What Makes a Writer a Writer

Components of a Certain Kind Make a Writer a Writer

A Monte Python skit tells the story of an accountant who was dissatisfied with accounting because he felt it was so boring. He went to a service that analyzed an individual’s personality and capabilities and advised the person on the occupation that would best suit them. The tests revealed that he was a very boring person, which made him perfect for the accountant’s job. The skit gets a laugh, but also illustrates the fact that certain personal characteristics do equip people to perform well in a pursuit.

A number of components come into alignment to result in the direction of a person’s life and career. The components making a social worker are different from the components that work together to make a diplomat or a baker. Why do you happen to be a writer and not an acrobat or botanist? You didn’t become the writer you are willy-nilly. There are reasons. Why were Picasso and Monet painters and not novelists?

Pink lotus on green backgroundBuddhism sets up qualities a life must have if the person is to find fulfillment. One quality is “Right Livelihood:” to be most fulfilled the person must be in the occupation that most suits them and is most beneficial to them. My wife and I have four children. Each is very different than the others but is perfect for their occupation. The analytical one who loves mathematics is the director of revenue for a city. The organized one manages a number of people. The one who wants to help people is a therapist. The most sociable one is a real estate agent helping people find the home they will be most happy in.

You’re a writer because you have components of a certain type—an unusual type—of many personal qualities, interests, motivations, values, attitudes, abilities, experiences, and other elements equipping you specifically for the writer’s life, which I needn’t tell you is anything but an ordinary, typical, or easy life.

Jigsaw puzzle piecesAll necessary components have to be present if you are to excel at the writer’s craft. If just one component is missing, you no longer have an ideal writer. If you are to succeed in an art there must be a fit between the talent you possess and the talent necessary to participate with distinction in the art.

The existence of serious writers is atypical. Most people do not live a serious writer’s life. They do not keep artist’s work hours.  They are not absorbed in words, paragraphs, style, and sentences. They are not concerned with publishers’ deadlines. They do not worry about the rhythms of sentences, their music. Their training is different.  Their friends are different, as are their ambitions and dreams. They are not so self absorbed as writers are. Writers’ lives are like other writers’ lives.

Ernest Hemingway—quite probably the most innovative stylist of all–had all the components. William Faulkner had them all.  Shakespeare had them all, and Marcel Proust, Eugene O’Neill, Virginia Woolf, and Joseph Conrad and James Joyce and centuries before them Sophocles and Euripides. No component was missing.  Stephen King, Joan Didion, and John Grisham have them. People who win Nobel Prizes have them. Do you have them?

Louise Nevelson said: “My theory is that when we come on this earth, many of us are ready-made…Some of us–most of us–have genes that are ready for certain performances. Nature gives you these gifts.”

Needed Writers’ Skills

Tree and grass near a pondWriters and other artists should be able to recall many thousands of detailed memories that form a basis of their writings–a gift to recall sensations and experiences from many years earlier and to reconstruct them in their original freshness and vividness.

A seventy-five year old writer may describe the expression on her mother’s face at her fourth birthday party. And if a photograph of that face that day were held up it would be identical to the skilled writer’s written description.

If you don’t have the writer’s components and wish to excel as a writer you’ll have to acquire them–if you can. For example, having a rich imagination, being comfortable working in solitude, and being inquisitive are qualities that writers should possess. (If writers cannot be productive working alone for long periods they will have problems.)

But not everyone who wishes to be a writer is able to easily acquire all the components. For example, to be considered a good writer, a writer must possess a range of identifiable technical capabilities such as the ability to create an effective dramatic scene.

silhouette of writer working at a typewriterGood writers can do that, but not all writers can, even some writers who work very hard trying to learn how to. Think of any writer’s skill–some people will master it easily, some only with great difficulty, and some will never master it. Whatever they do, some writers’ scenes are not effective.

They become known as novelists or short story writers who though perhaps superlative in other respects, write scenes that are flat. Some writers are masters of the sentence. Their sentences seem to pop out of the text and startle you with their beauty. Thomas Wolfe could not handle the plots of his novels but wrote wonderful episodes.

Or the writer’s descriptions of characters and landscapes are always poor because they have no facility for creating images, metaphors, and similes although a good writer should have an “eye” and know how to write vivid descriptions that enliven the text and appeal to readers’ senses. Some writers must struggle to create a single image while others–painters in words–are able to pull five good ones out of the air at will. They are asked, “How are you able to do so easily what is so difficult for me?” It is a gift.

Hands of woman writing in a parkA writer should have an insatiable passion to write and the skill of persistence. Joyce Carol Oates is a prolific author of fifty-eight novels for a reason. She has good writing practices, and finds no reason why one who professes to be a writer shouldn’t be writing all the time. She says, “When writing goes painfully, when it’s hideously difficult, and one feels real despair (ah, the despair, silly as it is, is real!)–then naturally one ought to continue with the work; it would be cowardly to retreat. But when writing goes smoothly–why then one certainly should keep on working, since it would be stupid to stop. Consequently one is always writing or should be writing.”

© 2021 David J. Rogers

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

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Does Lockdown stifle or encourage creativity?

Janet Weight Reed always does wonderful work–beautiful paintings and thoughtful and intelligent narratives. I want to share this timely post of hers with my readers.

My Life as an Artist (2)

It’s been one year since the pandemic began and lockdown became a part of our lives….time enough to ask the question ‘Does lockdown stifle or encourage creativity’?

Birthday flowers given to me by a neighbour – perfect for my daily warm up exercise to get the creative juices flowing.

I believe the answer to this question ultimately lies in the attitude we bring to each day. This applies whether in lockdown or not.

Most importantly do we have a routine that works for us? Pre lockdown many might have had routines imposed upon them. Certain trains to catch, times to be at the office/school etc…but without those imposed routines, life is quite different.

A year ago, at the beginning of the first lockdown, I was very aware that many people were in what I call the ‘New Years resolution’ mode. Excitement reigned as people ordered all sorts of art…

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A Better Way to Overcome Fears And Worries

My book Fighting To Win: Samurai Techniques For Your Work And Life had just come out, and I was on a TV show publicizing it. The host said, “I read your book last night. You say in it that in the martial art called aikido you “harmonize” your movements with your opponent’s movements. Can you demonstrate to me what that means?”

hands of Aikido martial artistWe were sitting about three feet apart, facing each other.  I said, “I’ll be happy to.” The host said, “Should we go over there where we have more room?” I said, “This is fine. I won’t have to get up out of this chair. Throw a punch at me as though you are mad at me and want to knock me down. Don’t hold anything back. Really throw a punch.”

The host said, “Are you sure you want me to?” He was a very big, muscular man who was obviously a body-builder. I said, “Go ahead. I’ll be all right.”

The host stood, reared back, and threw a punch; still sitting, I reached out and grabbed his hand that was coming at me and pulled it forcefully. The host went flying to the floor. Lying on the floor, he said, “Wow.”

I helped him up and said, “You see, I harmonized with you by not resisting you but instead by going with you, following your intention, the direction of your movements, pulling your hand rather than blocking it. That is called extending in aikido–that pulling–going further in the direction of the opponent’s momentum and force. That is not the normal Western way to defeat an opponent. In the West we are trained to oppose force with force. You punch me and I punch you.  Then the stronger person wins. In aikido the weaker person can win.”

The host laughed: “I certainly know now how effective extending can be in defeating an opponent.”

I said, “You can apply the technique of extending to overcome everyday emotional difficulties like fears and worries that may have been causing you problems that even for a long time have interfered with your living.”

The host said, “That’s interesting. How does that work?” Then he added, “You’re not going to throw me again are you?” I chuckled and said, “That won’t be necessary.”

 

Some Applications

The fear of public speaking is a major problem for many people. Surveys have shown that some people would rather fall 32,000 feet from an airplane than give a speech in public. (In other words, they would rather die.)  The only greater fear among most people is the fear of sharks. I’ve known people to turn down promotions into lucrative executive positions or teaching jobs because giving speeches or lectures would be a necessity of the new job and that they cannot imagine themselves doing.

