Acquiring Creator’s Survival Skills

Whether they are five or seventy-five, beginning creators don’t know the first thing about their craft, but don’t know they don’t know. They’re playing, experimenting, discovering, having fun, and are thrilled to be creating, and that’s Young boy painting at an easelenough. Then in time, if they are to become more skilled writers, artists, actors, dancers, and so forth, they will realize they don’t know enough about the craft they’ve now become attracted to more seriously.

They want to get better and be more accomplished and have success. So they strive to learn as much as they can about their craft. That drive to get better and better still, to find their one true voice that activates even their deepest creative potentials, to learn, to reach consistent excellence over a long period of time dominates true creators as long as they live.

The more skillfully advanced creators know a tremendous amount about their craft and at times are capable of unique and extraordinary creative feats that make you gasp. Yet, they are incomplete. They realize there are many other things of a non-technical nature to know, having to do with surviving a creator’s sometimes intense, demanding, troubled, uneasy, or tragic existence. Preparation is the key to creative success, whatever the field. Without survival skills the creator is not fully prepared for a creator’s life.

Horizon and sunset seen through branchesThey acquire survival skills or they do not survive: their career ends prematurely, or they crack up, or their talent abandons them, or the production of work grows increasingly difficult, the ease and effortlessness of the master disappears, leaving in its wake frustration and regret. Horace said that painters and poets alike have always had license to dare anything, but when they lose confidence they become afraid.

Three Stages

Stage I: At the start of their careers, would-be serious creators work Number 1as though technique and mechanics aren’t especially important. They have a story to tell, a message to communicate, a vision, and that’s all that counts.  They start out full of naïve optimism. Unless they are creative geniuses who have powerful creative intuition that more than compensates for technical shortcomings the result is that the work they produce suffers from creative ailments.

The execution of the work may be dull, awkward, muddled, and show almost no regard for the audience—a failure of craftsmanship. Successes are few. Possibly there are no successes at all. Creators get depressed and doubt their talent: are they good enough or are they fooling themselves that they can produce work that will please them and please an audience? The root difficulty is being blind and deaf to the need for technical abilities. In time that becomes very clear to creators who may come to realize their technique stinks and needs many improvements.

Stage II: Intelligent creators now turn their attention to acquiring techniques so that their work becomes more Number 2coherent, less obscure, and less naïve. Technical abilities take over from inspiration.  Creators become preoccupied with acquiring technical knowledge about their craft and the mechanics of producing quality work. They study to ferret out the secrets of the best in the field, read articles, books, and blogs. They take classes, educate themselves (the principal source of a creator’s expertise), find a mentor, locate good teachers, get involved in a writer’s, artist’s, or actor’s milieu, and may go to workshops, conferences, and retreats. They work hard. Their technical skills do improve. They are better creator this year than they were last year.

Stage III: Then creators realize that technique and mechanics are insufficient–that there are many creator’s survival Number 3needs they didn’t anticipate, and are unprepared for, and a whole set of little-discussed survival skills directly related to success and fulfillment that technique can’t help them with.  Serious creators’ lives are full of pressures, strains, dilemmas, quandaries, and problems. Bonnie Feldman was of the same mind when she said in Writing Past Dark: “The bookstores shelves sagged with volumes on technique. A hundred authors explained how to show don’t tell, and why a story needs a conflict. Why hadn’t anyone written a book that would help me?”

What Technique Can’t Help You With

Creator-survivors must be natural, less controlled, less inhibited, less blocked with punishing self-criticism, more expressive and spontaneous. They must be balanced, flexibly-minded, less strained, less anxious–carefree, focused on their work, not themselves –manifestations of good mental health. How otherwise will they ever be able to “snare the spirits of mankind in nets of magic?” Technique will not teach creators those things, yet they are crucial to the writer’s, artist’s, actor’s, and performers’s well-being and productivity.

cog wheels of goldTechnique will not teach you the single greatest survival quality of any successful creative enterprise: a desire to excel that dominates the creator, a need so strong that not much else matters as much. That is an empowering survival skill major creators possess without exception.  Do you possess it?

