Writers, Artists: You Are Not a Failure If Your Work Is Rejected

Vincent van Gogh self portrait pale blues greens, yellow and brownWriters and artists throughout history have feared and hated rejections of their work.

The most coveted goal of writers and artists–the end result and focus of all their education, training, efforts, and hopes–is to see their work published or mounted on display.

Artists and writers are particularly sensitive. When their work goes unaccepted and rejections occur time and again, as often happens in the sometimes cruelly competitive worlds of writers and artists, the emotions they feel are frustration, then discouragement, and then misery.

cartoon of woman crying and hand held up behind her saying NOEach rejection compounds the effects of the previous rejections and can lead writers and artists from heights of blissful optimism to the total disappearance of confidence. Yet without confidence, writers and artists cannot do their work.

This post shows that writers and artists are not failures if their work is rejected. They may be passing through a phase on the way to great success. Or they may find joy and peace of mind in the act of creating without making any effort to sell or publish their creations. They may find satisfaction without an expectation or desire to be published, or they may seek alternatives. Self-publishing is currently very popular, as are blogs and newsletters.

But even for writers and artists whose goal is to have their work published or accepted, rejection does not mean failure.

 

I Read a Post About Rejection

A few days ago I read an article which asked how writers should Sad-faced dog respond when editors reject their work, and there it was, the questions “What is winning? Is winning the only thing that matters? Is getting published the only thing that matters?  Is that the only credential that makes you a significant literary person?”

Having been involved in many intense competitions in sports, in earning a living in bitterly competitive business environments, and in the arts, I have seen that there are more enduring, valuable, and humane ways of finding success than that. I feel that my views can help writers and artists who are trying very hard, but unsuccessfully, to achieve the ultimate goal of having their work accepted

Painting of white book floating above blue water and skyI remember once learning that a publishing house I was interested in submitting to typically received 5,000 unsolicited manuscripts a year. Less than seventy would be published.  What about those thousands of disappointed writers? I’m sure they had worked very hard and had high hopes. But their hopes would be shattered. Are they to conceive of themselves as failures? Are they supposed to give up hope of ever being successful?

I think that there is a healthy response for writers and artists who submit a work and do not have it accepted, an optimistic and hopeful attitude.

 

Other Forms of Winning that Precede Success

If you are a writer or artist, you are not a failure if your work is rejected. You may be winning.

You are winning and not failing when you refuse to let any fear of rejection or any intimidation stop you from submitting your works. (Stung by rejections, some writers and artists grow excessively cautious about showing their work at all. They become paralyzed. Better to be bold and fearless.)

Portrait of William ShakespeareYou are winning and not failing when you are persistent in spite of setbacks, are able to recover quickly, and are resilient.

You are winning when regardless of rejections, your writing and art are now better than ever before, when you are at the peak of your abilities, performing at your personal best.

You are winning and not failing when you make sure that the quality of your work (and your reputation) are always improving.

You are winning and not failing when you are mature and skilled enough to write and paint expertly. (Any person must spend thousands of hours developing an expertise in any art before they should expect to excel in it.)

You are winning when you are motivated and working hard. (Hard work will overcome many problems. Creative people have faith that effort along with talent leads to the best results; they are in love with work.)

You are winning when the work you submit is absolutely finished, polished like a precious jewel, and as high quality as it can be.

The word No, written in white on green, purple, red and other colorful squaresYou are winning and not failing when you are knowledgeable–about the subject, about your craft, about what the client is looking for, about everything you should know. (To creative people ignorance is not bliss.)

You are winning also when you are true to yourself and have integrity (and are not so desperate to be successful that you compromise too much.)

You are winning when the works you produce have many strengths, like many pillars of a temple, and few weaknesses.

 

Still life with a grey/green pitcher, red and green grapes and red pomegranatesThose are the ways you are really winning even during those times when it feels like you are not.

 

 

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 The Worst and Best Traits of Creative People

Night scene of ridge over water with street lights Whether you find creative people in remote little mountain kingdoms accessible only by mule or in big, modern, cosmopolitan cities, you will discover that they are surprisingly alike. The many traits they share are not all favorable; some are obstacles. Yet those traits–the worst and the best together–prepare creative people for fascinating lives other people look at with admiration and envy.

 

Creative people:

Feel deeply and are gifted. They are people whose ecstasies and traumas will be the raw material for their creations–never to be forgotten, but reflected again and again many times in the works they contribute to the world.

Red-haired, barefoot little girl in a blue dress with a serious expression sitting on a chair and playing a violin May be “overlooked” as school children. Their talents unrecognized, they may have undistinguished elementary and high school careers, only to be recognized for their significant achievements later in life to the surprise of everyone.

Are self-absorbed, concerned first and foremost with themselves, their own wellbeing and state of mind, their projects and their cherished and most private desires, needs, hopes. Their self-absorption can make them overly emotional, temperamental, and difficult. But self-absorption is a necessary feature of a creative personality.

Proud, may react defensively, angrily, bitterly to criticism.

Man wearing a black sweater holding his head in his hands, as if sad or upset Sadly, at times may be too emotionally ill to work, particularly poets and writers who may be victims of the high and inexplicable incidence of debilitating mood disorders affecting them.

Have a strong belief in, respect, and enthusiasm for their art.

Need confidence. Confidence grows exponentially with each success. The most accurate predictor of future success is past success, as “Since I have written a best seller before, I can do it again.”

Are often “seduced” by their art. There is no shortcut to the tremendous amount of experience necessary to become highly skilled in an art. It is hard for someone in the arts not to see their art taking over more and more of their time and possibly becoming their most important activity, finding themselves doing everything for their art.

Are rebellious, bold, and open to new experiences. More daring than the majority of people. Have no fear of risks.

Pianist performing in front of an audience on a stage with a shiny wood floor and a background of blue water behind him Have an insatiable need to establish rapport with and hold an audience–followers, fans to applaud them.  And yet, deprived of an audience, they will still work just as conscientiously.

 

May not seem to be but are competitive, ambitious, prone to envy and jealousy.

Will of necessity bloom late due to the difficulties of becoming established, overcoming a sequence of hurdles, and mastering their chosen art. Late developing, being “behind,” they needn’t despair because they often accelerate and “catch up” quickly after their first successes, often surpassing those who bloomed sooner.

Tend to “live in their heads.”

Consider themselves the best judge of their work, its “foremost authority.”

Are lucky to have the particular creative talents esteemed by society that make them ideal writers, artists, actors, dancers, composers, etc. as if  they are people who have been ordered from a catalogue.

Beige and brown Siamese cat sitting up on a light-colored wooden table and looking at the viewer with intense blue eyes.“Know who they are.” Are marked by a clear, unambiguous sense of identity, as “I am an historical novelist specializing in women’s roles in England during the Victorian era.”

Can be characterized as having heightened perceptions of the drama in the world and the beauty and importance of their art. In time they develop a “novelist’s mind,” or a ”painter’s mind,” or an architect’s, or dramatist’s mind, etc.

Can be perfectionists who are extremely hard on themselves and others (loved ones, associates, subordinates).

Abhor pretense.

Are not driven by the same needs as even the people dearest to them. (That causes conflicts).

Hold sacred their independence (Will fight for it, don’t want to lose it) Hate having their freedom interfered with or restrained.

Are far more self-disciplined in their work than most people in other fields.

Fanciful painting of many red, orange yellow, blue, and green, and white open umbrellas floating in the skyCan be playful, child-like, humorous, silly, fun to be with, and seem younger than their age.

Are committed to the development and refinement of their talents; motivated by “an urge to improve.”

Are exuberant, often boastful, about their achievements.

Love to work, work hard, sometimes harder than seems humanly possible.

Possess extraordinary energy and are excitable.

Must be patient and longsuffering because if they reach high-level mastery and become famous they will have persisted doggedly through thick and thin for years; many “rough spots on the road” appear in a creative person’s career.

Are strengthened by powerful needs to be competent and to be respected.

colorful abstract painting with yellow, red, pink, green blue, black, brown and traces of other colorsBenefit from a rare ability to focus on one object, problem, or task for extended periods without being bored or losing interest. (Facilitates completing “big jobs” like writing novels and painting murals.)

Strive to find “the one true voice” that expresses them vividly and accurately. (Doesn’t happen overnight.)