I know of a PhD candidate who spent eight years researching and writing her dissertation, but after finishing it was so afraid of the interview with department faculty that was required before that degree could be awarded that after all the work was done she quit the program. She had worked hard for a long time and never had the fulfillment of a degree because of the fear she could not cure.

Man holdng head, worriedI’ve seen emotional extending used successfully to overcome the fear of an upcoming speech many times. Go into a room by yourself, sit on a chair, and alone, worry and make yourself afraid. Tell yourself things that scare you. Exaggerate. Do this for five or six minutes, or longer, if necessary. After a while you will find the fear disappears. Extending excites emotions that are troubling you, then calms them down. The fear of asking for a promotion or a raise, of having an upcoming job interview or of asking for a date can be dealt with the same way. Whatever the fearful situation is, extending will help.

 

Excerpted from Fighting To Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life:

“All your emotions are forms of energy. Each and every one of your emotions is power. Your positive feelings of excitement, pleasure, joy, courage, optimism, confidence, and love can fill your actions with an almost unbelievable power. You know that yourself without even having to think twice about it. When you’re filled with really positive feelings, there’s hardly anything you feel you cannot accomplish.  Hardly anything can stop you.

Your negative emotions are also power. But they’re destructive. Your fear, worry, anxiety, depression, anger, nervousness and even stage-fright and all the other of what the samurai called inner ‘dragons’ are power that’s being used in the wrong way. They are energy that’s pointed in the wrong direction. It’s directed inward, against you. It holds you back. It keeps you down.

What I call emotional aikido is a way of transforming negative, inward-directed emotional power into positive power pointed outward. It transforms your harmful emotions into helpful ones, and it does so by going with your harmful emotions, not opposing them.

Neurologist Dr. Viktor Frankl points out that, paradoxically, trying too hard at something often makes it impossible. For example, the person who is afraid of blushing and tries hard not to when he enters a room full of people will actually blush. The person who is afraid of stuttering, and tries hard not to, will stutter. Frankl calls this “hyper” intention. It’s intending too much and too hard. A classic example of too much intending is the man who is so damned intent on impressing his partner with his sexual prowess that he tries too hard and fails miserably.

Frankl realized that hyper-intending could be a very useful way to rid people of emotional impediments: If a person stuttered when he tried very hard not to, wouldn’t he be unable to stutter if he tried very hard to make himself stutter? And that’s exactly what happened. A man with a lifelong severe case of stuttering stopped only when he tried very hard to force himself to stutter. A man who had suffered from writer’s cramp for some years was cured by trying not to write neatly and legibly, but in the worst possible scrawl.

The moment he deliberately tried to scribble, he couldn’t. Using the technique of hyper-intention, Dr. Frankl even cured a healthy man of his terrifying fear of having a heart attack. He had him try to induce one! The man worked at it like the devil. He huffed and puffed trying to make it happen. What happened was that the heart attack didn’t happen, but the man lost his irrational fear of one.

In going into battle against a disturbing inner emotion you have a choice to make. If you’re a direct force-against-force stylist you’ll probably attempt to overcome the emotion directly through willpower. You’ll tell yourself, “I won’t let this thing get the better of me. I will not blush this time . . . will not stammer . . . will not feel nervous, afraid, worried, depressed,” etc., etc., etc.

According to Frankl, that approach only increases the problem: “Pressure precipitates counter-pressure.” But if you use the indirect, extending style of hyper-intention you stand a far better chance. To use it, you (1) take the frontal approach by identifying the emotion that’s disturbing you, and then you (2) go with it and exaggerate it. If you’re feeling afraid of something tell yourself things that will make you even more afraid. Fear your guts out. Fear to beat the band. Do the same thing for any feeling that’s troubling you. All your emotions have a saturation point which when reached will stop the emotion. Emotional extending is over-saturating them.

You can’t ignore the troublesome worries, fears and anxieties that get in your way and interfere with your functioning and feeling well, just as you cannot ignore any opponent without risking defeat. They’re real. They’re blocking you. And to win you have no choice but to deal with them. You can’t will them out of existence by pitting your willpower against their power. But you can extend them out of existence. Don’t attempt to suppress them or beat them down. Do the opposite—exaggerate them, hyper-intend them, over-saturate them, extend them.”

 

pink lotus flower on green If you choose to use the aikido approach to overcome external and emotional adversaries, be aware that the way to “serve” one’s adversary in the aikido style is to understand what they want, and to give them more of it to get what you want. Remember: the extending technique or process can be an antidote to the emotions of fear, worry, anxiety, the blues, and depression.

Using emotional extending aikido the “intention” of your fear is to make you feel afraid. Give it what it wants. But go further. Make yourself feel more afraid .The fear will grow greater for a while as you think thoughts that induce fear, and then if you persist the fear will disappear. Make yourself be more anxious and the anxiety will grow greater and then as you continue extending, the anxiety fortunately will disappear.

If the PhD candidate who dropped out of the program rather than face her fear of speaking with the department faculty had been familiar with emotional extending it may well be that she would have had a wonderful career she had worked so hard to prepare for.

 

© 2021 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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

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A Style Is About All There Is to Art

Style is everywhere in art and everywhere in everyday life. There would be no art without style. Picasso’s Guernica has a style, and Pride and Prejudice does too, and the building you are in has a style. Whenever you speak or send a text or dress or brush your hair, you have a style. You’re reading a style right now. It is mine, and just as, whether you know it or not, you have spent probably Interior livingroom with stylethousands of hours developing yours (so that I’d recognize anywhere that it is yours), I have consciously spent many hours developing mine.

A core reason you are attracted to one painter over others or one writer over others, or why you like Sinatra, or Chopin or Debussy or The Simpsons is their style.  Speaking of style, short story specialist Irishman Frank O’ Connor said, “One sees that the way a thing is made controls and is inseparable from the whole meaning of it.” In the same vein but more emphatically American Nobel Prize writer Toni Morrison said, “Getting a style is about all there is to writing.”

The total effect of what a writer says will depend to a considerable extent on how the writer says it. Style is the manner of saying what is said.  Some styles are appealing, but many are unappealing. The writer should always want to write with an appealing style. It needn’t be beautiful, but it should be appealing.

Painting of field by Claude Monet

Claude Monet

The writer’s style expresses his or her temperament and his or hers alone, and reveals verbal abilities, methods of writing, enthusiasms, and even self-doubts. By analyzing a writing style you can analyze the writer. Painters leave their print everywhere in their paintings. Style is the whole artist that is made recognizable in the work. You can see from a work that a Cezanne temperament is not a Monet temperament.

There are good styles and bad styles. .  People do not generally like weird, eccentric styles. When artists discover the style that best expresses them (which may take years to happen) they experience a breakthrough and feel a new sense of power and confidence over their work.

A sign for writers that they are on the right track is the emergence in the work at hand of their characteristic style.  When they see their style taking shape in the work, they feel secure. I’ve always felt that when I get the first paragraph under control (in my style), the piece is basically written.

Simplicity

Artists who are interested in styles today are almost automatically interested in SIMPLICITY, claiming that works of art should not be unnecessarily complicated. Speaking of simplicity, writer Willa Cather said that the higher processes of art are all processes of simplification.

portrait of Anton Checkhov

Anton Checkhov

Anton Chekhov is considered the master of the short story–the greatest, the best to learn from. He wrote to his brother, also a writer, “A strange thing has happened to me: I have developed a mania for brevity–everything strikes me as too long.” He practiced “maximal conciseness.” His phrases are simple, such as, “The sun set,” “It got dark,” and “It started to rain.”  Novelist Somerset Maugham thought that writing simply was more difficult than it might seem. He said: To write simply is as difficult as to be good.”

Chekhov believed that not only should a short story’s style be simple, but the plot should be simple too. He said, “The more elaborate the plot of a given story is, the less effective it tends to be as a work of art.” In many of his stories precious little happens.   He said, “You should take something ordinary, something from everyday life without a plot or ending.” He said a story should have a man and a woman, and a little action. Some of his most admired stories are mood-pieces in which plot is barely present.

