by the way and simply quit–hundreds or thousands every day– because fear paralyzes them and they aren’t able to recover. There’s no premium on gifted creators. Gifted creators with indefatigable courage are a rarer breed.

Then there are other creative people who feel afraid but conquer their fear by nevertheless doing what must be done. They feel as afraid as anyone else, but they react differently. They have a lower threshold of fear than the fearless person. But they don’t permit their fear to stop them. You look at them and you can hardly believe your eyes. You know they’re afraid, and yet are unstoppable. They know that the best way to conquer fear is to do what you fear to do no matter how afraid you are. And that you can do.

sea-gull-939474_640In Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, the old man Santiago is in his skiff out on the sea when a small bird lands on the boat to rest. The old man talks to it, saying that the bird can stay for a while but then must fly away, taking his chances like every other bird And so must we creative people take our chances, afraid or unafraid.

 

Paintings by Janet Weight Reed, one of my favorite artists and bloggers, are featured in this post. When I told her I was writing a post on boldness, fearlessness and sincerity and would like to use a piece of her artwork, she sent me three paintings, saying:

If ever a painting of mine symbolises boldness and fearlessness, it is the attached (large oil on canvas) self-portrait.   It was painted in 1989 during one of the biggest turning points in my life and career.     I keep the painting with me as a reminder of what it is to persevere through seemingly impossible obstacles.

The hummingbird  (watercolour) also symbolises for me the same traits.     They have been significant in my paintings, large and small over the past 35 years, symbolising the ‘unseen magic’ of our world….a source to be tapped into during times of great duress.

When I observe the life of cats (small and large) – I see the same traits…..

Loving all Janet’s work, it was very difficult for me to choose one of the paintings, so I have included all three she sent me.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Filed under Artistic Integrity, Artistic Perfection, Artists, Boldness, Courage, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Fearlessness, Inner Skills, Samurai Techniques

Be a Quiet Hero

“When something rotten like this happens you have no choice. You start to be really alive, or you start to die. That’s all” (James Agee).

Miche Watkins 1

“Should I Stay or Should I Go” by Miche Watkins http://www.michewatkins.com/

Has there ever been a person in all of history who hasn’t suffered?  A thing always alternates with its opposite. On the one hand we fall in love. On the other hand at some time our hearts are broken. Maybe more than once. There’s a time to be born and a time to die, a time to be healthy and a time to be sick. A time to succeed, a time to fail. A time to win and a time to lose. Joy comes into your life, and then sorrow arrives, at times with what seems an unbearable weight.

Then we must remake ourselves as heroes. Most of us have neglected the necessity of heroism in our daily lives. We think of heroism as an attribute solely of soldiers, adventurers, mountaineers, first responders, and the like–people who perform great dramatic deeds. Heroes take dark and dangerous journeys. They transform themselves into something that matters and makes a difference by overcoming trials and ordeals.

We have our own journeys and trials, and our own deeds to perform, which, though small, still have a tinge of greatness about them. We can be heroes every day, even with regard to small things, and being heroic in small everyday things, we can prepare ourselves for being heroic when misfortunes and disappointments strike. We forget almost everyone else, but the quiet heroes we’ve known in our lives are the people we will never forget.

Recently I attended a wheelchair basketball game. The players in wheelchairs passed the ball, took shots, got back on defense, scored, and worked hard. And wheelchairs-79604_640they laughed and the spectators cheered for them. When they collided and their chair was knocked over they righted it and settled back into the game. They were disabled and would never walk again. But they loved playing basketball and refused to stop playing just because of their disability. They were heroes. They never gave in. Some limitations we will never be able to change. But we can still refuse to be stopped by them, can still overcome them. The path to our major life purposes and fulfillment almost never lies in a straight line.

Many experts and music lovers consider Beethoven the greatest composer. He became aware that he was losing what he called his “noblest faculty,” his hearing, at the age of twenty-eight. Eventually he was completely deaf. He wrote, “I have avoided almost all social gatherings because it is impossible for me to say to people: I am deaf.” His battle with himself in facing up to the loss of that sense that should have been more acute in a composer than in others, and conquering it by continuing to live and work in spite of it is to be heard in the power and grandeur of the music he wrote, but could not hear.

At times living in a world without sound he was driven to despair and thoughts of suicide. But his commitment to his music kept him alive: “I would have ended my life. It was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed to me beethoven-1296374_640impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was in me.” That was his greatest triumph. When with all his strength and courage he had been reduced to despair and his deafness had cut him off from other people and driven him to terrible loneliness, he reached a turning point. He accepted deafness as a necessary condition of his life, and continued working in a frenzy in spite of it. He didn’t surrender to his suffering, but found in it the power to endure. “I am resolved, “he wrote, “to rise superior to every obstacle…I will take fate by the throat; it shall not wholly overcome me. Oh, it is so beautiful to live.” And the music this hero of the arts produced while totally deaf and suffering was magnificent.