Generally find more pleasure working alone than working in groups; do not avoid, but relish, solitude.

Must quickly develop a capacity for mature self-criticism, objectivity, and judgment about their work and their abilities

Highly value authenticity, integrity, and sincerity.

large number of small jigsaw puzzle pieces in blue, orange, yellow, green, and brown piled on top of each otherFor survival must become skilled at overcoming obstacles, of which there are many in the arts.

Have a practical problem-solving intelligence; prefer difficult to easy problems.

May show minimal interest in current events, gossip, and politics–not interested in discussing them, “tune them out.”

 

Creative people possess many gifts, many strengths, and many imperfections. As imperfect as anyone else, they nevertheless benefit the world in innumerable ways.

 

© 2022 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 Three Qualities Found  in Successful Artists and Writers

A Story of Three Artistic Friends

I was sitting in my living room that wintry Saturday night with three old friends who were successful in the arts:  a novelist, a poet, and a Path and trees covered with snowpainter. The storm buffeting the windows and pelting them with hail and snow made impossible even the thought of digging cars out and driving home. But everyone was in a good mood, and the house was warm. We were happy being together again after being separated so long by COVID.

For a while the conversation wasn’t really a conversation–just random comments, funny memories from their careers and mine, times we had spent together, and our favorite projects. I told them that I had an idea. I had a topic that had intrigued me for a long time. The novelist, a very cheerful man, said, “What topic is that?” I said, “I’m glad you asked.” Everyone laughed, and I said, “I would like to know what  main qualities bring a person success in the arts–qualities that Da Vinci had, and Shakespeare, Monet, Brando, Faulkner, and anyone successful in the arts now, in the past, and in the future. What are the main qualities instrumental in their success?”

Everyone was agreeable, and Norman started things off.

 

Norman the Poet

Energy

Norman is an award-winning poet I have been friends with since I attended one of his riveting readings. The principal feature of his personality is gentleness which is reflected in his often-tender lyric poems. He said, “I’ve given this question some thought too.  I think a lot of Depiction of swirling energy in pink, blue, yellow and greean against a black backgroundaccomplished people in the arts have wondered what they have that makes their creative work possible. The main quality anyone must possess if they are trying to be successful in anything, not just the arts, but certainly the arts, I feel, is energy. Powerful, potent personal energy equips creatives to produce a steady flow of works. Isn’t that our goal?

“Phoebe and Paul, I know you will each have something important to say, but I think an accomplished person in the arts is inconceivable without a high level of sustainable energy. The most successful artists have the energy and reserves of energy to work very hard, sometimes in a creative frenzy, and produce their art steadily over the course of a satisfying career.

” I cannot imagine people in any field having more energy than those of us in the arts. Athletes may equal us, but don’t surpass us. Artists are the antithesis of lazy, but have a passion to roll up their sleeves and work. I think they have had this passion all their lives. Their energy breeds more energy, as though their supply of it is inexhaustible. In a creative state of mind and body they don’t seem to get tired the way other people do. They can work long hours when working long hours is needed, as when they have a deadline. Imagine writing a novel. It is a pleasant ordeal that requires the expenditure of energy every day from the first draft which may have been written a thousand days before the finished book is available to readers.

“Consider the staggering achievements of Shakespeare. He wrote more than thirty tragedies, comedies, and histories, and the sonnets, and directed plays and acted in them. He managed a theatre company and had a wife and children to take care of.  Vincent van Gogh produced three thousand works in his brief five year career. That’s two works a day`. Picasso was even more productive.

“I’ve never known a successful creative person who lacked impressive energy. Their main goals are to pay their dues mastering their craft and then to produce one work after another non-stop. A big reason for a creatives’ failure is just lack of the energy that excellence in the arts requires.”

 

Phoebe the Painter

Talent

Phoebe has long experience and has had many shows. Her work can be found on the walls of several museums. She oozes confidence–a woman giving an impression of total self-possession, independence, and fearlessness. She is remarkably attractive. A friend once described her to me by saying, “And then I saw crossing a bridge the most beautiful woman on earth.”

She said, “I believe that the most important quality in an artist is talent. People in the arts are people with a gift, and that gift is their talent.  Shakespeare, Picasso, and van Gogh had tremendous energy but if they hadn’t had more talent than other people, they wouldn’t be the artists we admire so. An artist will not succeed without substantial talent.

Talent is the most recognizable quality in the creative world. It is everywhere. The most impressive thing in the world of art is the virtuoso performance, a display of talent by an individual that is so great that you will remember it long after you have forgotten everything else. There it is in Norman’s poems and Paul’s novels, and Degas’ and Jackson Pollack’s paintings, Laurence Olivier performing Hamlet, and Hemingway’s and Faulkner’s novels. Their talent is–how should I say it–extreme.

Colorful photo of young girl working on artwork“Painters, writers, actors, and dancers enter the world talented. From the beginning of their lives they can draw better than other children or write more interesting compositions, act out scenes more skillfully, dance more gracefully. Just look at the lovely paintings some little children can paint and the poems they can write.  Some children are too young to have learned to paint, yet they paint wonderfully and have technique. No one has taught them. They can paint superbly before being taught.  When they are being taught they absorb information so quickly, it’s astonishing. That’s the definition of talent.

“Talent cannot be depleted. If you have it you will never lose it. There will always be more. To be very good or great you must add to your talent. Creative people have been favored since birth, but not without the gods requiring something in return, and that is the responsibility to augment their talent.  Much of the energy Norm was talking about an artist applies to getting better–studying, practicing, experimenting.

“Raw talent is a quality which grows in quantity with effort.

 

Paul the Novelist/Actor

Focus

Paul had his first literary success as a college sophomore when his short story received an O’ Henry Award. He went on to write novels, and then in his words “branched out” into theatre acting where he also found success. That snowy night he said, ”Who can argue with a creative person’s need for inexhaustible energy and for talent that is exceptional? But I think that focus that is the salient factor that brings success to anyone in any field, especially in the arts, where the creator must concentrate so hard so often on so many things.”

He continued, “People often think of broad periods of time: ‘In eight months I’ll take my vacation and in eighteen years I’ll retire.’ But the creator in the act of creation focuses, thinking only of what occurs in single moments, such as ‘this brush stroke’  and ‘this sentence,’ ‘this musical phrase,’ or ‘these lines in this play I am to deliver now.’ The best moments of a creative person are that sliver of time when your mind is sharp and focused only on your work, when your mind is alert and clear, your concentration undivided and pin-point.

Magifying glass illuminated in gold light“I think that focus is a rare quality–the famous image in Zen of lack of creative mindfulness being a drunken monkey. People in our business have to learn pretty quickly to discipline their minds, so they don’t wander, but stick to the creative job at hand and not let any extraneous thought cancel that mysterious moment when you’re hard at work, focused, and being as creative and fulfilled artistically as you will ever be.”

Paul said, ”I also think that people in the arts have to be sure that they are in the art that most suits them and where their energy, talent, and focus will bring the best results. That may seem so obvious that it’s not worth mentioning, but what has struck me is that practicing artists sometimes discover they are focusing on the wrong art or genre, or that other artistic careers are right for them too, the way I discovered I could act and write both. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it that a creator wouldn’t realize that another art or creative specialty would be more suitable. But it happens.

“There are other examples of people in the arts who were focused on the wrong specialty. Thomas Wolfe began by thinking that he was a playwright and was educated to be one in college and at graduate school at Harvard.  It was only after studying and writing plays for ten years, when his lover said, “Tom, you’re not equipped to be a playwright. You’re intended to be a novelist” that Wolfe became a novelist. Mary Cassatt spent several years painting in a conventional style before living in France and falling under the sway of Impressionism. She became an Impressionist herself. She destroyed all the paintings she had produced prior to making that change. “

“For me the key to success in the arts more than anything else is focus, both in the sense of mindfulness in the moment and in the sense of concentration on the most suitable and rewarding art.”

 

Application of Energy, Talent, and Focus

We thought our evening together had been fun–and enlightening. I said, “Other qualities are important to creators too. Self-confidence, intelligence, a rich imagination, detailed memory, drive, intensity, curiosity, experience, and careful preparation, for example, and beyond those of course is luck–is the person lucky? But energy, talent, and focus–I like that. We could look at the theatre department of a small college. Let’s say there are thirty students in the department.  They will all receive exactly the same training in acting, but the results will be different.