Frank Lloyd Wright building

Frank Lloyd Wright

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, designer of New York’s Guggenheim Museum, was interested in simplicity not only in architecture, but in all arts. He believed that there could be but one best way for the artist to express anything, and that the way could include only what was absolutely necessary to express the essential meaning of the thing. That requires stringent simplification. By eliminating the inessentials, the artist arrives at the nature of the object—its pure form. But the artist must know when to stop simplifying. Wright said, “Less would ruin the work as surely as would ‘more.’”  So, simplify but don’t go too far.

Accessibility and Artworks

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

Artists who are interested in style and interested in simplicity are also interested in ACCESSIBILITY of their works. In any of the arts, the artist has to decide–as do you–if it is important to appeal to an audience, to be understood by an audience. Should the work be accessible? How accessible? Leo Tolstoy, whose novels are sometime considered the greatest ever written, said, “Great works of art are only great because they are accessible and comprehensible to everyone.” Sculptor Jacques Lipchitz thought what many people think: that so-called great works are too pompous, too stiff, and are not accessible. Ford Maddox Ford was all for accessibility and said, “You must have your eyes forever on your Reader. That alone constitutes Technique”

William Faulkner felt differently. He said, “I don’t care about John Doe’s opinion on mine or anyone else’s work. Mine is the standard which has to be met.” (And he won a Nobel Prize.) But his work is accessible only with difficulty–long, convoluted sentences and rhetorical style. But Francois Mauriac disagreed with Faulkner and said, “An author who assures you that he writes for himself alone and that he does not care whether he is heard or not is a boaster and is deceiving himself or you.”  (And he won a Nobel Prize too.) Delacroix wanted accessibility. He said. “A picture is but the bridge between the soul of the artist and that of the spectator.”  How accessible will your work be?

The Author’s Intensity and the Production of Literature

The artist’s INTENSITY is reflected in style.  Some artists’ style is laid back, but others’ style is red hot. Raymond Chandler turned hard-boiled detective writing into critically-accepted literature and had a lot to say about the writer’s craft.  He wrote: “When a book, any sort of book, reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance it becomes literature. That intensity may be a matter of style, situation, character, emotional tone, or idea, or half a dozen other things. It may also be perfection over the movement of a story similar to the control a great pitcher has over a ball.” Painter George Innes said, “The greatness of art is not in the display of knowledge…but in the distinctness with which it conveys the impression of a personal vital force that acts spontaneously, without fear or hesitation.”

Advice Regarding Emotions, Plot, and Understatement

Van Gogh self portrait

Van Gogh

A style conveys EMOTIONS. Chekhov wrote, “The more emotionally charged a situation, the more emotional restraint one must show in writing, and then the result will be emotionally powerful. There is no need to lay it on thick.” Other Chekhov quotes: “Avoid describing the mental state of your protagonist.” “Avoid describing emotional states…one should make these apparent from action.“ “To get strong emotions from the reader, try to be somewhat colder.” Thinking the same thing as Russian Chekhov, Frenchman Gustave Flaubert said, “The less one (the writer) feels a thing, the more likely one is to express it as it really is.”

The two other greatest writers of short stories–Guy de Maupassant and Ernest Hemingway–also advocated emotional understatement. Hemingway wrote “Dispassionate prose,” prose always less emotional than the events seem to demand. Understatement elicits strong emotional responses from the reader.

Emotional states in writing are amplified by brevity.  American writer Flannery O’ Connor said that the fiction writer has to realize that compassion or emotions cannot be created with emotion. The style itself must be emotion-free.

Artists Can’t Help It: They Repeat Themselves

F. Scott Fitzgerald was a highly successful writer by the age of twenty-four. He said, “Mostly, we authors repeat ourselves—that’s the truth. We have two or three great moving experiences in our lives—experiences so great and moving that it doesn’t seem at the time that anyone else has been caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before”

Claude Monet painted the same subject over and over. As an Impressionist he was interested in conveying the effect of light on objects, and would often  set his clock to be at  the place where the subject was at intervals so he could catch the light at noon, say, and ten minutes later and ten minutes after that. He might paint seven or ten paintings of the very same thing in different light.

All Artists Need Taste

Picasso painting

Picasso

Obvious in a work of art is the artist’s aesthetic judgment, which  he/she develops over time and experience.  “At the higher levels of creativity it is probable that few besides the creators themselves are able to assess a new creation, and it is necessary that they should learn to adopt an objective critical attitude toward their own work…(the creators’ self-criticism) must be based on  sound insight and aesthetic appreciation–what one would call ‘taste” (R. Ochse).

Some Writers Are in the Wrong Art

“Often while reading a book one feels that the author would have preferred to paint rather than write; one can sense the pleasure he derives from describing a landscape or person, as if he were painting what he is saying because deep in his heart he would have preferred to use brushes and colors” (Pablo Picasso). A good example is Joseph Conrad in his masterpiece Heart of Darkness.

Miscellaneous Insights About Writing

 “Good writing is the hardest form of thinking. It involves the agony of turning profoundly difficult thoughts into lucid form, then forcing them into the tight-fitting uniform of language, making them visible and clear. If the writing is good, then the result seems effortless and inevitable. But when you want to say something life-changing or ineffable in a single sentence, you face both the limitations of the sentence itself and the extent of your own talent” (Pat Conroy).

Flannery O’Connor said, “A good short story should not have less meaning than a novel, nor should the action be less complete. Nothing essential to the main experience can be left out of a short story.”

“Since Stephen Crane’s time [late nineteenth century] all serious writers have concentrated on the effort of rendering individual scenes more vividly” (Caroline Gordon).

“A novelist’s characters must be with him as he lies down to sleep, and as he wakes from his dreams. He must learn to hate them and to love them” (Anthony Trollope.)

“It has been through Flaubert that the novel has at last caught up with poetry” (Allen Tate).

“Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first” (William Faulkner).

“Only when the moral beliefs of the reader tally exactly with those on which a story is based will the reader have the whole of the emotion which it is potentially able to produce in him” (Montgomery Belgion).

A personal style that makes you comfortable and confident helps you accomplish whatever you wish to accomplish in your art. An artist’s style evolves over a lifetime of work. What it was when you were twenty-five is not the same as it is now when you are fifty. This post and the ideas and experiences here of many important artists may help you strengthen and perfect your own style.

 

© 2020 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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

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The Swing of the Advantage  

I know this much about you: at one time or another your chances for a better life, once very high, changed and seemed dim. Your spirits plummeted because whatever advantage you once held had slipped away. On another day you regained the advantage. Then your spirits instantly soared, and you were the one thing you had always wished to be: happy.

The swing of the advantage–to you or away from you–is something that-occurs in every aspect of your life and mine from childhood through old age. The advantage is like aWoman swinging attennis racket on tennis court ball passing back and forth between you and life. No one ever holds the advantage all the time. The advantage can swing to you or away from you at any time. Sometimes you hold the advantage, and an ideal life and great achievements in your career or personal life seem so near you can touch them with your fingers. Then you suffer a setback, a crisis, or a major problem, and you’re driven down into the dark depths of discouragement. You have lost the advantage, and your need now is to get it back.

Then you shake off discouragement and take decisive action. Once you’re in action, opportunities appear like jewels you pick up off the ground. The advantage is yours once more, and a better life unfolds like the petals of a rose. Your dreams are no longer mere fantasies but facts that you now incorporate into your life You turn directions, changing into a new being. For example, the success you wanted was to publish a book. You work hard. Your book is published, and now the identity that will never leave you is yours: “published author.

swinging pendulum“The Swing of the Advantage” is a concept from my print best seller Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life (now available as an eBook). From the twelfth through the nineteenth centuries Japanese samurai (bushi) were fighting men and women in service of a lord, a “daimyo.” They were the greatest warriors who ever lived, and based their expertise on physical, psychological, and Zen spiritual insights and techniques that they acquired through as demanding training as there has ever been in any discipline. Their skills were legendary. Fighting To Win prescribes their spiritual/psychological insights and adaptations of their techniques for overcoming obstacles to a productive and fulfilling life.