Often the difference between a person who overcomes great obstacles and one who doesn’t isn’t that one is more intelligent than the other, or more gifted, or physically stronger–those things don’t matter very much to the everyday hero. But the one who has a powerful inner strength that is like a burning flame that nothing will ever be able to extinguish.  Even the meek can become heroes. There are situations every day that the timid and downtrodden rise up to meet.

You pass heroes every day on the street without realizing it. You glance at them, but don’t really see them. Who knows what they’re going through right walking-69708_640then as you look at them or how brave they’re being? You’re in a meeting and someone stands up and firmly says what everyone present knows is true but lacks the gumption to say. There is a hero. Whenever you face up to what you would rather hide from or ignore, you’re a quiet, unheralded hero. Homemakers are heroes at times, and at times workers are heroes, and a little child who is afraid of going to school but goes anyway is a hero. To face the truth about ourselves, to own up to our imperfections, takes a quiet and unobtrusive heroism. To lead our lives in an ethical way we must be heroes.

There come certain critical moments in your life when you’re at a crossroad: to be courageous or to be cowardly.  The moment of courage is the moment you plunge straight ahead with dignity and strength in spite of fears, ordeals, and adversities. At that point you transform your ordeal into a new power. Courage is what we do about our fears.

There’s no more important word in your language and mine than courage. You need courage even to love. The English word “courage” is from the Latin cor and the French word coeur“ heart.”  Courage is a thing of the heart.  It means never surrendering, never giving in, never giving up whether you’re in a hospital bed, or facing a devastating problem, or are discouraged. Whenever misfortune knocks you down, you get up. Your mind tells you that after failing three or four times you’d better give up. But your heart tells you that you must get up one more time. You know you will because your heart tells you that you will. You are knocked down seven times, so of course you get up eight.  It’s easy to keep going when nothing stands in your way. But when nothing stands in your way the prize at the end is usually nothing much to speak of.

We have to achieve our destiny whatever our circumstances. We all know at least one person who despite failed health or despite other misfortunes left his/her mark more decisively than others suffering under virtually no hardships and in perfect health.  The chief characteristic of Beethoven’s attitude toward life, and of courageous people today, is the learning that some suffering can’t be avoided. And in the realization of the heroism of continuing bravely on and reaching their purposes in spite of every obstacle.

We should let go of fear and self-pity and maintain the confidence that most things will turn out well after all. No matter what, we have to do the best we can, never losing faith in ourselves and the belief that life is more on our side than against us. In this life as it really is and not as we wish it were, something must always be left to chance.

But we have to go on go on living as well as we can, have to function in any case. If we can’t plow our way through hardships, limitations, and setbacks, we tree-240802_640can find ways to go around them and reach our purposes by other routes. We should save ourselves the unnecessary pain that comes from wishing unchangeable things to be any different than they are. There are at least a dozen things you regret and bemoan you did in your life, and many things that have happened to you that you wish hadn’t. But you can’t change them now and you have to go on living fruitfully with zest nevertheless.

When you’re brave you grow in stature. You’re a remarkable human being. You’re someone to take note of. Someone to admire. All people who stand up to misfortune unflinchingly are heroes. The misfortune has come uninvited and is unwanted. We would rather not confront it. But there it is, large as life or larger than life, and if we’re everyday heroes we face up to it. Everyday heroism requires an indestructible faith that if you stay psychologically and spiritually strong and have determination and persistence that can’t be exhausted, you will come out whole on the other side of this misfortune, stronger than you were before misfortune struck.

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Filed under Blocks to Action, Conquering Blocks, Courage, Heroes, Inner Skills, Overcoming Misfortune

Overcome Your Inner Blocks

“How easy it is to obliterate and wipe away every thought which is troublesome or unsuitable, and immediately to be in complete tranquility” (Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius).

I’m best known for my book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life. In it I point out that the majority of our problems are not caused by anything outside us out there in the world as most people seem to believe, but by our own inner psychological blocks that it’s our lifelong job to overcome.

When painters are painting and writers are writing and actors acting—inventors inventing, sprinters sprinting–their mood almost always improves painting-1380016_640however poorly they were feeling before they started and whatever inner blocks they were facing. Why is that?  Because whatever they were thinking before, however dismal, however anxious or troubled, now they’re thinking, “At this moment I am doing what I love. I’m at my best.” And their mood brightens and blocks disappear from their mind. This example illustrates what happens to you and me many times every day.

  1. Something happens to you–a situation.
  2. You feel something about it–an emotion.

But something is missing. Something happens between the situation and the emotion. What is it? YOU THINK. You form an opinion of the situation.