Technique won’t help you overcome the miseries of self-doubt and discouragement—the creator’s main inner obstacles to success–that dreariness that has ruined tens of thousands of creator’s careers. Technique is terribly important, but it will not teach you the survival quality of simple, unadulterated courage in the face of hurtful setbacks, cruel criticism, and heart-breaking adversity.

Nor will it teach you the necessity of creator’s taking calculated risks, normally the only path to success. It will not teach you the survivor’s drive, high focus, and persistence which may be a more important success factors than brilliant intelligence. These are qualities creators must possess to survive.

Technique will not teach you the daily-needed psychological skills of optimism, powerful motivation, and stamina. Technique will not teach you a single one of psychological and spiritual survival skills that you need to supplement the creative techniques you’ve acquired.

Preparing For Survival

Creators should learn to dialogue among themselves freely, unabashedly, happily in their everyday creative lives about such needed Stage III creator’s inner survival qualities as strength, persistence, will power, commitment, empowerment, sense of purpose, discipline, good creative moods. And ideal creative moods, resilience, enthusiasm, guts, energy and sweat, passion, sacrificing for the sake of your craft, and boldness, doggedness, adaptability, endurance, patience, maintaining at all times a confidence of succeeding, and other dimensions of you, the creator. These inputs will make you a better-prepared.

If you lack those internal skills of the heart and mind you must acquire them just as you acquired creative technique. You can do that. You can acquire survival skills of mindfulness, meditation, and non-attachment.  You can learn to endure rejection and manage stress. You can learn to listen to your body and enjoy your work more. You can become more optimistic and resilient. You can learn tranquility and peace of mind from reading people like the master Vivekananda.  You can read biographies of great creators to see how they overcame adversity. You may wish to read my Fighting To Win which has specific strategies to help you on your path.

Be aware of where you are deficient and what your survival needs are, as “I am not a confident person now; I must work on that.” Then you can set out on a program of self-development designed to better equip you for your chosen creator’s role, your creator’s life path that you may wish to follow till the last breath of your life.

Begin the day by asking, “Am I strong today?” “Will I persist?” “Will I be confident?” “Will I stop doubting my talent?” “Will I adapt and be patient?” “Will I be enthusiastic today?” “Will I be courageous?”

© 2018 David J. Rogers

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Filed under Artistic Perfection, Artistic Stages, Becoming an Artist, Courage, Creativity Self-Improvement, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Fighting to Win, Inner Skills, Preparation, Success, Survival Skills

13 responses to “Acquiring Creator’s Survival Skills

  1. michelleendersby

    Dear David, I love receiving your posts and finding the jewel in them, something bright and shiny which seems to be written just for me. This time, in my prospecting, I saw for the first time Vivekananda and I thought I would take a look at what the Swami was saying. The first quote that came up was: “Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life – think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success.” And there I saw, written before me, the philosophy of my life…


    • davidjrogersftw

      Dear Michelle,
      Your comment, which I’m so happy to see, inspires and touches me as I can understand why that wonderful quote from Vivekananda strikes a chord in you. It applies perfectly to your miraculous life story, doesn’t it? A woman with a great talent who survives death and has a vision, then devotes her entire existence –time, will, thoughts, hopes–to a mission that steals her heart, producing work that brings joy to everyone fortunate enough to be familiar with it.

      I’m happy you found that quote, one of favorites too, Michelle; it’s really something, isn’t it? I think you and I are intense people to whom such grand ideas have a special appeal that gets us thinking and quickens our breath.