Samurai tactics never changed. They are a philosophy and life style–a “kamae,” a battle stance or posture,” a “Way.” They are “zan totsu“–which means “rushing straight ahead into action”  and “mo chih ch’u,” which is “going ahead confidently without hesitation.” The samurai were conditioned to confront, not avoid, difficulties, to embrace them, to race directly and swiftly to what you fear most. Were we to rush into our fear without hesitations many of our problems would be dispensed with quickly. When you approach your life and your work mo chih ch’u, fearlessly, your strength increases fourfold and you go straight to your goal.

Samurai were taught “Trust only movement” and “Test your armor, but only test the front” because you are not in action–in your everyday life, in your occupation and other pursuits–to run away and hide from “inner dragons.” Dragons are the sum total of all your fears, anxieties, and inhibitions. Seeking freedom from dragons, samurai “strike through the black silhouette of a dragon head with open mouthdragon’s mask.”

You can use this samurai concept of the swing of the advantage to gain victories. Like samurai you can face up to difficulties and rush to the attack—confronting and overcoming obstacles, not hesitating, not hanging back, but solving problems–dispensing with useless patterns  of thought and action that have led you from your goals rather than to them. Then you will be filled with the exhilarating surge of the powerful energy (“ki’) of a man or woman on the attack. You are not looking back, not fearful of facing up to what lies ahead in the fog of life, but committed in spirit and mind to the  action in front of you not tomorrow, but in this single fleeting moment of time, gaining back the swing of the advantage before this moment ends.

Let’s say you’re afraid to take a chance and the opportunity slips away. You’ve given up the advantage. But then you take the chance and succeed. You’ve seized the advantage back. Sometimes your diet is going well. But at other times you ravenously raid the cookie jar Once again fattening food has gained the advantage and your self-esteem and health are in jeopardy. But then you get a little angry and recommit yourself, and achieve your target weight. You have regained the advantage.

Prescriptionsseesaw with red seats

  • Recognize and be prepared for swings of the advantage–sometimes to you and other times away from you. Because you and I are alive, neither of us is a stranger to the swing of the advantage.
  • Make the loss of the advantage only a temporary impediment. Say to yourself, “Oops, there goes the advantage.” Then quickly, without stopping to bemoan your plight, use your determination, spirit, and decisive action to get it back. And when it swings back over to you–when you have solved a longstanding problem, for example, or overcome an obstacle that has stopped you for as long as you can remember–don’t stop to congratulate yourself. Don’t stop at all. When you’re gaining ground on a better life say, “You can’t escape me. I’m on your trail.” Just keep moving in the only direction that matters–forward toward your goals.
  • Don’t delude yourself into believing you have the advantage when you don’t. Life is to be looked at in one way–squarely in the eye–and a fool’s paradise is hell in disguise.
  • Maintain a powerful spirit–confident and daring–that cannot be stopped however far away from you the advantage has swung. It couldn’t matter less how often you’ve lost the advantage or how far away from you it swings, only that you have it when it matters most.

Application

wooden swing on a background of green grassIs there any area in your personal or professional life right now in which the advantage has swung away from you? What will you do to get the advantage back? Whatever it is, don’t delay. Run straight toward it zan totsu–boldly.

 

© 2020 David J. Rogers

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

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Useful Writing Prescriptions from Two Major Authors

John Gardner was the winner of The National Book Critics Circle Award, and author of four innovative and yet best-selling novels. He and Ernest Hemingway, the most important innovator in 20th century literature, once named “the greatest writer since Shakespeare,” and 1954 Nobel laureate, were both interested in passing on to other writers insights and prescriptions  on a variety of topics pertinent to serious writing.

A helpful way to incorporate the prescriptions and insights here is described at the end of the post.

  1. Spend as much time as possible writing. It will pay off.

Photograph of John GardnerGardner: “If the promising writer keeps on writing–writes day after day, month after month–and if he reads very carefully, he will begin to ‘catch on.’”  Hemingway, convinced of the value of persistence, wrote, “Anyone who says he wants to be a writer and isn’t writing, doesn’t.  Professionals write regularly. Amateurs often write sporadically.”

Hemingway: “Work continuously on a project once you start it. The hard part about a novel is to finish it…There is only one thing to do with a novel and that is to go straight on through to the end of the damn thing.” Hemingway: “Write every day until you’re so pooped about all the exercise you can face is reading the papers.”

  1. If your work is rejected often, get help, particularly emotional help.

Writers often do their best work when they are intense and feeling good, but intensity can be worn down by rejections. Gardner: It is a terrible thing to write for five or ten years and continue to be rejected–and so at last goes another good writer.”  “Only a strong character, reinforced by the encouragement of a few people who believe in the writer, can get one through this period.” Gardner also said, “It cannot be too strongly emphasized that, after the beginning stages, a writer needs social and psychological support.” He felt that writers need to be part of a community that values the things they value.

Hemingway endured many rejections. That is understandable since his work was original. Nothing like it had been seen before by editors, and editors generally avoid writers who are not “proven.” Hemingway said that every day “the rejected manuscripts would come through the slot in the door…I’d sit at that old wooden table and read one of those cold slips that had been attached to a story I had loved and worked on very hard and believed in, and I couldn’t help crying.” But he never lost confidence in his talent. His reward was fame, wealth, and the highest literary award, the Nobel Prize.

Gardner: When writers are ready to give up, they need four things from an editor or mentor: trustworthiness, reassurance that their work really is publishable quality, a clear understanding of how editors work, and the strongest possible support.

  1. Expect to run into a powerful force–the urge of other people to evaluate your writing, tell you how good or bad it is, and to change it.

Gardner: “No depressed and angry writer can fail to notice, if he raises his heavy head and looks around, that fools, maniacs, and jabbers are everywhere–mindless, tasteless, ignorant schools of critics…misreading a great writer.”

Hemingway said writers may slant a story away from the way they want the story to please a magazine editor so the editor might accept the work for publication. Hemingway’s advice was never do that: “That’s just a lot of shit; I never slanted a story in my life. I never think of publication until I’ve finished a story. Write a story exactly the way you think it should be written, not as an editor would want it.”

  1. Be knowledgeable of the powers and uses of language, and have skill in using words. That is a requirement if your goal is to write potent prose or poetry.

Photograph of Earnest HemingwayHemingway: “The hardest thing in the world is to write straight honest prose on human beings. First you have to know the subject; then you have to know how to write. Both take a lifetime to learn.”  The vocabulary in a Hemingway work is simple, the sentences clear and uncomplicated. And short. The style is non-literary, and is colloquial American English. His rule was that his language must be readable, accurate, and economical.

Gardner: A writer “is interested in discovering the secrets words carry, whether or not he ever puts them in his fiction…One sign of a writer’s potential is his especially sharp ear–and eye–for language.”  But writers must be cautious because if they care too much about the words they use and call attention away from the story and toward their style, they become “mannered.” Eventually readers tire of them.

  1. Aim for the polished, tasteful, “middle way” that most readers prefer. Some writers write poorly and are not read, and some write too well, too beautifully, and are not read.

Hemingway revolutionized fiction writing by purging it of displays of virtuosity, simplifying it, and avoiding “poetic” prose writing styles, preferring simple Anglo-Saxon English that was used in daily life by “the common man.”

Gardner said, “Though there are exceptions, as a rule the good novelist does not worry primarily about linguistic brilliance…but instead worries about telling his story in a moving way…If the writer has too much verbal sensitivity, his success…will depend on his learning to care about other elements of fiction so that, for their sake, he holds back a little…or on his finding an editor, and a body of readers who love, beyond all else, the same things he loves, fine language….The writer who cares chiefly, or exclusively about language  is poorly equipped for novel-writing in the usual sense because his character and personality are wrong for writing novels.”