So it really works like this:

  1. There’s a situation.
  2. You think, forming an opinion of the situation.
  3. You feel an emotion.

Emotions don’t just happen willy-nilly and they aren’t caused by situations. They’re caused by your reactions to situations, by your opinion of situations. One person jumps at the opportunity to write an important essay, enjoys writing, is very good at writing, and is thrilled about it. Another dreads it and is afraid she won’t do a good job. Objectively the situation– writing an essay– is the same for both. But their opinions are very different. And because they are, the emotions they feel are very different. One is confident and happy. But the other is up against an inner psychological block.  For him the situation is fraught with danger:

The situation: writing an important essay.

His opinion: “I’m afraid I’ll do a bad job.”

His opinion results in blocks: self-doubt and the fear of failing.

The transition from situation to emotion is a quick leap. It occurs instantaneously. There doesn’t seem to be any middle stage at all. But if you could replay your thoughts and slow them down, you’d find them interpreting the situation, resulting in an emotion. When Wally is cut off in traffic he gets very angry and pounds the steering wheel. But his wife sitting next to him doesn’t get mad at all. You look at her and it’s as if absolutely nothing has happened. They are both in the same car that has been cut off, but he thinks, “That bastard. Who does he think he is?” and she thinks, “He’s probably in a hurry to get home and see his family.” Wally’s mad and has lost his composure. His heart rate is soaring. His wife is settled and calm.

Almost invariably whenever the same thing happens again we think the same things about it. That’s how we create the same inner blocks again and again. We get stuck in emotional ruts because our thoughts are in a rut. We’re in the habit of interpreting the situation the same way, so much so that we think we have to feel that way when in reality we don’t.

The insight that emotions are not in what happens to us but in our opinions is the basis of cognitive psychology. But there’s nothing new about the idea. It appeared in the third century B.C. in the Buddhist Dhammapada: All you are is the result of what you’ve thought. And it was the cornerstone of Stoic philosophy of classical Greece of 2,500 years ago.

There were two great Stoic philosophers, Marcus Aurelius, an emperor, and Epictetus, a slave. Epictetus wrote, “Men are disturbed not by things that happen, but by their opinions of the things that happen.” In his Meditations Aurelius wrote, “It is in our power to refrain from any opinion about things and not to be disturbed in our souls; for things in themselves have no natural power to force our judgments;” and “Today I have got out of all trouble, or rather I have cast out all trouble, for it is not outside, but within, in my opinions,” and, “Consider that everything is opinion, and opinion is in your power.” Philosopher/ theologian Martin Buber wrote, “Whatever one thinks, therein one is, one’s soul is wholly and utterly in what one thinks.”

What you think is both a source of inner psychological blocks and a way of pensive-female-580611_640conquering them. We are sometimes victims and sometimes beneficiaries of our thoughts. They can be our jailers or our liberators. You have the ability to completely change the contents of your mind.

It’s one short step from “I feel what I think” to, “Since what I think determines how I feel, I can change how I feel by changing what I think.” When you consciously change what you think in order to change what you feel, you aren’t denying reality as it is–you’ve still been cut off in traffic, or you still have an essay to write. No, you simply reinterpret reality. You make the choice to evaluate it differently than you normally do so that you feel differently than you normally do.

The only way to drive out an undesirable thought is by substituting a powerful desirable thought. By thinking differently, you can replace self-doubt and discouragement with self-confidence, fear with courage, boredom with interest, pessimism with optimism. You’re able to rid yourself of the thoughts that are creating inner blocks and substitute opposite thoughts that conquer them.

You can manufacture emotions at will. If you want to see how easy it is to create an emotion like fear, some time when you’re not afraid repeat fear-producing thoughts–“What if something terrible happens to me,” “What if I die,” or “What if my book is rejected by the publisher” or “He seemed cold; maybe he’s stopped loving me,” or “What if I’m never able to solve this problem?” Now dispel them by thinking courage-producing thoughts: “There’s absolutely nothing to be afraid of. I can deal with this” and keep repeating such thoughts.

Create Your Happiness by What You Choose to Think

What is happiness but a state of mind?  It doesn’t lie in situations. Situations are evaluated differently by different people. Parties make some people happy, but other people hate them. Some people find happiness working hard at their goals. But others don’t. Surely happiness isn’t in things, not even in great achievements. We can be accomplished and famous, and rich, beautiful, and gifted—and very unhappy. Or we can go about our everyday lives not particularly famous, not rich, nor beautiful, nor especially gifted, and find happiness every day.