“Let’s estimate that after college fifteen will have no further connection with acting.  Ten will get involved in community theatres.  Five will become professional actors, two in lead roles. One will become a star. What we’re saying is that it’s likely that those who will become professionals will have more energy, talent, and focus than the others, and that the star will have more than anyone. I think we have something.”  Phoebe said, “Something good happens whenever we’re together.” Norman said, “We’re a good team.”

Going Home

painting of a simple house on a snowy nightThe storm still didn’t look so good, so they stayed the night. In the morning Paul insisted on making breakfast. I made coffee. We vowed to get together again soon. Then in early afternoon a bright sun came out, the winds died, and they left for home where work and many challenges were waiting.

 

© 2022 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 Weakness Many Writers Don’t Know They Have: Ideas and Models for Describing Places in Your Writing

Many writers have a weakness, but are not aware of it. They fall short when they describe places. Their places don’t seem real and are not vivid Small wooden farm buildings behind a wooden fence on the side of a road with grass and autumn treesor accurate. They are not interesting. Because of an inadequate handling of places, a work that may be superb in every other respect is without convincingly-described locations, scenes, and settings. Descriptions of places are not window dressing that a writer need pay little attention to, but a feature of writing fiction, nonfiction, and drama that is indispensable. Poorly written descriptions of places detract from the quality of the written piece.

When you read a description of place by someone such as Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, or Ernest Hemingway, who has elevated that skill to the level of art, you are impressed. You read the description more than once. You think, “This person can really write.” You realize that giving attention to skillfully composing your book’s or story’s places will enhance the works that you are striving so hard to make readable, enjoyable, salable.

Rust-colored field in front of rust-colored barn and silo with blue sky and pinkish cloudsAward-winning short story specialist Eudora Welty did more than anyone else to point out how central to effective fiction place is. She said that the story’s place affects “all currents” of the work, all of its emotions, beliefs, and moral convictions that “charge out from the story” as the author unfolds it. She said the places should always be identified, and adds that they should be described in a particular way that requires significant writing skills.

They should be described concretely.

They should be described exactly.

To describe places concretely and exactly requires the writer to be patient and take time writing about the places and not dismiss them with a few vague words. It is worthwhile to pay attention to places in works you read so you might learn from them. Don’t hurry through them. Study them. See how they are so skillfully put together.

Look at the places in writing you are working on, especially the work you are submitting to publishers or intend to publish yourself, and make sure places are both concrete and exact.

Some Writers, Poets, and Artists Are Known for Their Places

View of Chicago skyscrapers behind a bridge over the Chicago RiverPlace has been particularly important to some noted authors. You cannot imagine the story’s characters without the place where the author has put them:  Dublin  to James Joyce, small town and rural Mississippi to Eudora Welty and William Faulkner, Paris,  Spain, and Africa to Ernest Hemingway, Camden, Ohio to Sherwood Anderson, southern United States to Truman Capote, James Agee, Reynolds Price, Pat Conroy, and many other “Southern writers,“ the plains of Nebraska to Willa Cather, Chicago to Saul Bellow, the Mississippi River to Mark Twain, the English moors to Charlotte Bronte and sister Emily,  eighteenth century London to Charles Dickens, Mexico and the state of Texas to Katherine Anne Porter,  Los Angeles to mystery writer Raymond Chandler, and so on.

Places are very important to poets too: America is Walt Whitman’s subject, and Patterson, New Jersey is special to William Carlos Williams. And a place may be a favorite subject of painters: his gardens to Claude Monet, the hill visible from his window to Paul Cezanne.

Models

Below are places from my life I have described in stories I’ve written:

A Chicago Alley Late On a Rainy Night When I Was Five

Bungalows on a neighbborhood street with lawns and a sidewalk(My father was an air raid warden during World War II, and once he took me with him during an air raid practice when the lights of the city were turned off and the skies were filled with search lights) “My father and I turned and came up behind the church where a delivery truck was parked. We walked down the alley, keeping our eyes trained on the apartment buildings’ windows, past the empty lot overgrown with weeds and covered with tin cans and newspapers, and past the bent-in-half, arthritic and reclusive witch’s bleak house. Her ferociously unfriendly German shepherds were oddly quiet. We passed the drowsy homes and apartment buildings of neighbors, only some of whose names we knew. Behind the walls of those buildings were people not unlike us, simple people, all with the stories of their lives never to be written.  All shades were drawn, and so the night was perfect, with no more reminders necessary.

My father stopped to look straight up through the drizzle again and then so did I. Between the sweeping beams of the search lights, white stars Wet road with starry-looking street lamps at nightand a full moon dangled in the sky. On the back porches in neat array, like miniature glass sentinels, stood the empty bottles left out for the milk man.  Branches of trees laden with rain bent low over back fences like old women on canes. When the wind blew, the leaves showered the two of us with water, and we laughed. On the ground lay deep puddles that we had no choice but to step through, which was fine with me because I was wearing boots. My father’s shoes made squishing sounds and he said,” Another pair down the drain” and we laughed at that, and I splashed through, heavy-footed.”

Chicago on a Summer Night

“It was a typical August night in the city, a moonlit night that if you lived in that part of the country you knew intuitively would witness a drop in temperature that would turn a blistering hot day cold almost precisely one minute after the stroke of twelve. In the air circulating on a breeze were fish smells from the beaches of Lake Michigan that were coming into view as we walked through a park that had a merry-go-round and Park bench between two trees and sunsetswings. The night had taken on an indefinable splendor and given me a feeling of exquisite peace that I hadn’t felt since childhood. I saw a white yacht that was illuminated by deck lights out on the lake.  Small waves rocked a rowboat that was not very far from me. With a whoosh, waves tumbled over themselves onto a beach.  A bell chimed somewhere on the water. There was a splash and then another. The vivacious woman I was with took off her shirt and bra and swung them over her head like a lasso. She said, “Guess what I do for a living.” I said, “I’ll bet you four million dollars that you are an actress.”

A Bar in a Town in Montana, United States

After we graduated from high school my good friend Nick and I–he eighteen, I seventeen–decided to ride freight trains for a while.  A train heading west came along and we hopped it.

“Down the wide main street and prominently visible from our freight train that had just pulled in, the alluring green neon sign of the Welcome Inn burned brightly. It was a small, squat, one-story square log building that night and day hummed and trembled with pulsing music and in which who knew what went on. But we were curious to find out. We entered that tumult of sweat and whiskey, amidst the glow of the red bar lights and clouds of floating cigarette smoke, and stood at the bar next to a tattooed woman snapping a bull whip and wearing a black satin cape with shining red lining, and saw a man with a chin scar and an eye-patch get angry and pull a pistol on another man. The second man took the gun away from the first and slugged him over the head. He turned to us disgusted with his friend, who lay dazed and prone on the floor, people stepping over him, and said, not in any way angry, “He’s always doing that,” and that was the end of that.

Pale blue and brown old cars lined up on grassOld cars with dented fenders and gaudy garters dangling on their rear-view mirrors and pick-up trucks with rifle racks cradling ominous shotguns and carbines were parked four deep in the lot. When the door of the Inn swung open, muscular men, their shirt sleeves rolled up above the bicep, sauntered out arrogantly, their arms tight around the waists of conspicuously made-up women, their heads thrown back in exaltation and abandon, and the chime of laughter spilled into the night like flowing wine.”

The College Town Where I Lived

“… a small drowsy college set in a little town of narrow, winding cobblestone streets crowded with lovely old gnarled oaks, maples, and sycamores and wild, untrimmed hedges. Pinnacles, domes, and spires of church towers, like the great cathedrals of Europe, rose gradually and wonderfully and were visible everywhere. In the yards, along crumbling stone fences sprouting moss, lichens, and ferns, were an abundance of rose gardens that were sadly withered at that time of year. The town was surrounded on all sides by tractors and threshers left overnight by farmers in wheat fields, and the campus was split in two by a river with an Indian name.”

 

A street with shopsExcellent writers should be able to describe places that they have experienced or have heard or read about and can clearly envision as they compose. They should be able to create vivid descriptions that enliven the text and appeal to the reader’s senses.

 

© 2022 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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Fourth of July Killings in Highland Park, U.S.A.