  1. Be disciplined. Discipline is the serious writer’s necessary quality. If you’re not disciplined your writing career will probably fizzle. 

The most successful writers from the Romans to those writing today were disciplined. It’s possible that discipline is more important to writers than talent.

Gardner:  ”If one is unwilling to write like a true artist, mainly because one needs to, one might do well to put one’s energies somewhere else.”

Hemingway: “I happen to be in a very tough business where there are no alibis. It is good or it is bad and the thousand reasons that interfere with a book being as good as possible are no excuses if it is not. You have to make it good and a man is a fool if he adds or takes hindrance after hindrance after hindrance to being a writer when that is what he cares about. Taking refuge in domestic successes, being good to your broke friends, is merely a form of quitting.”

  1. Aim to be as prolific as you can if your goal is to be considered great. There are prolific writers and writers who produce very little. You’re more likely to be thought great if you are prolific. Hemingway and Gardner were both great and prolific. Gardner talked about reasons why some writers are not prolific.

There is a definite relationship between being a major artist and producing a number of works. There are writers who produce one exquisite work. Their writing is exceptional, but there is so little of it that almost never are they considered major writers. The greatest writers generally get an early start, producing their first major success sooner than less great writers produce theirs, and have long and fruitful careers into their 60s, 70s and 80s.

Gardner said that not caring much about the kind of novel most experienced and well-educated readers like to read, the “linguistic novelist,” lover of language for its own sake, brings out in his lifetime only one or two books, or none. ”The brilliant artificer’s novel either is never written at all or is spoiled by sentimentality, mannerism, or frigidity.”

  1. Read the best writers. They will rub off on you. 

Both Gardner and Hemingway advocated writers studying other writers, particularly the best of them so that the writer would take from them what they needed to improve. They both believed that would happen as the writer who was willing to learn developed “a new way of seeing.”

Both men were conversant with the classics. In his teaching, Gardner required students to read them. Hemingway was an insatiable student of literature and painting. He read voraciously and believed that all American fiction was derivative of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. He felt that studying the style of post-Impressionist painter Paul Cezanne helped his writing considerably. 

  1. Be an autodidact and educate yourself to write skillfully (as many writers have), or be educated via some other means, but be educated. 

Hemingway did not attend college although his parents, both well-educated–his father a physician–wanted him to. But he felt that he would learn nothing in college that would benefit him. Immediately after graduating from high school he began writing for the Kansas City Star. The paper’s brand of journalism was a strong influence on Hemingway his entire career, teaching him; “Use short sentences; use short first paragraphs; use vigorous English; be positive, not negative.”

In Paris in the nineteen twenties Hemingway had an intense four-years writing apprenticeship with luminaries Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson, Ezra Pound, Ford Maddux Ford, and other writers. With that background he began writing The Sun Also Rises with a sense of confidence and a knowledge of his craft.

Gardner had a PhD and taught writing at universities. One of his students was short story innovator Raymond Carver. But asked if a writer should study creative writing and literature at a university, he said, “If the person means will he become a better writer, yes. But if he means, ‘‘Will I be able to support myself,’ the answer is ‘possibly.’ “

It is helpful to become familiar with prescriptions in this post and strive to apply them.  You could write more often and for longer periods, develop stronger skills with language by acquiring a more expressive vocabulary, write in a more appealing style, find emotional help in responding to rejections (a friend, a family member, or a coach or mentor), be more disciplined about writing through a planned schedule of work, read high quality writers, and develop a study program to improve your capabilities.

 

© 2020 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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13 Questions to Ask When Your Artistic Career Is in a Rut

What could be more discouraging to a writer, painter, ballet dancer, actor, or composer who is striving to survive and wishes to excel in their craft than to realize that she’s not nearly as successful as she would like and may never be more successful than she has been in the past?  This post looks at the situation of a writer. But the ideas and approaches are just as useful for people in other arts.

Face of woman thhinkingAndrea, a friend—“Andy”–seemed to reach her peak when she had two short stories published in prestigious literary journals at twenty-four and a novel that sold moderately well at twenty-eight. She didn’t think then it would be her peak, but assumed it was a preview of other successes soon to come. But they haven’t come and she’s been wondering what’s wrong with her.

She’s frustrated and anxious because she knows—she can feel—that she has potentials in her that are waiting to be expressed. But there she is, at a standstill at the age of thirty-three  She asks herself privately what she won’t ask in public: “Is this as good as I’ll ever be, experiencing only those three successes?”

But she is not beaten. She hasn’t quit writing as she’s seen so many other once-hopeful writers do. She’ll try to find out what’s wrong and correct the problems she identifies. She’s already on the Car stuck in the snowpath to solving the problem by admitting she’s found herself on a performance plateau—in a performance rut.

She realizes that what she needs now are new ideas, new approaches. Being an intelligent woman, she begins problem-solving by trying to understand the problem. She’s a believer in cause-and-effect and starts with the effect: she’s stuck in the mud. She is not giving up trying to improve and achieve greater success as many writers would in her position. But she is not as successful as she would like to be.

She noodles the problem and takes a frank look at herself. She asks:

  1. Do I have the skills I’ll need to be the writer I want to be? If not, what specific skills should I develop and refine, and how can I acquire them? In each art there is a finite number of basic skills that the person MUST possess if they are to excel.
  2. Do I have sufficient knowledge of my art–making it, sustaining it, and marketing it? Over the long run, superior achievement depends on superior knowledge.
  3. Do I have enough talent, that recognizable flair that underlies a good creatives’ life and their every quality work?
  4. Am I working hard enough? If you study successful people in the arts you will almost always find that they were prodigious workers from the beginning of their careers to the end. Or am I working too hard and burning out (not getting enough sleep and relaxation)?
  5. What are the main goals I’m trying to reach? Are they the right goals and are they difficult as goals are supposed to be, or are they too difficult for me? Goals should be “moderately” difficult–not too easy and not impossibly hard. What exactly are my goals? Andy decides her main goal is not necessarily to “excel” and it is not to be “successful,” but to write as well as she’s able. She feels that if she does that, success will follow. A basic question she asks is: am I pursuing goals at all or am I feeling nervous and drifting?
  6. Am I powerfully motivated to succeed as an artist? Or have I lost my zest? If so, how can I get it back?
  7. Am I able to focus my attention on my work like a narrow beam of bright light or do I have too many irons in the fire? What can I eliminate?
  8. Am I one of the 15% action-oriented, decisive creatives who make up their mind, take the initiative, and make things happen, or one of the other 85% who delay, postpone, and wait for things to happen?
  9. How confident an artist am I, ranging from “not very confident” to ‘”exceptionally confident?” These are the indicators of success in the arts: a desire to succeed, skill, resilience, and confidence. Artists fail more because they lack confidence than because they lack skill.
  10. Am I getting specific, helpful, and honest feedback regularly? Have I made arrangements to do that?
  11. When I meet setbacks and disappointments, am I discouraged, or do I persevere? Do I sink my teeth into my objectives and never let go?
  12. Do I know how to overcome creative obstacles–am I good at analyzing problem and impediments in my way and finding solutions?
  13. Everyone needs encouragement, particularly when their career is dead in the water. Andy asks, whom will I turn to when I need encouragement?

Answering those questions helps Andy dig out of creative ruts she finds herself in from time to time. First thing, she sits down and compares her successful works with her current work and Pink shovel in grey dirtdecides they are different. The earlier work was simpler and more heart-felt and sincere. She  realizes that she has fallen into a trap of “showing off”–of trying to impress readers with what a good writer she is and how brilliant she is rather than in telling a story in a simple, direct, “Here’s my work, take it or leave it”  style.

Andy decides that a big problem usually in recent years has been poor motivation and a lack of confidence because she is so discouraged. She feels that she hasn’t lost her talent and that she is still a good writer and realizes that one or more successes will increase her confidence immensely.  Also, she’s not good at concentrating on work. She wastes a lot of time, including moping. She remembers reading a post I wrote about “programming” to increase productivity. She liked it and plans to re-read it and take steps to become a more efficient writer.