That happiness can be cultivated by deliberately controlling what we think strikes some people as incredible. But not only can it be done; it’s one of the girl-358770_640only ways it can be. When you think happily your senses sharpen. You see, smell, taste, and hear better. And your memory improves. When we think happily and optimistically we are happy. We’re at liberty to choose to think happily any time we want, and whatever is happening outside us, at times in spite of what’s happening outside us. That’s what happy people do

A Crucial Strategy

  1. List the three inner blocks that trouble you most.
  2. Write out your thoughts that create the blocks. People who are trying to create something original are often discouraged. For the discouragement block you might write down–“I’ve tried so many times, and every time I couldn’t make it and I feel miserable about it. I’d be better off if I just stopped trying. I’m giving up.”
  3. Choose how you would like to feel, such as happy instead of unhappy, bold rather than cowardly; absorbed instead of bored, confident and not shy, etc. Write it down in sentence form.
  4. Write out more useful thoughts you will choose to think to defeat the blocks and create emotions you want: “When I face a problem, instead of thinking, ‘I’ll never be able to solve this,’ I’ll think, ‘I’m not going to let it get the better of me. I’ll just find a way to solve the problem that I haven’t thought of before.” Discouraged? Think, “I’ve found that no matter what it is, there is hardly anything I cannot do if I apply myself.” Afraid of failing? Write, “There’s no way I can’t succeed.”
  5. Rehearse using the thoughts you’ve written until they’re second nature. Say to yourself, “Whenever I’m running up against X block I’ll think…” Then practice thinking it.
  6. When the block appears think what you’ve written and create the emotions you want. The block will appear. But you’ll be prepared. You’ll think what you’ve written out and rehearsed.
  7. Be consistent. Make certain you think in the way you want every time the inner block appears. Selecting what you will think in order to conquer your blocks is one of the easiest things in the world NOT to do.

runner-802912_640It takes discipline to train yourself to run a marathon. It takes discipline to paint expertly or write expertly or act expertly. It takes discipline to train yourself to think a new way. What you need if you are to conquer a deeply entrenched inner block is the repetition of new thoughts. Mastery of anything takes repetition upon repetition upon repetition. If you do something a hundred times you should be good at it. Do it a thousand times and you’ll be better.

Four Reminders

  1. Remember that you have to change your opinions if you are to overcome inner blocks. You can always change your mind; can always change your opinions. And doing that, can always change your life.
  2. Think differently. If you’re accustomed to thinking in a way that creates inner blocks, develop new opposite thought habits. Inner blocks originate in your mind. They’re caused by thinking incorrectly. To conquer a self-doubt block repeat the thought, “I can do this thing. I will do it. I can do this thing. I will do it, “and take action. There’s a stubborn block standing in your way. To defeat it think over and over, “The best way out is always through.” Adversity strikes. Instead of letting it stop you, change your opinion. Think, “It’s only a temporary setback. I can overcome it if I keep moving forward in spite of it. Be strong.”
  3. Clarify what you really mean. Instead of blaming yourself with, “I didn’t get the commission for the painting. I’m a failure,” think, “What I really mean is that I wish I’d gotten the commission. But in no way does that make me a failure.” You’re giving a speech. You stumble over your words. Instead of, “I’m a lousy speaker” and losing confidence, stop yourself and say, “No, I’m not saying I’m a bad speaker or that I could never be a great speaker. All I’m saying is I’m human and like any human might do, I made a mistake. Big deal.”
  4. Be a fish. When your mind drifts back to your old blocks-producing ways of thinking, be a fish. Swish your tail, flick your fins, and change directions.

fish-582695_640

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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15 Ways to Overcome Fear of Failure

When most creative people pursue their goals they imagine what it would be like to reach them (Hope of Success). And they also worry that the goal will not mountain -seabe reached (Fear of Failure). Those two emotions go together and are reverse sides of the same coin. That creators’ fear of failure is perfectly natural and is to be expected whenever you’re facing a difficult, challenging task, such as a writer crafting a play if she’s never written one before, or a lithographer preparing a work for an important contest.

But at times the fear of failing becomes a major psychological obstacle that keeps creators from reaching the success and satisfaction they’ve been hoping for. Creators who are dominated by the fear of not succeeding, but failing have developed—often without realizing it–characteristic tactics for protecting themselves from enduring what often is not just a fear of failing, but a much more dreadful terror of failing. Ironically, those tactics do more to contribute to failure than to prevent it.  It’s worthwhile looking at those tactics that you might recognize in yourself so that something might be done about them.

Rather than enduring the misery of experiencing that terror of failing the person harried by it may:

  • Avoid competing with others of comparable ability. They prefer being the big fish in the little pond.
  • Be perfectionists. They don’t attempt things in which they won’t be able to attain perfection or near perfection. The tactic here is to carve out a very narrow area of competence in which they excel and can approximate perfection.
  • Prefer very easy or very difficult tasks, nothing in the middle. In contrast, most high achievers generally pursue tasks and goals they have a one in three or two in three chance of succeeding at. Not a sure thing and not an impossible thing.
  • Avoid displaying their abilities in public. A pianist may be able to perform beautifully in private, but shy away from performing in front of people.
  • Avoid attempting anything important. The more important the activity, the more they avoid it. A writer may avoid trying to get his work published even though publication is the logical outcome of the writing process.
  • Avoid taking risks. Most creators who become eminent experience turning points at which they take a risk which their less eminent contemporaries are too timid to take. Fear of taking chances melts in the face of a strong and urgent purpose and self-confidence (If you’ve been reading my posts you can’t have helped but notice I’m enamored with self-confidence because it, along with skill, is the antidote to most creator’s main problems, including self-doubt and discouragement).
  • Have trouble performing under time pressure. They panic as they approach the deadline. Even the word “deadline’ scares them. They delay. They give up. They shut down. More confident creators are challenged by a race against time and are often the most excited and highly focused and at the height of their skills when the clock is ticking. The best tactic is to forget about the deadline completely and focus totally on the task.
  • Prefer practice and games rather than the real thing.
  • Seek social support. People who fail tend to have as friends others who fail.
  • Have unrealistic expectations–oddly enough, on the high side. Asked to estimate how well they’ll do at achieving a goal they will say they’ll do far better than they actually will. I had an egotistical friend in college who wrote a paper for English in which he said he was brilliant, a great lover women couldn’t resist, handsome, a wonderful athlete, and a conversationalist who could charm birds out of trees. The professor returned his paper with the comment scrawled on it: “It’s a shame you can’t add a command of the English language to the list of your other accomplishments.”
  • Misjudge past performance. They also exaggerate how well they did in the past.
  • Reject the measure of a skill. For example, the student who doesn’t do well and says, “Getting good grades doesn’t mean a thing.”
  • Avoid measurements of their performance. They don’t want to know how well or poorly they’re doing, for if they knew they might have to admit they failed. Without contrary information they can always say, “I’m doing pretty well.” At work, they are the employees who dread performance evaluations. They might even arrange to stay home on the day of the evaluation. The best writers, best painters and actors are just the opposite. They want to know if they’re doing well or poorly. They welcome feedback, and actively seek it, feedback that is rapid, specific, and helpful. They are always asking about their work, “Well, what d’ya think of it?” Studies of highly creative people show that they accept helpful guidance and have “an openness to advice.”
  • Not try. A fear that dominates many creators and makes them quit trying to succeed is the fear of failing to reach financial success, or just break even. Writer Francois Voltaire and painter Claude Monet won Money treefortunes in government lotteries and were able to devote themselves completely to their work. But Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner spent most of his writing life in virtual poverty. When his picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine he couldn’t  pay his electric bill of $35. He wrote: “People are afraid to find out how much hardship and poverty they can stand. They are afraid to find out how tough they are.” But financial risk is part of the creator’s life style and for many writers the fear of being broke can be exhilarating, a source of creative energy. Most creators perform better under some amount of financial pressure. Sherwood Anderson’s publisher thought financial security would help him produce more and sent him a weekly stipend. But that made him less productive, and Anderson asked them not to send it anymore: “It’s no use. I find it impossible to work with security staring me in the face.” In The Courage to Write Ralph Keyes says, “Knowing that there is a direct line between putting words on a page and food on the table keeps me focused.” Picasso said he was rich but tried to work as though he was poor.
  • Reject responsibility for their failures. If you wipe your hands of responsibility, all pressure is off and all fear of failing disappears. You might know creators who go to great lengths to avoid responsibility. They concoct elaborate excuses for their failures.

symphony-hall-893342_640A not uncommon fear of failure among creators takes the form of “encore anxiety.” It is the fear after producing a successful first work that no matter what you do you won’t be able to produce a second work that’s as good or as successful.

 

To overcome fear of failure, go down the above list and develop counter-tactics. For example:

  1. Always try; don’t not try.
  2. Be interested in measurements of your performance; don’t avoid them.
  3. Consider your past achievements dispassionately; put your ego aside.
  4. Associate with other successful creators of comparable ability, not failures with less ability.
  5. Pursue goals that aren’t easy, goals that are a little out of reach.
  6. Open yourself up to areas in which you haven’t yet mastered perfection
  7. Take more chances; that shouldn’t he hard because creators are attracted by risks.
  8. Have realistic, not unrealistic, expectations.
  9. Judge your performance as accurately as you can.
  10. Actively seek feedback on your performance; don’t avoid it.
  11. Have no fear of financial pressures; let them motivate you.
  12. Be confident that you will succeed again.
  13. Don’t be intimidated by deadlines and time pressures; they help you perform better.
  14. Don’t fear competition. It may bring out the best in you and help you reach a level of success in your craft you’ve never dreamed of.
  15. Accept responsibility for failures.

success-620300_640All creators are capable of overcoming fears of failing, and when they aren’t extreme and debilitating, those fears can be positive—a push, an incentive– and have helped many creative people reach success.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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Extraordinary Creative Outliers

I think all creative people are extraordinary. You’re extraordinary. I’m extraordinary too. We’ve been extraordinary all our lives and one day at the age of six or eleven or twenty-one or fifty-seven something remarkable happened and we discovered we were, and then a corner was turned.