Today a terrible thing happened in my home town. A young man so full of cruelty, anger, and evil that he felt he was at liberty to kill as he wished murdered a number of my neighbors–my friends–at a parade that I have attended dozens of times on July Fourth,  a day when everyone in this country is happy and proud to be Americans. Seven dead, dozens wounded.

Year after year the Fourth of July parade in Highland Park was a beautiful event that was attended by people from all walks of life and all ages who live here in Highland Park, Illinois. Barack Obama walked in our parade one year when he was a U.S. Senator. The bands were always loud and joyful, the dancers graceful. Dignitaries in the cars and on the floats tossed pieces of candy to little children who bubbled over with excitement as only carefree children can.

Photograph of intersection in Highland Park, IL near center of townHighland Park is not a big place at all. It is an idyllic little Midwestern American city of about thirty thousand–clean and peaceful, and until the Fourth, safe. Clustered together at its center are a railroad station, City Hall, public library, and on the library lawn a long chromium sculpture no one understands. It is a community that values the arts: more writers live here than in any other community between Chicago to the south and Milwaukee to the north. Double screen writing Academy Award winner William Goldman was from Highland Park.  Actor/movie director Orson Welles lived here in his adolescence and sat on his lawn reading Shakespeare; Frank Baum would take the train up from Oak Park to meet with his Oz books illustrator who lived here; the high school theatre program is renowned. Also, Michael Jordan lived here when he was leading the Chicago Bulls to championships. I’d see him at the Post Office waiting in line just like everyone else. There is no standing on ceremony in Highland Park.

My wife and I moved here forty-something years ago to escape crime and other problems big cities have and were happy here from day one. We raised four children here. The schools are good, the teachers caring. My two daughters were on the high school gymnastics team. My two sons were in the school’s theatre program, my older son in a production that won a state championship. He still remembers it with special pleasure because a girl asked him for his autograph.

To the east, along Lake Michigan, the homes of Highland Park are very grand, elegant, and old. The streets are lined with magnificent trees through which on summer mornings such as today gentle breezes blow as resident Robins, Sparrows, Blue jays, and Cardinals sing gaily. In its way it is an innocent place–like a child–with very little crime, friendly people who say hello, how are you on the street and treat each other with respect, people who obey laws and pay attention to ethics and morality and the Golden Rule. It doesn’t belong on the news. It is out of place there. It shouldn’t be the center of the nation’s–the world’s–attention. It should be as it always has been–“a nice place right off U.S. 41” that is sublime because nothing much ever happens there.

I went outside for a few minutes and began to wonder what will happen to our parade now .Seven dead, dozens wounded. Will there ever be another parade on the Fourth? Or must we find solace in the drum rolls that exist now only in our memories, and the baton twirlers that are there too, the bright July suns, gleeful children, proud parents and grandparents all together on the one day we once upon a time could rely on to make us all happy?

 

© 2022 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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Why Some Writers and Artists Give Up, but Others Never Do

Examples of a Writer’s and an Artist’s Adversity:

A Painter

You’re in the arts–you’re imaginative–so imagine that you are like an artist friend of mine named Ariel and you have worked very hard and Woman artist working at an easel in front of a windowhave finished a painting that in your judgment is excellent in every respect. Like Ariel you are trained and educated in your craft and recognize your paintings’ consistently high quality and dazzling originality. You know you can’t do better. You feel that no one but you could have executed this project. It required blending many abilities not every painter possesses. You see in your painting, as Ariel saw in hers, something especially flamboyant and fetching. Your hopes for its artistic and financial success are high.

But in the marketplace the work is ignored without a word.  Paintings that you know are lower quality are praised and sold for impressive prices. Your work is considered a failure, your reputation tarnished. You are as discouraged as deeply as you have ever been, heart-broken, feeling cursed, dejected, doubting that the experience of being content–that glow of the heart–that conviction of strength you remember–will ever come back again. You lose your appetite for the artist’s life. You have had enough and like Ariel you give up.

Were you to enter Ariel’s apartment and walk down the hall you would find that painting on an easel in an unused bedroom close to the kitchen.

 

An Author

Now imagine that you are an author with a new contract with a big advance and the publisher–highly regarded in publishing–is ecstatic about Writer working at an old-fashioned typerwriter in front of a windowyour book. She recognizes its significant sales potential. She calls you In Chicago from New York and says that your book is one of the two or three best books of any type she has ever read. She is entranced with the book and pledges to you to commit to “putting it over” whatever resources are necessary to make it the country’s top best seller (The book is topical and has that kind of potential.) You call your agent and ask him about the publisher reputation and he tells you that they are known for selecting one of their titles each year and making it the kind of best seller the publisher described.

Meetings are held, marketing plans laid, enthusiasm grows. But then like a curse you only read about, the very day–the very hour–you are scheduled to begin a long multi-city cross-country promotional tour to kick off the marketing campaign, you are called and told that the publishing house has been sold to a foreign-owned publisher who is not enthusiastic about your book and the marketing money and plan are abandoned. The cab to take you to the airport is outside waiting and you go out and cancel it.

All the plans are canceled and the dreams of being famous and rich are canceled too. You think, “It is no one’s fault. It could have happened to anyone.” But how dreary it is to fall unprepared from the heights of elation to the depths of sullen moods. (What you just read is not a case study I made up: it happened to me.)

 

Develop the Ability to “Spring Back”

During a career writers and artists who often are particularly sensitive people may encounter many adversities and hurtful failures. Being a section of a brass colored springresilient means first of all accepting such adversities and those you have experienced yourself as an unavoidable part of the writer’s and artist’s life. That insight deeply-felt and never forgotten is essential for maintaining a firm, unshakeable spirit.

The word “resilient” means “to spring back,” the way Ernest Hemingway was forced to spring back when his wife lost the only drafts of all his short stories on a train and he had to begin writing them all over again.  A painter needs to “spring back” when a prospect turns down a high-priced painting they had expressed a very strong interest in, but inexplicably changed their mind.

If you are a writer or artist–actor, composer, ballet dancer, musician, etc.– you have the advantage of a much larger tolerance for suffering than the majority of people. Make use of that advantage. Hardships, though they are difficult to bear and may create many stresses, strengthen the development of resilience.  Helen Keller was a disabilities rights activist, author, and lecturer who lived her life in total blindness. She said “character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

The lives of people in the arts aren’t easy.  For example, their lives confront them with many competitions when they must prove their worth: will my manuscript have a chance among the thousands of others submitted to that publisher? Will my lithographs make an impression at the show? And when there are competitions the majority are going to fail. If you fail, will you make a comeback? Not everyone makes a comeback.

 

Metaphorically Be a Body-Builder

A body-builder’s goal is to build muscle. When heavy weights are being lifted, the fibers in the muscles are broken down.   Then during the gray and aqua painting of a bodybuilder lifting a hand weight period the body-builder rests, those muscles are rebuilt, but bigger and stronger than they had been. Don’t be so afraid of hardships, stresses, difficulties, and crises. They strengthen you emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.

A knowledge of yourself and willingness to experiment with life changes and new directions will enhance your resilience. Some writers and artists are innately resilient and psychologically strong; others are not. But less-resilient writers and artists can learn to be stronger and more resilient. Begin by being self-encouraging. Tell yourself, “Don’t weaken. Be strong. This all will pass.”

Poet John Berryman thought ordeals are very positive things. He said, “I do strongly feel that among the great pieces of luck for high achievement is ordeal. Certain great artists can make out without it…but mostly you need ordeal…Beethoven’s deafness, Goya’s deafness, Milton’s blindness, that kind of thing.” Harsh difficulties enhance your ability to thrive under stress. They can improve your performance, stamina, and mental health.

Adversities can be positive, leading to the discovery of unknown strengths. Crises can change a novelist or water- colorist for the better. Hope and optimism strengthen you. Deeply-held spiritual beliefs strengthen you.  Making tough decisions under pressure also makes you stronger.