Andy feels that if her concentration improves and she absorbs herself in her work, she will become more excited about it, her motivation will climb, and she will complete more works. Her mother is Andy’s biggest supporter in times of disappointment and discouragement.  Her mother inspires her. Andy plans to talk to her more often.

Woman in aqua sweater writing in a bookShe also plans to read biographies and autobiographies of writers living and dead who will inspire her.

She is aware that one reason she hasn’t had successes recently is that she doesn’t submit enough of her work to magazines and publishers. She has become afraid of failure. Overcoming her fear and submitting more will increase her chances of being published, so she will do that too.

Thinking carefully about the answers to these 13 questions sets Andy on a path out of her rut and on to future successes. Perhaps these questions can be useful to you as well.

 

© 2020 David J. Rogers

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

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The Misery of Writer’s Block and Possible Antidotes

This post has three parts:

Part 1 is an introduction which explains that a sizeable number of amateur and professional writers say they are blocked, but other writers say there is no such thing as writer’s block.  Part 2 is a description of what happens to writers snagged by a dreadful writer’s block. Part 3 describes possible antidotes, or ways out of writer’s block that are suggested by accomplished writers.

A writer’s main concern is production of text. That production ebbs and flows. Some days for most writers the words pour out in torrents. You’re in overdrive and every word is perfect. Other days they wouldn’t come out were you to use blasting powder, but that is not writers block, but a temporary pause. When the pause is prolonged beyond the writer’s comfort zone or doesn’t end, that’s writers block.

Part 1: Introduction

Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, said, “The history of literature is the history of prolific people. I always say to students give me four pages a day, every day. Cat resting next to a computer screenThat’s 3 or 400 thousand words a year.” Novelist Thomas Wolfe produced many millions of words and wrote, “The point is solely and simply to get a piece of work done at the rate of 1,000 or 1,500 words a day. If you do that—then brood, grieve, mourn, curse God, everyone and everything all you please. But get the work done.”

And  writer/writing teacher John Gardner said, “Theoretically there is no reason one should get it (writer’s block) if one understands that writing, after all, is only writing, neither something one ought to feel deeply guilty about nor something one ought to be inordinately proud of.” His approach to combating writers block would be: “Write but don’t get emotionally involved.”

But those optimistic words are disturbing if you’re someone who claims to be a writer and find yourself unable to write even a quarter of an hour or produce even 50 or 25 “good” words because you’re in the grip of an impasse, a writer’s block you dread thinking may continue for days, weeks, months, or years as has been known to happen to even perfectly competent writers.

It’s easy for never-blocked writers to brag to the blocked writers, as they often do, “There’s no such thing as what you’re talking about. I’ve never been blocked.” But blocks are reported by so many writers, artists, inventors, and scientists, that blocks must exist. And it’s easy for the never-blocked writer to say, “Quit griping and snap out of it” just as it’s easy to say to a depressed person, “Cheer up.”

But a depressed person doesn’t want to feel miserable and writers facing a creative impasse are trying their best to get back to work, but just can’t. What are they to do short of resigning themselves to being unable to work or ending their career?

Part 2: Writers Block Can Be Dreadful

There are writers on every continent on earth who, whatever their native language and rules of composition, will not be able to write creatively today and have not been able to write for months or crumpled papers on a desk and also making up the head of a person typingyears. They worry and doubt themselves. They are discouraged and anxious. The act of writing does not excite or enchant them as it usually does. They have suffered agonies and are growing hopeless because of the dreadful misery called writers block that has taken hold of their mind, imagination,  and spirit and will not let go.

To a person who considers himself or herself a writer and hopes to make a living out of the substance of their life, who has an urge to do good work, whose foremost virtue is persistence, whose very being and every ambition is to be a professional literary person for whom written expression is the light and reason of their existence, those few words–“I can’t write”– which may seem ludicrous and pretentious to anyone who is not a writer, are tragic.

When you’re engaged in creative work and have announced to the world that is what you’re doing and eyes are upon you and judging your merit, you’re up against it. You’re a pregnant woman and you’ve gotten yourself in a fix and now it’s time to deliver. No one can do what has to be done for you. There’s no going back and no possible compromise and no way out but straight through.

Your strength, courage, and endurance must come out of yourself. You try to work because work is a writer’s religion. Work gives a man or woman a chance to find their authentic voice, their authentic self, their place in society that is separate from anyone else’s and which no one looking at them can begin to imagine.

Your work room is full of the utensils a writer needs: a computer and references books and such. You’re trained to write, not in sporadic flashes of casual inspiration, but consistently, with exhausting concentration. But you can’t write a word. You fight, sweat, nearly kill yourself and perhaps do kill yourself trying to accomplish something, but you can’t. You aren’t to blame; it’s not your fault. There is simply nothing you can do, nothing great, nothing small, nothing at all. You’re knotted up. Your faith in yourself is battered and then disappears and is replaced by a dejected resignation.

You live in terror and dread of the absence of words, of needing them so desperately but no longer having access to them as you once had, of groping without effect for a good sentence, a decent paragraph, a finished text. You wait to get unknotted, but nothing happens.

Every aspect of your life suffers if this goes on long enough: your professional life, your personal life and social life and; then lastly, your love life.

Part 3: Some Possible Antidotes: What Professional Writers Have To Say

Professional writers have theories about the causes of blocks. The blocked writer may be too impatient: “I think that when you’re trying to do something prematurely it just won’t come. Certain Hands typing at a keyboardsubjects just need time, as I’ve learned over and over again” (Joyce Carol Oates). This opinion says that there are “half hour” writing problems— problems that need a half hour to be solved—and “six month” writing problems that won’t be solved in less than half a year. These writers believe that you can’t solve the problem until it has reached its allotted time.

The never-ending repetition of regular writing (going over a text seventy or eighty times, for example) may cause a block because you’ve become saturated with the piece or with the routine of writing itself. Your mind is bored sick and tells you, “I am damned tired of this” and refuses to write.  I’ve had that happen many times.  Get away from the work and come back to it rejuvenated.

Poet and essayist William Stafford believed that “writing block” was caused by having standards that are too high for your abilities. The answer, he said, is to lower your standards until they are no longer too high. He adds, “It’s easy to write. You shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing.” It’s well-known that it is senseless to pursue goals that you lack the abilities to reach. Lower your sights until you develop the abilities. Work on something else.

The writer may be blocked because he or she has nothing worth writing about: “I question the assumption behind writer’s block, which is that one should be writing all the time, that at any given time there is something worthwhile to be made into a poem” (Louise Gluck).The solution if this were the reason for the block would be to find something worth saying. Then the block would disappear.

Historian Barbara Tuchman thought that blocks are caused by organizational difficulties; that the material was “resistant” or that she didn’t adequately understand it, and it needed rethinking, additional research, and a new approach.

Annie Dillard, author of The Writing Life agrees with Tuchman: “When you are stuck in a book; when you are well into writing it, and know what comes next, and yet cannot go on; when every morning for a week or a month you enter its room and turn your back on it; then the trouble is either of two things:

Either the structure has forked, so the narrative, or the logic, has developed a hairline fracture that will shortly split in the middle—or you are approaching a fatal mistake. What you had planned will not do. If you pursue your present course, the book will explode or collapse and you do not know about it yet.” Try an entirely different plan.

I have found too after decades of serious writing that when I am about to make a mistake a subliminal alarm goes off and my mind and motivation to continue on that course shut down and will not let me continue until I go in another, more fruitful direction.

One of my blogs describes a technique for overcoming writers block that makes use of the person’s mental imagery that may be useful. A second post describes an atypical block.

Curiously, two opposite strategies each may be effective antidotes to writer’s block. Man on a pier jumping for joy One is to simply persist. Sit down at the computer every day and hack away without any self-judgment. Don’t worry or get anxious or depressed. Do this until your block cures itself. Another way is to completely cut off your involvement with writing. Don’t allow yourself to think about it. Forbid yourself from sitting down and writing at the computer or by hand. Don’t talk about writing. Do that for a specified period of time you set for yourself–ten days or two weeks. At the end of that period you may feel so deprived that you will develop a new enthusiasm and energy that may help you get on track again.