But a separate breed of outlier creator is so extraordinary and so driven and capable of such incredible creative feats and leads such an extreme existence of sacrifice that we wonder what there is about them that inspires them so. What sustains them and equips them so perfectly to produce such exceptional work? Theirs isn’t the only path to creative achievements—most creators lead more moderate lives. But it’s a path extraordinary creative outliers often choose.

Creative outliers are so absorbed in facing challenges and solving creative problems that they have almost no interest in anything else. Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow—the premier American writer of the second half of the 20th century– said, “I have always put the requirements of what I was writing first—before jobs, before children, before any material or practical interest, and if I discover that anything interferes with what I’m doing, I chuck it. Perhaps this is foolish, but it has been the case with me.” He was married five times.

Novelist Jane Smiley wrote, “Even if my marriage is falling apart and my children are unhappy, there is still a part of me that says, ‘God! This is fascinating.’” Ernest Hemingway lived in poverty early in his career and sometimes stole food and said a writer’s perceptions are sharper when he’s “belly-empty, hollow hungry,” that “hunger is good discipline and you can ballerina-534356_640_copy2learn from it.” Before taking the literary world by storm late-blooming novelist/essayist Henry Miller lived in poverty too. He once said, “I have no money, no resources, no hope. I am the happiest man alive.” Emily Dickinson, the greatest American woman poet, author of 1,775 poems, said that if she felt physically as if the top of her head was taken off, she knew that was poetry. Ballerinas—artistes of artistes–may practice until their muscles scream and their feet bleed.

We look at these creative outliers and we marvel and are impressed or appalled or shocked, and often ask ourselves “Could I live an unusual life like sunflower-395026_640that? Am I willing to sacrifice so much for my art and suffer so much and risk so much?  Is that possible for me? How much of my normal life am I willing to give up? If I sacrificed more could I be great too?” And ordinarily decide it isn’t possible at all and we’re not willing to sacrifice in that way, nor suffer, nor risk all that. We couldn’t because a life like theirs asks too much. We draw a line and dare not cross it.

All creative people are obsessed to some extent or another, from mildly to ferociously, so much so that when we obsessed-but-less-obsessed creators hear about these outlier creators we have no problems understanding them since they’re only different from us in degree.

What humans in their craft can accomplish extraordinary outlier creators are willing to push themselves upward toward.  They have a genius.  They’re self-absorbed. They’re determined. They’re completely taken by a way that’s too demanding for the ordinary run of women and men. But for a select few like these outliers their craft becomes a way of life, a journey, a goal, an inevitable struggle of someone rare who’s capable of achieving the impossible.

Creative outliers pour themselves heart and soul and muscle and blood into their work. They work and they work and they work repetitively, and think bird-226700_640about their art or their writing, acting, or dancing continually, and have a monumental amount of confidence. Any time they’re not working they’re making plans for improvement because they know no matter how good you are and what you’ve accomplished you can always be better.

The fundamental role of all creators without exception is to create—to produce works–and they do with a vengeance. Pablo Picasso produced 50,000 works—1,885 paintings ,1,228 sculptures, 2,800 ceramics, 12,000 drawings, thousands of prints, and tapestries and rugs.

There wasn’t a moment of his waking day all his career that Nobel Prize dramatist Eugene O’Neill wasn’t thinking about writing.  He produced 35 full-length plays and 17 one act plays and revolutionized American theater. Writing  long hours, English novelist Charles Dickens—the most popular writer in the world at the time– would sometimes put his head into a bucket of cold water, dry his hair with a towel, and then go on writing.

Creative outliers learn—often at an early age–that they will achieve more if they concentrate their efforts in one area. They are aware only of the work before them, and let nothing divert them from it. French novelist Gustave Flaubert said that only writing mattered to him, and that he kept all his other passions locked up in a cage, visiting them now and then for diversion. He said too, “Sometimes I don’t understand why my arms don’t drop from my body with fatigue, why my brains don’t melt away. I am leading a stern existence, stripped of all external pleasure, and am sustained only by a kind of permanent rage, which sometimes makes me weep tears of impotence but which never abates.”

French novelist/poet/dramatist Victor Hugo started his day by handing his clothes to his servant with strict orders to return them only after Hugo had finished a day’s work of seven hours. Composer Igor Stravinsky and novelist Thomas Wolfe worked all their lives in a frenzy—Wolfe in a “wild ecstasy” at top speed, never hesitating for a word, as though he were taking dictation.

You can’t measure intensity and a person’s pure life force. But the energy pouring out of outliers like Vincent van Gogh would bowl you over. Van Gogh vincent-van-gogh-starry-night-1889worked  furiously at a fever pitch, gathering up the colors as though with a shovel, throwing them on canvas with rage, globs of paint covering the length of the paint brush, sticking to his fingers. Goethe called such super-charged outliers “demoniacs”–people with a super-abundance of vitality, “something that escapes analysis, reason, and comprehension.” Goethe was aware of this power in himself.