 

Another Painter and Three More Authors Who Failed But Did Not Give Up

Creative people are susceptible to trials and suffering. One especially trying period is getting recognized at the beginning of your career. William Saroyan received not just fifty or a few hundred rejection slips before his first story was published, but several thousand. But he continued Black and white image of Ernest Hemingway's head with mustache and beard wearing a rugged turtleneck sweaterworking, as confident as van Gogh and became one of the most popular American writers of his era. Ernest Hemingway said that  at the beginning of his career 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 had faith that eventually his work would be in demand and never stopped working. The crowning achievement was the Nobel Prize in Literature.

self portrait of Vincent VanGogh in muted blues, browns, greens and orangesVincent van Gogh spent a short, intense five-year career producing an astonishing three thousand masterpieces that are now auctioned for many millions of dollars, but in his lifetime sold only one painting, and that was for a few brushes and paints. But he continued working confidently and never doubted that in the future his talents would be recognized

The persistent hard work of an ever-confident van Gogh, a Saroyan, and a Hemingway and other writers and artists like them–the refusal to accept defeat–is an antidote to failures in the arts.

American Henry Miller lived the life of a homeless beggar on the streets of Paris while trying to learn to write professionally, artfully. He was penniless and had no permanent address, no possessions but a comb and hair brush, no successes, and no prospects. Yet he was optimistic. He said, “I have no money, no resources, and no hope. I am the happiest man alive.” He lived that way into his late forties before his genius was recognized and he took the literary world by storm, writing a new kind of fiction. He was tough and street-smart. Being abused by an editor he snarled, “Who are these shits? Where do they get off saying such things to me?”

 

Acquiring Needed Insights and Strategies

In spite of inequities among writers and artists (“Why is she so successful when I am not?”) and the emotions discouragement causes–the anger, the bitterness, the scourge of self-doubt and shattered confidence, the devastation of failure, the sense of inadequacy–some people in the arts such as van Gogh, Saroyan, Hemingway, and Miller take a deep breath, regain their composure, and imperturbable, resume their heroic efforts, trying again, following the philosophy of resilience, of being knocked down seven times but getting up eight. However, some other writers and artists who are just as intelligent, just as gifted, just as aspiring, but not as resilient are tormented and creatively disabled. They may never recover unless they acquire new insights and corrective strategies of the type I’m discussing.

 

The More Persistent You Are the Better Off You Will Be

Photograph of a proud looking lion In every era, in creative after creative, three empowering qualities like three ingredients of a potent formula have proven to help writers and artists not to give up when they fail. Those qualities are being resilient, being persistent, and having faith in yourself. Resilient, persistent writers and artists with strong faith in themselves never give up.

Without a deep, enduring, never-defeated faith in yourself you may give up at the very moment you should brace yourself, focus more clearly, and work harder.  Often unsuccessful people are those who have fallen just a little short of their goals because they failed to persist for three months longer, or two, or even a week. They lost faith in themselves when they met adversity and didn’t realize how close they were to success, acclaim, and satisfaction. Have you ever given up too soon? What if you hadn’t?

grey-white cat looking at itself in a mirror and seeing an image of a grey-white lion's faceFaith in yourself touches every facet of your being–whether you think about your prospects positively or in a self-defeating way, how strongly you motivate yourself, your susceptibility to self-doubt and discouragement, and the positive changes you will be able to make in your life.

You must always strive to overcome the paralyzing sense that your efforts are futile. You must have enduring faith in yourself and not permit anything to interfere with it. Having faith in yourself, being resilient, and being persistent are cornerstones of success and fulfillment whatever your art.

Make the word “Persist” your motto, your rallying word. Whenever you are thinking of giving up your work, your career, say the word “Persist.”  Whenever you think “It’s just too much for me. I can’t continue,” say “Persist.” Say “Persist” if your submitted work is rejected. “Persist, don’t give up. Try again.” And when you are losing heart, losing confidence say, “I have faith in myself.”  Persist and have faith in yourself. “I will persist and finish my novel, and it will be the best I can do.” Then you will be strong.

Many psychologists believe that whatever the field or the activity the most intelligent person–the person with the highest I. Q.–will be the most laurel leaves on top and bottom of the words "Dont Give Up!" written with marker in a journal successful.  Catherine Cox studied greatness and disagreed. She found that persistence is a key. Persistence is so important in almost every endeavor that it compensates for lesser intelligence. Cox concluded: “High but not the highest intelligence, combined with the greatest degree of persistence will achieve greater eminence than the highest degree of intelligence with somewhat less persistence. “

Many writers, artists, composers, musicians, actors, ballet dancers, and other creatives have learned that their persistence has been more important than talent.

 

If you want a successful future in the arts, you will never think of yourself as a failure or give up if you don’t succeed.  You will be level-headed and do your best to respond calmly with composure and confidence to setbacks, difficult periods, insults, abuses, deprivation and failures–bravely, with hope, courage, and positive thinking. In the most despairing moments of your career you will think, “It’s bad, but my goodness, it’s not that bad. I’m not dead and I’m still very talented.”

 

© 2022 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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Good Advice, Quotes, and Concepts for Writers and Artists

You Don’t Have to Feel Good to Have a Delightfully Productive Day

I follow sports closely, and it surprises me how often swimmers, tennis players, track stars, basketball players, and other athletes perform their record best on the very days they are not feeling fit physically or emotionally. They feel “off” but nevertheless they compete and often they excel. Field with pink green, orange, white and purple rows of flowers curving in front of a blue sky with white cloudsI think of the famous Michael Jordan “flu game” when he had to be carried off the floor after the game with the flu by a teammate, yet scored 38 points and led the Bulls to victory.  “Probably the most difficult thing I have ever done,” said Jordan.

That illogical phenomenon of feeling unprepared and yet excelling also applies to people in the arts. Robert Boice said, “Beyond doubt, creative writers who begin a project before feeling prepared or motivated achieve more quantity and quality.” Feeling out of sorts used to stop me.  When I wasn’t feeling right, I’d think, “Why even try?” But now, because I am familiar with athletes not feeling good but performing so well, when I feel not ready at all to write, I become optimistic and confidently sit down at the computer and expect a productive day, and usually have one.

You will be more productive if like those athletes you don’t make your mood the dictator of your performance, but simply however you feel you do your work. Don’t live by how you feel. Everyone Girl looking sad leaning on her handwould prefer to be cheerful and happy, but as far as creative work is concerned, how you feel is secondary. What matters most are the requirements of the craft you have committed yourself to, and one requirement is day after day to put out effort to achieve your creative goals. It seems to me that one constant goal that is shared by most people in the arts is to develop your in-born talents to the fullest and that another requirement is to produce finished works.  When you see your talents growing and you are producing original works regularly and everything is meshing, you are at your best, and you know it.

In the nineteen-sixties a number of America’s excellent poets who knew each other well felt that to write their best poetry–to be in what they thought was the ideal mood for writing verse– they had to feel deeply depressed.  That was their philosophy and what they talked and Young man looking depressed with his hand on his foreheadcorresponded about. Nurturing depression in and out of psychiatric hospitals, some of them committed suicide including John Berryman and Randall Jarrell. Poets Sylvia Plath and Ann Sexton were friends and felt the same. They talked to each other often, and also committed suicide.

But you don’t have to feel miserable to write a poem or a tragedy or be in love to write a romance. Anton Chekhov said that ironically happy writers write sad things and sad writers write happy things. Gustav Flaubert said that the less writers feel a thing, the more likely they are to express it as it really is. J.D Salinger wrote that ecstatically happy prose writers have disadvantages. They can’t be moderate, temperate, detached, or brief.

Some writers seem so grim and bitter about their need to write. George Orwell said that “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon one can never resist or understand.” Opera composer Giacomo Puccini said “Art is a kind of illness.” Nobel laureate Ernest Hemingway felt differently. He felt awful when he wasn’t writing, the opposite when he was: “Suffer like a bastard when don’t write, or just before, and feel empty…Never feel as good as while writing.”

Silhouette of a person with arms outstretched looking at a sunriseWhatever has been said about the relationship between creatives’ state of mind and their performance,  writers and painters I know or have read or heard about have found writing or painting the most fulfilling and blissful thing they do.

 

Overview

I have assembled a number of quotations that pertain to many aspects of the lives of people in the arts– their function, their preference for simplicity, their complex nature, and the construction of their work.

 

The Creative’s Function

It is not coincidental that the remarkable art and architectural critic John Ruskin and novelist Joseph Conrad with his dazzling visual imagery Drawn outline of an eye with an illustration of the world map as the eyehad the same view of the function of writers and artists. Ruskin: “The whole function of the artist in the world is to be a seeing and feeling creature.”

Conrad: “My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel–it is, before all, to make you see.”