 

© 2020 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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Filed under Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Writer's Block, Writers

Imagery in the Arts

Painting of boats in water with mountains and clouds behind

Fjord, Norway by Pamela Jones

Some creatives have an ability to perceive images in their environment or deep in their memories and to elaborate them in works with astonishing dexterity. Simple images that are ready for practical artistic use in poems, novels, essays, short stories, and paintings and such pour in unabated rivers from their minds. Skill in image-making comes so effortlessly to superb image-makers that although their ability is exceptional, it seems routine and unexceptional to them. If one image would do the trick, they can easily think of three, four, or five others that would suffice as well.

Skill with images is so necessary to the professional or professional-caliber amateur that if it is a weakness, it must be practiced and made a strength. That is possible to do.

Painting of harbour with buildings behind in pink, blue, yellow, green pastels

Tenby Harbour Pembrokeshire West Wales by Pamela Jones

Creatives differ in the vividness of the imagery in their minds and in their ability to transform imagery. Compared with low imagers, vivid imagers experience large mental images of greater clarity, remember pictures better, and read text more slowly, presumably because they are visualizing as they read. Skill with imagery is a collection of identifiable abilities such as moving and rotating mages and inspecting them. Vivid imagers are able to hold in mind many features of an image at the same time.  People can be good at one or more of these abilities, but poor at others.

 

POETRY OF IMAGISTS

William Carlos Williams
(Excerpt from “Nantucket”)

Flowers through the window
lavender and yellow
changed by white curtains–
Smell of cleanliness–

Sunshine of late afternoon–
On the glass tray
a glass pitcher, the tumbler
turned down

Painting of a couple looking over the water at the moon all in shades of blue

Stroll in the Moonlight Mumbles by Pamela Jones

For image-makers, remembering images and turning them into artistic products is a necessary part of their everyday approach to their work and a gift granted to many artists that surpasses the abilities of the overwhelming majority of people. In a single glance artists with a facility with images encounter a world of pictures, sounds, sensations, and odors that are their raw material.

An Imagist Poet:

“Evening” by Richard Aldington:

The chimneys, rank on rank,
Cut the clear sky;
The moon
With a rag of gauze about her loins
Poses among them, an awkward Venus–
And here am I looking wantonly
Over the kitchen sink.

Poems written in a strict imagist style are spare, elegant, and vivid. They are different from most poetry in that the reader isn’t expected to analyze them or search for symbols in them or explicate them. The imagist poem must be rooted in the ground of reality–must grow from the local and particular, and raise those to the universal, so when looking at some apparently small object one feels the swirl of significant events.

Painting of a white cottage with blue roof on a pale green field with poppies in the foreground

Cottage, Carmarthenshire, with Poppies by Pamela Jones

There is a juxtaposition of accumulated fragments. The poems require alertness enough mainly to “see” in your mind and don’t require explanation. One can’t explain a bead of water on a leaf, but it can be described, its beauty or mystery captured in words just as a painter captures them in pigment or the composer in notes and chords. Readers will enjoy them better if the poet or writer shuts up and just describes. The poems are complete as they are and need no interpretation. The physical and tangible qualities of the object–colors, shapes, odors, sensations–are identified one by one simply and precisely.

In the poetry of images the reader should not expect lofty sentiments. The poems do not have a regular beat and usually lack end-rhymes. Their language is vivid–plain, and direct.  They calmly describe the scene and the object. They describe them precisely and exactly. Their imagery is compelling. Readers run their eyes along the scene. The poems focus on a short, specific period of time, are free verse, and often have a short poetic line such as my “Morning Glories:”

Sitting on a window sill
Watching people
Exchanging stories
Over white and purple
Morning glories
On the flanks of the hill

The poetry and prose of images emphasize verbs, not adjectives. The writing is clear, not obscure, and it is colloquial.  Images are juxtaposed, one after another. They purposely stay on the surface of things, presenting details with no comments. If there are any ideas, they are left alone to take care of themselves.  The writer or poet doesn’t reflect on them. The writing is not lofty or pretentious. The poet or writer takes obvious pleasure in words like the painter’s pleasure in using a brush.

 

THE VALUE OF MEMORY AND DETAIL

Painting of white cottage with blue roof with white sheep in a valley

Hillside Cottage, Snowdonia, Snowdon, North Wales by Pamela Jones

There is an art underlying all the arts, and that is the art of memory and detail. The writing of the best writers and paintings of the best painters is full of details they recall–detailed images, detailed descriptions.  They needn’t be long, but there must be memorable details if the work is to be convincing. The goal of a writer is to generate in the audience the sense that what the audiece is reading or hearing really happened, or is happening now, or might have happened in “real life.”

Content that is general and not vivid has little real-life effect on audiences or readers. Content like that isn’t convincing and is a misuse of words. But content that is not general, but specific, detailed, clear, unambiguous, truthful, and potent animates the readers’ minds and lets them know that a real person with an active mind and good memory of real things is talking to them.

I think if it were possible to analyze the brains of imagistic artists, poets, and writers, it would be found that the ability to recall the smallest and sometimes the most insignificant detail of lived experience–however long ago it occurred–is a major strength of a fine artist of any kind. A multiplicity of details must be put into the creative performance when art is to be done beautifully. A preciseness of vision is a necessity.

Details must be strategically placed in a written text so that they have maximum dramatic impact.

 

KEEP A NOTEBOOK OF IMAGES

A good practice if you want to animate your writing with images is to keep notebooks of images that  come to mind and that you might one day put to use in writing or art. Here is a sample from one of my notebooks that contain thousands of images:

SUMMER: The warm summer rain pours through the sunlight. At night a fog floats in from the lake and slithers along the ground (like a snake.)… The report of fire crackers and booms of exploding rockets begin at nine: Independence Day… The orange and blues of the sunset were so beautiful at night that it was hard to believe they weren‘t painted…With every gust of wind the butterfly I’m watching is blown to another flower. ..It was morning. Here comes (came) the sun, warming every tree, every leaf, every pebble in the street… …waves scattering like broken glass,

Painting of farmhouse with blue roofs on pale green field

Farmhouse in the Brecon Beacons Wales by Pamela Jones

SPRING: A band of squirrels climbs the trees …Whiter than snow and clearer than daylight was the night when the lightning flashed… Sparrows, blue jays, warblers and humming birds enjoyed themselves on the bushes, in the trees, in the sky. It had been a long day for them, but they seemed contented leading birds’ busy lives. Flowers seemed happy being flowers too. Two chipmunks sat aloof in the grass…The gutter leaked and a small waterfall poured from it… Squirrels shoot up the trees like gray rockets, hop across the branches, come back and bound across the grass where hungry robins stretch worms out of the ground…

SOUNDS Birds calling and playing, winds wafting in trees, lawn mowers humming–commuter trains rumbling, car horns and truck horns, fire engines, dogs barking, people laughing, shouting and talking, footsteps sounding, church bells playing songs.

T.S. Eliot was not an Imagist, but was influenced by Imagism.

From Eliot’s “Preludes:”

The winter evening settles down
With smell of stakes in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days,
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots

Painting of pale green pasture, dark sky and clounds, with white flowering plants in foreground

Farm in the Brecon Beacons with Cow Parsley by Pamela Jones

Some poems of poetry of images are about stillness and some are about motion. The language is colloquial and vivid. The images are fresh and the reader is intended to see and listen freshly. Poetry and prose of images are written by people with vivid sensibilities and are intended for readers with similar sensibilities.

These skilled writers are describing what is occurring during specific moments of life, and pay close attention to the surfaces of physical things, as does  my poem “Waitress in a Café in Kayenta Arizona.”