Russian Anton Chekhov wrote 10,000 pages of short stories, and also produced great plays like The Cherry Orchard, The Seagull, and Uncle Vanya, and was a practicing physician too. Noted architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller was often unable to stop working until he dropped from exhaustion. Isaac Asimov, author or editor of more than 500 books, said he wrote for the same reason he breathed—because if he didn’t, he would die.

Extraordinary creative outliers are guided by an ambition, a notion so bold that it’s almost outlandish:  that you’re born with a certain aptitude and with direction, discipline, and sacrifice you can transform yourself into something magnificent. Their focus is maniacal—all day long every day. When they’re away from their work they long for it.

Nobel novelist Toni Morrison said, “But the important thing is that I don’t do anything else. I avoid the social life normally associated with publishing. I Toni Morrisondon’t go to cocktail parties. I don’t give or go to dinner parties. I need that time in the evening because I can do a tremendous amount of work then. And I can concentrate.” Outlier novelist Philip Roth said, “My schedule is absolutely my own. Usually, I write all day but if I want to go back to the studio in the evening, after dinner, I don’t have to sit in the living room because someone else has been alone all day. I don’t have to sit there and be entertaining or amusing. I go back out and I work for two or three more hours.” American William Faulkner said jokingly, “If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate: the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.”

We live in a world where everyone is selling something. Everyone has an ulterior motive. They want to be a brand. But these outliers only want one goal: to reach the highest heights they can. That’s it. There’s nothing else.

You look at Picasso and Faulkner and say, “Oh, that’s why painting and writing were invented. As if the gods of the arts declared, ‘To show you others how it should be done we’re going to make a person to represent perfection’.”

They have bad days, difficulties, and setbacks, and still believe in themselves. Andre Gide said, “The great artist is one …for whom the obstacle is a springboard.”   They know that effort is more important than talent. And if you say to them, “You’re just so gifted” they’ll stop you and say, “No, I’m no more talented than anyone else, no more talented than you, but I work much harder” and tell you and me, “If you want to excel you’ll have to overcome the notion that it’s easy.”

They’re a psychologically phenomenal combination of purity of focus and energy-1101474_640purity of discipline and purity of energy. Their creative lives are both comfortable and disciplined.  Even when they’re miserable they’re happy. Age has little effect on their skills except to improve them. They’re never happier and more at ease than when under pressure. They have a sense of being destined for something that very few other people are fitted for. But they are and they know they are.

They have a supreme care about their craft, and they never forget their failures. Their craft is their sanctuary. They’re never better than when doing their craft.

Outlier playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “I am of the opinion that my life sparks-142486_640belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible…”

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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20 Tips on Writing Like a Nobel Prize Winner

Writer Flannery O’Connor thought that any idiot with some talent can be taught to write a competent story, and something on that order may be true of all the arts. But a quest all creators aiming beyond mere competence are engaged in—writers, artists, actors, architects, dancers– or should be engaged in is discovering and refining a style which expresses exactly their unique vision and their unique skills and their unique selves.

old-1130735_640When they settle on that style their work leaps up in quality and they are whole.  But until they find it–it may take years– they cannot possibly come into their own and fully bloom and realize their highest creative potential. Style is the constant form in the creator’s work, the never-changing elements or qualities and expression of the person—his or her manner of communicating what is communicated.

Finding THE style that suits you supremely well is no small matter. A distinctive style that’s your own is the first sign of artistic greatness. There are styles that are okay for you and more styles that are wrong for you. And one style that is best. And the best may not be the style you’re writing in currently.

Nobel Prize winning writer Toni Morrison wrote that “getting a style is about all there is to writing fiction.”  And the most influential literary stylist on earth in the last 100 years was American Ernest Hemingway whose Nobel Prize citation reads, “For his mastery of the art of narrative…and for the influence he has exerted on contemporary style.” Hemingway’s techniques “have profoundly influenced generations of writers across all boundaries of nationality, gender, race, ideology, sexual orientation, class, religion, and artistic temperament” (Robert Paul Lamb). Critic Alfred Kazin:  Hemingway “gave a whole new dimension to English prose by making it almost as exact as poetry.” Joan Didion said about Hemingway’s style: “I mean they’re perfect sentences.”

ernest-hemingway-401493_640Probably no fiction writer before or since worked so hard for so long or prepared so thoroughly to create a personal manner of writing that was so perfectly suited to the writing he wanted to do. If you’re looking for a model of how a writer should develop skills you can do no better than hard-working Hemingway.

“In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and  we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves” (First paragraph of A Farewell to Arms).