 

Don’t Complicate Arts That Are So Simple

Usually, over the course of a career, noted practitioners of an art simplify their views of their role.

“What shall I say about poetry? What shall I say about those clouds, or about the sky? Look; look at them; look at it! And nothing more. Don’t you understand that a poet can’t say anything about poetry? Leave that to the critics and the professors. For neither you, nor I, nor any poet knows what poetry is” (Frederico Lorca).

Picture of a green grassy hillside with buildings and trees and blue sky with cloudsPainter Edouard Manet thought the urge to create is a simple reflex that doesn’t require thought: “There is only one true thing: instantly paint what you see. When you’ve got it, you’ve got it. When you haven’t, you begin again.”

William Faulkner wrote in a highly complicated rhetorical style that is difficult to understand unless you read the sentences over and over. Yet he was the most direct person when he spoke. When asked what he thought made a good writer he said, “I think if you’re going to write, you’re going to write and nothing will stop you.”  Saul Below, like Faulkner a Nobel Prize winner, was as direct when he said, “I am just a man in the position of waiting to see what the imagination is going to do next.”

Henry Moore felt that his art had a spontaneity of its own. He believed that if he set out to sculpt a standing man and it became a lying woman, he knew he was making art.

Henri Matisse is reported to have said, “When a painting is finished, it is like a newborn child. The artist himself must have time for understanding it. It must be lived with as a child is lived with, if we are to grasp the meaning of its being” (John Dewy).

 

The Makeup of Creatives

People generally are fascinated by creatives and want to know what makes them able to produce memorable works. A survey was done dealing with women’s preferences for a husband. The most attractive partner was thought to be a writer. And creatives are self-absorbed and fascinated by themselves.

Creatives express love: Alfred Werner of Marc Chagall: He is a painter of love. He loved flowers and animals, he loved people, he loved love. There is sadness in his paintings, but there is no despair and always a metaphysical hope. “When he paints a beggar in snow, he puts a fiddle in his hands.”

Blue and brown fantasy illustration of a face with diagrams of the brain on either sideCreatives have complex memories from which their art derives: “The essential factor of development of expertise is the accumulation of increasingly complex patterns in memory” (Andreas Lehmann).

Creatives convey great ideas: “He is the greatest artist who has embodied, in the sum of his work, the greatest number of the greatest ideas” (John Ruskin).

Creatives involve their whole selves in their art: “It is art that makes life, makes intensity, makes importance…and  I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process “(Henry James).

Creatives are especially perceptive: “It seems to me that the writers who have the power of revelation are just those who, in some particular part of life, have seen or felt considerably more than the average run of intelligent beings…The great difference, intellectually speaking, between one man and another is simply the number of things they can see in a given cubic yard of the world.” (Gilbert Murray.)

 

How is a Work Made?

Pink, brown and gold pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on a dark wooden tableSince the earliest civilizations people have been theorizing about creatives among them and the creative process. The first question was: is creative ability a gift from the gods?

John Ruskin communicated his ideas so beautifully. About the making of a work of art he said, “Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart go together.”

Novelist George Eliot said about creation:  “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.”

Creatives have a strong need for independence and resist having their work meddled with, as communicated by this quote from Patty McNair: “Get your mitts offa my story.”

The need for a developed expertise: “The repeated reminder of Mr. (Ezra) Pound: that poetry should be as well -written as prose” (T.S Eliot).

Eventually a writer will come to the conclusion that simplicity and naturalness are the keys to effective styles: “As for style in writing, if one has anything to say, it drops from him simply and directly” (Henry David Thoreau).

Brown tree branches in front of a gold sunsetThe best writing resists critical explanation:  “In truly good writing no matter how many times you read it you do not know how it is done. That is because there is a mystery in all great writing and the mystery does not dissect out” (Ernest Hemingway).

Inspirations are creative urges such as “Go ahead and do it”: “If you find a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it” (Toni Morrison).

 

The Work is Greater than the Artist Who Produced the Work

It is very common for people meeting someone who has produced a great work of art to be disappointed, not with the work, but with the impression the artist makes: “I thought he would be better looking”  “He writes so beautifully but he’s not much of a conversationalist, is he?” Poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky said aptly, “What people can make with their hands is a lot better than they are themselves.”

 

© 2022 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 Sister’s Death in Paradise

The breathtaking Hawaiian Islands are an inappropriate place to become ill, but Honolulu, their state capital, largest city, and principal port, is where my younger sister Sharon had chosen to live–where the last months of her life she was hospitalized. In her early twenties she had left Chicago where we had grown up and I still live and she had visited one exquisite picture post card place after another in Spain, France, the South Pacific, and the Mediterranean, and so on, in search of the single place where she thought she would be happiest living and had found it.

Now she was thirty-seven and married. She had long, black, slightly curly hair and was petite–thin, not very tall. Generally cheerful, often smiling, she was a pianist. She could spread her hands wide, spanning the keys with her long, thin, limber fingers. After some time I went to see her. Twelve months earlier she had telephoned to give me the bad news— the disease she had believed was gone without a trace and would never terrify her again was back.

I had been in Honolulu seven days, getting to the hospital at about eight every morning, spending the day with her, and leaving at about nine p.m.  Those would be our last days together, and it was difficult to watch my visit passing day by day, being aware that after I left her room that last afternoon I would never see her again.  One day in the future while I was back home or traveling for business she would go into a coma and pass away.

On the nights of my visit after seeing her I would walk on the beaches, reflecting on the day, finding restful the fresh air and coolness, and sleeping at Sharon and Ron’s apartment. On the kitchen floor there was a scale to measure the dwindling of my sister’s existence, and sheets of paper on a clipboard suspended from a nail on the wall that recorded her declining weight: ninety-eight pounds, ninety, eighty-eight…and a calendar that had Xs on days she wasn’t healthy enough to work that in recent months had become all Xs. Against a wall there was a full-length gold-framed mirror that in the past she had looked into. The mirror was dusty.

I was crossing the hospital’s parking lot after visiting Sharon that last time before leaving on a flight for home.  During my visits I had looked down at that lot from the often-breezy twentieth floor balcony while hospital people and Sharon’s many friends, her husband, and his relatives like actors all  pretending their spirits were high, streamed into and out of that sorrowful room.  Ahead of me I saw Sharon’s favorite nurse getting into a car. I called her name–“Kathy”…”Kathy”–and she turned and waited for me. I ran and caught up with her. We smiled. She was Japanese-American, in her late thirties I thought, a professional nurse in the most caring sense, a sweet, tender woman with a soft voice and bashful eyes.

There was no need for Kathy and me to discuss where Sharon stood. It needn’t be said that it wouldn’t be long and that soon Sharon would be gone entirely from my life and from the world. I knew that the moment coming from the airport and entering her hospital room and putting down my bag when I saw with a shock how puny Sharon looked now. The illness had given her an old woman’s body that had been ravaged by suffering there in that bed that was now her final home–so skinny–all bones–very sick–dying. The pain had turned her black hair white and it was short from the treatment and no longer long. Her once-pretty face was gaunt, her cheeks gray, her body very tired. Her long pianist’s fingers were so thin that her ring had slipped off and was lost. But there in her gray, lonely, fading beauty there was still about her that same gentleness you could ruffle with your breath, the same spirit in her fierce eyes, the same poise, and the same elegance. Looking into my eyes, imagining what I was seeing, Sharon had clutched her gown across her chest in embarrassment –covering herself in shame–still a modest woman–and said, breaking my heart, sucking the breath out of my lungs, “I’m a mess aren’t I?,” and I had replied  to her, “Shar, you are beautiful.”

I told Kathy that I had been looking for her, and that I was happy to have this last chance to talk to her before I left because I would not be coming back. The tips of the restless waves on the ocean to my right glittered in the sunlight. The cloudless sky was a perfect azure as far into the distance as I could see. I told Kathy that I was grateful to her for the gentleness and goodness I had seen her show Sharon.  She, more than the other nurses, and the technicians had been so careful not to hurt her when she had to be sponge-bathed or moved as though she thought Sharon a prized porcelain doll.