Fingers like sausage links,
Face round as a tire,
Hips the breadth of a moving van,
Elaborate, beauty-shop hair,

 

HAIKU AND IMAGERY

Haiku are made up almost always and almost completely of visual images. The three greatest haikuists were Basho, Buson, and Issa.  The meaning of a haiku, like that of an imagist poem, is direct, clear, and perfect without interpretation or reference to other things.  The meaning of haiku, like that of the imagist, is unmistakable and complete,

A few stars
Are now to be seen–
And frogs are croaking. (Basho)

Ah, how glorious
The young leaves, the green leaves,
Glittering in the sunshine. (Basho)

Paintng of a river running into a bay with three cliffs on the left

Three Cliffs Bay, Gower South Wales by Pamela Jones

Haikuists keep their eyes steadily on the objects. There is great art in the selection of the facts presented, but no “coloring.” The incidents, situations, and details are chosen from common life. Haikus describe things in themselves, not as symbols of other things.  Haikus show modesty, simplicity, lack of affectation, no striving for effect, no trying to impress, no showing off.  The haikuist just writes the story or sketch as plainl and as true to the haikuist’s vision and to life as he or she can. There is gentleness, and using the eye in particular, distinctness of the individual thing. Directness is in everything, snow, sky, clouds, sun. Each thing is simple and true:

The harvest moon–
Mist from the mountain foot
Clouded patties” (Basho)

The haiku must express a new or newly perceived sensation, a sudden awareness of  the meaning of some common human experience of nature or man. Importantly, it must above all things, not be explanatory, or contain a cause and effect. There are nothing beyond phenomena. They are not symbols of something beyond themselves.

Flowers and birds
There among them, my wild
Peach blossoms. (Buson)

 

PROSE AND IMAGISTIC WRITING

Imagistic, highly descriptive prose augments writing that might otherwise be bland and lifeless. No material is dull in the hands of an imagist.  Such prose is not just added on to the text like a pretty trimming, but is crucial to the meaning, the “feel” of the writing, and its impact on the reader.

Ernest Hemingway from The Sun Also Rises:

“Before the waiter brought the sherry the rocket that announced the fiesta went up in the square. It burst and there was a gray ball of smoke high up above the Theatre Gayarre, across on the other side of the plaza. The ball of smoke hung in the sky like a shrapnel burst, and as I watched, another rocket came up to it, trickling smoke in the bright sunlight, I saw the bright flash as it burst and another little cloud of smoke appeared. By the time the second rocket had burst there were so many people in the arcade, that had been empty a minute before, that the waiter, holding the bottle high up over his head, could hardly get through the crowd to our table.”

From my “Wolves in the Rocky Mountains:”

“We sat at a table in the inn and ordered coffee.  The utensils were gold. From the windows we watched through the falling snow eight stalking wolves winding down the mountain in single file, slowly, like liquid through the spruces and evergreens. It was getting late. We had stayed too long. We didn’t want to stay around until dark when at that elevation it would be really cold, and the wolves were on our mind. We paid and left on foot.

“Looking over our shoulders we saw the wolves streaking among the trees and circling and wheeling around and teasing and tormenting a young deer they had separated from a herd. We could hear the wolves and the deer breathing and see the wolves when they weren’t attacking the deer playfully burrowing their snouts in the snow. There was nothing we could do to save the deer. We didn’t want to watch.”

Blue water with purple cliffs in the background and dark sky full of stars

Starry Sky, Three Cliffs Bay, Gower by Pamela Jones

The prose and poems of images depend on the power of a clear perception of concrete–not abstract–things seen, heard, smelled, or touched by the creative to capture and hold readers’ attention and convey meaning. An imagistic writer’s, poet’s, and painter’s “eye” and “ear” in particular are capable of reproducing a sensual world they have experienced at some time in their lives and have not forgotten.

The artist whose work is featured in this post is Pamela Jones, a superb landscape artist who ives in West Cross Mumbles in Swansea, Wales. In her enchanting paintings, she is influenced  by the beautiful scenery in Wales and the UK. She says, “I have a slightly impressionistic style, staying away from the photographic copying of a scene. I simplify what I see. I feel the artist must balance skill and imagination for there to be feeling in the painting. Colour harmony is most important. I give the impression of the place. I hope the viewer sees this when they look at my paintings.” She says that she just has to paint; it is a sort of obsession, and she paints every day.

 

© 2020 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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

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July 23, 2020 · 12:50 pm

2 Psycho-Techniques for People in the Arts

Man alone at sunsetFrom childhood on, there have been moments in my life–and I think you have experienced this in your life too—when I’ve had to perform and no one could help me—not my mother, not my wife, not a friend.

The responsibility for what would happen next was completely my own—standing alone on a stage in an auditorium looking into the 12,000 eyes of the 6,000 people who had paid money to hear what I had to say, for instance. Or standing at the starting line of an 800 meter race with seven highly trained athletes that in a couple of minutes I would be trying hard to beat as they would be trying just as hard to beat me.

Runner in blue running suit at starting lineIt’s very lonely knowing that whether or not you will succeed depends solely on your own skills, your own personality and character, your own preparation, and your own strengths. Then no one can help you, no one can write the novel for you, no one can paint the portrait for you today, or dance in your place, or perform your role in tonight’s play. You’re on your own, my friend. Will you be at the height of your talent today or won’t you? Will you have it? Will your work be good? Will you be satisfied?

At crucial moments–beginnings, endings, changes of direction–everything you are, everything you know and hope for, everything that drives you, and all the capabilities you’ve worked so hard to develop and refine to the highest possible level are brought to bear on that always-ultimate artist’s goal–to produce a work of which you will be proud.

I’m a great believer in using psycho-techniques to help performance and wrote a whole book about them that an internet poll named “best motivational book evert written”–Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life.

I’d like to recommend two psycho-techniques here that I find useful: Think Aloud Strategies and Brief Performance Cues. They will be helpful whatever your art, whatever your occupation.

 

Use Think Aloud Strategies to Inspire Yourself

a mouth talking into an earWhen you write, you’re asking yourself, “Does it sound right?” “Does it flow?” “Is it a good quality?” You’re also “self-instructing.” Self-instruction is talking to yourself to guide actions and telling yourself what strategies you should use. A writer may self-instruct to use more imagery in the story, and self-monitor to count the number of images or tell herself, “My mind is starting to wander. I should focus my attention better.”

“Think aloud” strategies involve verbalizing “private speech,” the kind of speech you don’t usually use in public. People don’t generally talk aloud to themselves, and when they do, their speech is often incoherent. But sometimes thinking aloud to yourself clarifies your understanding and activates problem-solving.

A think-aloud strategy often entails reciting out loud the chatter that’s going on in your head. Describing to yourself how to proceed and execute a task should improve performance.  For example, you might say aloud, “There are too many long sentences: mix long and short sentences.” Self-verbalizations such as self-praise statements—“I’m really doing well”–verbalizing the strategies you’re using—“I’m keeping track of time”–and actions you’re taking—“I’m stopping to review the paragraph before moving on”– are extremely  helpful kinds of thinking aloud.

 

Use Brief Performance Cues

Performance cues are important reminders that you repeat silently or say aloud. Focus on a few simple reminders–summaries of the main things you’re trying to accomplish—that you should bear in mind: “I want my writing style to be simpler.” The cue you’ll repeat to yourself, “Simplicity!” Completing a project brings the artist elation. A project cannot be a work of art until it is finished.  Not starting, but finishing works, is the artist’s credo. The cue is “Finish!’ “Finish!”  Above all else, if you are a writer your writing should always be clear. The writer’s cue is “Clarity.”

Thumb up with a smiley face on the thumbBoil your whole performance down to a few statements, words, phrases, or images:

 

“Relaxed and confident”

“Good work today”

“Stay focused”

“Organized and sharp.”

Patience!”

“Persevere!”

“I’m in the groove

“Grit and guts!”

“Take risks.”

Boldness

 

The cues will excite your spirit. They will improve your performance. Begin by writing out performance cues you will use when you’re working.

 

Those psycho-techniques along with the insights you can find in Fighting To Win should help you make the most of your talent.

 

© 2020 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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

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