Until you perfect your own style and are satisfied with it, you may wish to pick out from the style of Ernest Hemingway whatever might be useful to you. If you want to improve your writing by learning from the master—and what serious writer wouldn’t–here are 20 practical tips on writing like a Nobel Prize winner:

* To cause the most powerful emotional responses in the reader always understate, never overstate. Don’t lay it on thick. Write prose that’s always less emotional than the events seem to call for. No emotional excess. Reject sentimentality. Hemingway doesn’t state characters’ emotional responses at all except in the simplest way. He might say the character “felt lousy” or felt “bad.” The more emotionally charged a situation, the more emotional restraint you should use in writing about it. And then the result will be emotionally powerful. Flannery O’ Connor said the fiction writer has to realize that he can’t create emotions with emotion. If you want the reader to feel pity, be somewhat cold. Write in a subdued, unemotional voice. Make your prose cool and dispassionate.

* Don’t make the reader aware of your style. When you’re reading Hemingway you’re reading an extraordinary style. But you’re unaware of it.

* Have an intense awareness of the world of the senses. No one renders the physical world with more vividness than Hemingway. His descriptions of mountains, hills, plains, and valleys are beautiful and unrivaled.

* Base your paragraphs on simple sequences—the Hemingway character does this, then does that, then does something else—gets up from the table, crosses the room, goes down the stairs, and  then steps outside where the sun is shining and the flowers are red and yellow.

* Avoid describing the mental state of characters. Show it in the action.

* Simplify in every way you can.  Willa Cather said, “The higher processes of art are all processes of simplification.” “To write simply is as difficult as to be good” (Somerset Maugham). Fiction these days has shifted more and more toward greater conciseness and simplicity.

* Be completely objective. The more objective you are the stronger will be the impression your writing will make on the reader. State the facts.

* Tell the truth.  “A writer’s job is to tell the truth…Do not describe scenes you have not witnessed yourself” (Hemingway). Write down what you see and feel in the simplest way you can. Anton Chekhov: “One must never lie. Art has this great specification: it simply does not tolerate falsehood…there is absolutely no lying in art.” Hemingway’s works are generally autobiographical and stamped with authenticity.  He never wrote about anything he hadn’t first experienced himself.  He said, “I can only write from memory.” That creates trust in the reader.

* Show absolute sincerity. The particularly effective writer will develop a relationship with readers that goes beyond liking to intimacy, and that comes from above all else the sincerity the reader finds in the work. Hemingway is the sincerest of writers.

* Do no moralizing, no moral judgments—have no “messages.” Don’t preach.

* Eliminate long words or use them sparingly. But always use the mot just, the single best and most accurate word to convey exactly what you’re trying to say.  “I have never used a word without first considering if it is replaceable” (Hemingway). Put the right words in the right order to do the subject the most justice.

* When writing short stories make the stories simple—simple plots. The more elaborate the plot of a short story, the less effective as a work of art it tends to be. In many Hemingway stories very little happens.  In fact some of them aren’t even stories, but sketches that are only a few pages long. The same is true of Chekhov, and he and Hemingway, along with Guy de Maupassant, were the three greatest short story writers in the history of literature.

* Be brief, condensed, maximally concise. Not a single word should be unnecessary or superfluous.  A minimum number of words selected with care.

* Provide few details and make them precise and concrete. Too much detail exhausts the readers and takes their mind off the action—and that’s where it should always be.

* Stress clarity at all times.

* It’s not necessary to state everything. Rely on suggestion.  Leave some things for the reader to figure out.

* Write in a style that’s easy and flowing and has simple rhythms—a tremendously appealing sensual style.

* Keep sentences short and simple–a series of short declarative simple sentences, generally not complex or compound. No ornamental rhetoric. Write forceful and direct prose. There is hardly a single simile or metaphor in all the works of Hemingway. Dialogue sentences especially should be short.

* Severely limit adjectives and adverbs. Emphasize nouns and verbs. If Hemingway used adjectives they were inexact and common—“The trees were big and the foliage thick, but it was not gloomy.”  The colors were “bright.” “Hemingway certainly helped bury the notion…that the more you pile on the adjectives the closer you get to describing the thing” (Tom Stoppard).

* Cut exposition to an absolute minimum.  No explanations, discussion, analysis, and comments. Eliminate the frame. It’s not necessary. Jump right into the action.

stockholm-952497_640Having found your right style you’ll be equipped to achieve the writer’s objective “to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader” (Hemingway). Everything with brevity, economy, simplicity, intensity. It isn’t possible to overstate the influence of Hemingway on the way Americans speak or on how writers everywhere write fiction.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

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Filed under Artistic Perfection, Artists, Becoming an Artist, Creativity Self-Improvement, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Ernest Hemingway, Fiction, Goals and Purposes, High Achievement, Literature, Motivation, Preparation, The Writer's Path, Work Production, Writers, Writing Style