I said to Kathy that I would never forget her kindness, her thoughtfulness. In my mind Kathy remains as she was then, at four-thirty in a parking lot that was a short distance down a dirt path and across a little park from exciting Waikiki.  Then, as though she wanted me to have something  tangible to take home with me, Kathy told me what a good patient Sharon was, how in spite of the pain and having to live until her death with the bleak knowledge that there was not the slightest hope, Sharon had never complained and “was always so nice and had good manners,” and how it would make her very sad when she would have to say goodbye to her and would feel for her then the heavy weight of sorrow.

I had planned to sleep on the plane that night, but I couldn’t. I was wishing Sharon had her life to live over again. In my imagination I saw us as the happy girl and boy that we had once been, getting ready to ride our bikes to the library. The gray interior lights were dimmed low, as if the plane itself were drowsy. Everything was silent but for the deep hum of the engines, the other passengers asleep. I wanted to prepare myself for what it would be like now without a sister, my parents without a daughter, my children without an aunt.

One month later, in January, the twenty-first, when I was leaving my home on an errand through winter winds and  swirling snowflakes, my daughter Alice shouted out the window, “Dad, Uncle Ron is on the phone.”  He said succinctly. “Sharon died today.”

 

Related Posts by the Author:

Days End: A Story of Courage and Love

Art and Memory

Be a Quiet Hero

 

© 2022 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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What Are the Strengths and Weaknesses of Really Good Writers and Artists?

Once you are a really good writer or artist, you enjoy many advantages. But beware because now you will also have new weaknesses.

Red silhouette of a woman on yellow background, with an indication of her brain, as she looks at shelves of booksAs a really good writer, painter, actor, architect, or composer you have the ability to generate the best solutions to creative problems. The solutions are much better than the solutions less capable creatives settle on. Your aesthetic judgment is better than theirs. You perceive features of the problems facing you and the solutions to them that lesser creatives don’t notice and can’t think of.

One reason why you are so capable is that if you are  really good at your craft, you are able to keep huge amounts of useful information in your working memory, far more than less excellent writers, painters, etc. can keep in their minds. You can easily draw on that wealth of knowledge you’ve acquired about your art–its history, its techniques and artists, its methods leading to success and those that lead to failure or exasperation. Even genius, left alone with no help from extensive knowledge, is not strong.

As an example of the wealth of knowledge possessed by excellent creatives, let me cite multiple Academy Award-winning and Pulitzer Prize winning composer and song-writer Marvin Hamlisch. Torn or burnt fragments of sheet musicHe had a staggering knowledge of American songs. I knew Marvin and would do exhaustive research trying to stump him with the least known and most esoteric songs my research could find, asking him “Who wrote…?” and “Who wrote…?” However obscure the song and no matter how confidently I thought, “He will never know this one,” he always knew.

But you must guard against a common weakness of really good creatives: over-confidence in their artistic judgement. Capable as you may be, your judgment is not infallible, and sometimes it is wrong. For example, even a supremely talented writer, painter, or architect can waste months or years on an ill-advised project that looked promising but turned sour. Thomas Wolfe studied playwriting at Harvard and wrote bad plays for nine years before realizing, at the suggestion of his lover, that he had no future in playwriting, but was “meant” to write novels.

In another instance it took George Bernard Shaw five years of submitting to publishers one novel each year to realize the opposite: that he had no future writing novels, but could write plays masterfully. An editor who had turned down Shaw’s novels had said, “Unfortunately we must reject this novel too, but the dialogue was wonderful. Did you ever think of writing plays?’ That was all that was necessary for Shaw to turn the direction of his career.

Really good artists and writers are generally (though not always as in the cases of Wolfe and Shaw) good judges of their own abilities. They are self-critical and self-demanding to a very high degree. They are self-absorbed in a positive way and closely study themselves and their work, which they are obsessed with. They are motivated by a so-called “urge to improve,” and monitor themselves so that they are able to detect errors in their knowledge, technique, style, and skill, and do something to correct those errors.

Woman's hands typing on a laptop with a yellow post-it note stuck on the corner of the screenUnlike ordinary writers who might not be aware that their plots are not believable, a really good writer would be aware if theirs were not. Yet, in spite of being vividly aware and quite objective and accurate about their own work, expert artists and writers have the weakness of often being wrong in their predictions about the performance of novices they have been asked to evaluate. It is as though they are unable to recognize talent while it is still in a formative state. In fact, the greater their expertise, the more likely they are to be wrong in predicting the performance of novices.

Something very similar may happen in the field of professional editing–highly experienced editors not recognizing the promise of young writers. For example, when young English schoolteacher William Golding’s submission of his first book, Lord of the Flies, was being considered by Faber and Faber Publishers, the editors, Wooden table with sheets of paper with a red pen on top and a cup of coffee on the sideincluding the senior editor whose judgment was “always right” rejected it as impossible to understand. Only Charles Monteith, who had never edited a book before, argued angrily on behalf of the book he had fallen in love with despite its obvious flaws. Unlike the experts, he saw that good editing could remedy its weaknesses. Lord of the Flies, edited by Monteith, became an international best seller.

Golding went on to write many books, essays, and plays. Golding and Monteith became an example of a superb writer-editor-friends team working together in harmony for many years of productivity culminating In Golding’s Nobel Prize.  So if you are a novice and are looking for objective and accurate appraisal of your ability, it may be a good idea not to ask an expert, but to go to a teacher and to hope  the publisher’s editor assigned to you is as enthusiastic as Charles Monteith was and as willing to fight for your book.

To improve their artistic performance, really good artists and writers will be more opportunistic, making use of whatever sources of information they need to solve their creative problems. Just as stand-up comedians steal jokes from each other, artists and writers “borrow” insights and techniques from other artists in their own art and from other arts as well, and from any other field they are familiar with.

green and yellow field with a fantasy-like swirl going up to a cloudy sky of blue and whiteReally good creatives are able to pull out of their minds–with ease–the insights they need. They are so able and accustomed to using the substantial skills they have developed, that they do so automatically, “without thought” as a Zen master would say. To them writing or painting is easy.  Yet, at the same time, they may be victims of inflexibility in the face of new circumstances. At times they have trouble adjusting to situations confronting them.

For example, marvelous actor Charles Laughton was offered the starring role in the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai, but hard as he tried, he could not form a concept of the role sufficient for him to play it. He turned the role down. He said that he finally realized how it should be played when he saw Alec Guinness play in the movie the role he might have had. Was it an Academy Award winning role, whoever would have played it? Would Laughton have won the Oscar for best actor as Guinness did?

blue, purple, and pink jigsaw puzzle pieces in a disordered pileReally good creatives spend considerable time analyzing the problems facing them while less accomplished creatives spend less time and are not as patient as the exceptional creatives. A study discovered that students in art school who would become the best and most financially successful after graduation took much longer to meditate on and plan their paintings, lithographs, and sculptures.

A weakness of many really good artists and writers is overlooking details that don’t seem to them to pertain to the problem, but do pertain to it. Highly talented people are notoriously blasé about details, don’t worry about them, and don’t like to bother with them. (For example, when F. Scott Fitzgerald submitted the manuscript for The Great Gatsby, it had more than 100 misspellings.) That can also be seen in areas other than the arts. People with extensive knowledge about a sport recall fewer details of a text about that sport than people with little knowledge of the sport.

painting of a serene blue-green lake with trees and blue mountains in the backgroundGenius in the arts or in any other pursuit is almost always specific to one art, one domain. Often it is assumed without too much thought that a person with a high level of skill in one area will almost automatically be skilled in another area or many other areas. That’s called “the halo effect.”  Yet while there are exceptions, the halo effect is generally invalid.  High-performing creators do not excel in areas where they have no expertise. But in a single domain they are on their home turf, and their work is really good.

 

© 2022 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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Authors: Speak to Large Audiences for Large Fees

Some authors have amassed fortunes. Some travel in private jets.  Yet I can’t imagine a single author who would not be interested in having another source of potentially substantial income or would not want to increase their popularity with large numbers of people who might buy their books.

A source of substantial income and a method of increasing the sales of Man sitting at computer with a hand giving him a bag with a dollar sign on itbooks is the lucrative and exciting field of public speaking which in my case changed my life, evolving in a wholly unexpected way, with a momentum of its own and with little effort on my part, from writing to speaking to large audiences for large fees.

You may not be an author-public speaker now but may want to become one and may find this post inspiring.

You might also be interested in my other post about public speaking entitled, “How Creatives Should Present Themselves When Speaking to Groups and to the Media.

The Decline of COVID

discarded turquoise surgical maskNow that COVID is more under control we will be getting back to normal life. Among the changes will be the return of the on-site public speaker who for the past two years has been absent. That will open opportunities for author-speakers. More organizations, associations, and companies will no longer need remote conferences but will again be putting on in-person conferences, seminars, and classes for which they will need quality speakers.

Everyone is Fascinated by Authors

Because they are considered unique and gifted and somewhat mysterious, authors are admired and envied. Always among the most successful speakers are people who have written a book or books.  If you answer, “I am an author” when people ask “What exactly is it you do?” their eyes become as big as a doll’s eyes and they say, “Really?” A survey showed that when choosing a mate women would choose a writer before anyone else.

Books that have something meaningful to say and say it noticeably well can lead to royalties, contracts for additional books, and if you set your mind to it and have self-confidence plus talent, a ticket to enviable speaking engagements. If authors have what it takes by to “come across in a big way” they can make direct contact with many thousands of readers and earn more money than they have earned before.

Some Authors Have a Natural Aptitude for Public Speaking

painting of Mark Twain holding a sheet of paperMark Twain, considered by many to be the greatest American writer of all time, is a prime example of a writer who was a gifted speaker. In his day he was known for his public speaking almost as much as for his writing.

I had minimal training as a public speaker. The only public speaking I had done when I started to teach graduate courses at a Chicago university were an introductory public speaking course and a course in dramatic reading in college. Americans fear being attacked by a shark more than they fear anything else; next, they fear having to make a speech. Even the thought of public speaking made me nervous; I was not confident. I defined myself as a writer, not as a speaker. It would have been inconceivable for me then to expect to become the speaker to audiences of thousands, who would be in high demand and make a very good living from public speaking and would come to adore public speaking more than any other professional activity, including writing books, an activity I loved and which my life had been aimed at since childhood.

I was so uncomfortable with public speaking that I thought seriously about not taking that first teaching job, and went over the pros and cons again and again in my mind. But I sensed it was a challenge I should face and a fear I should overcome. My wife was very encouraging and said I should go ahead with it.

I took the job, and within weeks discovered that the teaching experience was fulfilling, as I discovered I had an unexpected gift for communicating information to a group of people sitting in front of me, people who, in turn, would rate the course and me highly. I was encouraged and founded a management consulting company, and provided training courses to clients. I delivered many lectures and grew in public speaking skill and self-confidence.

My books had been published since I was in my mid-twenties. By the time my books Fighting to Win and Waging Business Warfare were Auditorium with seated audiencepublished I was a seasoned public speaker to small groups of no more than about two hundred people. But because of the popularity of both those books–traditional print best sellers–I jumped to speaking engagements involving much larger audiences for high fees in North America and Europe. I was then “in the chips” from royalties and lecture fees.

A great pleasure for me was meeting and often forming friendships with so many pleasant and interesting people.  My life was exciting. It would change as if in a wind, bringing happy surprises every day. Business opportunities popped up.

A big break for me and a turning point as a speaker was giving the keynote address at a National Association of Broadcasters annual conference with three thousand people in attendance, enough of whom  as a result a successful speech hired me for their events that my career was then put on fast track. Then there were major engagements as keynoter at many conferences, particularly in exciting industries–radio, television, cable, music, and the American auto industry. They became my specialties.

Man speaking into a microphone and pointing his finger with the other handAlways aim to be the keynoter. Make that a goal you will eventually reach. Be bold and optimistic. A keynoter is paid the most and has a major role. In a movie the star carries the whole production. The keynoter sets the standard for the whole conference.

I didn’t need to advertise. I didn’t need an agent. I wrote articles about their medium for their major industry magazines that were interesting for me to do and drew attention.  Not being “in” the field, my ideas were fresh and often innovative.  For example, working with people who owned numbers of radio stations I developed strategies that would increase any station’s ratings and advertising revenues.

My appeal as a speaker was passed by word of mouth. Each success led to additional opportunities. I was busy, constantly flying somewhere, staying in some hotel or resort, there to speak to audiences of two, five, or six thousand people, in Paris eight thousand.

If you can get in front of a large audience as I did–and impress– very many positive benefits will follow. Quite profitable speaking engagements will appear out of the blue. Sometimes that happens serendipitously: a reader of your book recommends you as a speaker.

Writers Have Advantages as Speakers

An immediate advantage writers have as speakers over speakers from other fields is simply that by definition writers are especially skilled in the Young woman writing on a pad of paper on a table full of books and papersuse of language to entertain, educate, and persuade–the goals also of speeches. They are trained and educated to write.  If you are to succeed as a public speaker you must first write polished speeches, Good writers are equipped to do that. Writing and public speaking are related talents. The good speaker tells stories as novelists tell stories. Good writers and good speakers are clear. Their choice of words is interesting. They are able to simplify complicated ideas.

Artists can be wonderful speakers and writers. I’m constantly impressed with what excellent writers artists sometimes are, at times better writers than writers, as  Vincent van Gogh, for example, was a masterful writer. So many of them have excellent verbal abilities and give spell-binding talks as teachers and conference speakers.

Prize the Speech You Write

Speeches that will become the staple of the author-speaker and artist-speaker and delivered often should first be written down and honed through many written drafts as carefully as a painting, poem, short story, play, or novel would be, and then, of course, practiced many, many times until the delivery of the speech is flawless. Be ready to work hard on your speeches or talks. Because there is so much money to be made, public speaking is highly competitive, and the quality of the written speech itself separates one speaker from another. A beautifully written speech is literature. I had an advantage in that I had been employed as a speech writer in the past.

You have two products that the audience will hear and see: the speech you have carefully composed is a product and you are a product too.  The author-speaker and artist-speaker thinking the excellence-generating thought “why do something unless I do it extremely well” aims to develop a superb, unforgettable speech and then to deliver it superbly and unforgettably again and again.

There Are Social Benefits for Author and Artist Speakers

A major benefit of being an author or artist-speaker is the pleasure that role makes available to the  person  who has left a quiet work place Drawing of two hands, one red and one blue, reaching toward each other. On the hands are written words such as "connect, untie, etc.where creative work is done  in solitude and  gone out into the noisy world and  through public speaking come in contact with live human beings that open new vistas. Creatives-speakers then see before their eyes how people respond to their ideas and to them. They now interact with people who have come to listen to them and perhaps to meet them, to ask questions and share opinions, to hear what they have to say, and to applaud them–new and gratifying experiences for many writers and artists who never leave their work room.

Talent and Preparation Are the Keys to Successful Public Speaking

Some people are so naturally talented that even in their first major speech they are magnificent, but even they benefit from careful preparation. You must realize that preparation is a key to public speaking success. That extremely thorough preparation is mandatory cannot possibly be overstated.

By that I mean preparation certainly of the words you will speak in your speech, but also preparation of your character. You must always be a Gold microphone on a midnight blue cloudy, starry background sincere and genuinely decent person, and that will come across to your listeners. You may not be brilliant, a spell-casting word-smith, or physically appealing, all of which help a speaker. But people will forgive you those deficiencies. If you are a sincere, genuinely decent man or woman the effect on the audience can be potent and positive.

Unfortunately Many Authors Have Not Developed Their Public Speaking Abilities

I went to my local library, looking forward to hearing a top bestselling author speak, and found her presentation childish and silly. She was there just to be admired by her fans.  I’m sure they were disappointed. I went to a conference of poets reading and talking about their poetry, and selling their chapbooks. Some poets were very shy and uncomfortable; some just didn’t know much about projecting a lively, intelligent, and authentic presence. Some were unprepared; and some were disinterested. Some obviously dreaded facing an audience as I once did. Some seemed to be unpleasant people you’d like to have nothing to do with, let alone listen to.

I’ve often wondered when there are books and art works to be promoted and speakers can earn thousands of dollars for forty-five minute speeches, why they don’t take the time to learn what is learnable: how to overcome fears of public speaking and how to speak interestingly, charmingly, intelligently, and persuasively in a down to earth manner.

Authors must concentrate first on their writing because that’s their main pursuit. But they benefit from being more well-rounded and becoming accomplished speakers as well. Possibly Jane Austen never had to speak to a group, but now, two centuries later, producing something creative and speaking publically  are similar talents that go hand in hand.

 

© 2022 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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or

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Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority

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