      Diana and I are looking forward to your next month’s newsletter and are wondering what riches are in store for us in it.
      Best wishes always,

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good morning David, This is a very important post – one that all creatives would do well to read and digest.
    Your three stages of becoming a creative – as you have described are right on the money.
    Ultimately, even with the most extraordinary talent, without the understanding of these three stages, often the creative is thwarted.
    About 30 years ago I attended a graduation ceremony at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Some of my students were graduating with an MA degree. Something that was said during the graduation talk was that -‘of the forty graduating students – mostly likely only seven would be practising art after seven years of graduating!’ – Now I didn’t follow everyone but as far as I can see there are possibly a handful of those graduating students who are practising their art today.
    Some might have become teachers, and there’s no question that lives would have been enriched from having experienced the course, but it is only a few who have actually gone on to live the life that they had imagined when they started out as young aspiring creators.
    Of course since thirty years, the world has changed. At that time, no mobile phones, digital cameras, etc. etc. – and so there was still the romantic image of the artist working day in day out in the studio, with galleries knocking at their door. With the onset of technology, it has expanded the artist’s horizons in many ways, however, all the same principles that you talk about in this post, still apply.
    It does take a dogged determination, being able to work through times of dismay and despair. I believe that a creative who has lived and survived through enough of these moments, builds an understanding and a resilience within…that protects and nurtures during the different phases.

    Your book ‘Fighting to Win’ is an excellent one to read. I have had my copy for quite some time and often pick it up and gain a great deal from its words of wisdom.

    Hope January finds you well and not too cold in Chicago. We have our normal up and down – all over the place weather (four seasons in every day 🙂 and so the key is to enjoy and of course create.

    Janet 🙂


    • davidjrogersftw

      Dear Janet, you always have so much wisdom to convey based on so much experience and reflecting on it. In my early twenties I spent lots of time in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with artist friends, and they were so talented–winning contests, doing magnificent work. You make me wonder how many in fact went on to develop and fully realize their great talent. Probably not many, sadly, for the reason you and my post talk about.

      You’re probably right that even though most did not continue on with their art they benefitted anyway in many ways. I think of that kind of thing when I remember the thousands of hours I spent training for the 800 meters in track. I did well and won my share of races and the camaraderie was great, so though sometimes I think I could have been studying writing during that time and gotten a head start on a writing career, overall it was worth it. I think most of your students now feel the same.

      I’ve been thinking further and would like your opinion about this view of mine: I am a strong believer that there is such a thing as a creative’s voice, in fact one RIGHT voice the person has to stumble around and eventually find if they are to reach artistic fulfillment, and that many quit–just drop out–before they have completed the process of finding that voice. Were they to persist long enough to find that voice, that would be the thing that would keep them going.

      Thank you for the comment and the much valued support you’ve given me these years–a true, blue friend. Weather here today balmy. We’re out of the deep freeze for a while they say. I had no idea that your weather is so erratic. All we hear here is that it’s foggy.

      Best wishes


      • I believe that you have hit on something here David, which is to say that finding one’s voice as a creative does take a lot of time and experience……When found it is exciting, because it comes from a totally authentic place. I am quite sure that many do give up before they have completed the process which in turn, I believe, causes a sense of great frustration. There have been times during my career when I wondered if I could keep going, but somehow I continued on – and am so grateful today that I did. I have just celebrated my 72nd birthday and realise how fortunate I am to have lived the life I have. To have reached this stage, still waking up each day excited to pursue my work. Now that really is a gift.

        I think the best way to describe British weather…is ‘four seasons in every day’ – for the most part. We are such a tiny island that the weather just whips around us and in doing so produced fabulous cloud formations 🙂

        Thank you, David I treasure our friendship.

        Best wishes


        • davidjrogersftw

          Happy birthday, Janet. I like your ideas about the authenticity of voice and creatives’ frustrations. About your thoughts of quitting–well, I among many, I’m sure, are happy you didn’t quit but are still creating your art in all its beauty and excitement. How could I think of art without thinking of you. Like you, I’m still at it. In a way I feel I must continue to work hard, producing work to make up for the time I lost for one reason or another.

          Oh, you have me when you talk about beautiful cloud formations. We often have them here, where Diana and I live.

          So nice of you to say you treasure our friendship. You know I do too. I look forward to the day we meet face to face, and I can finally hug you.


          Liked by 1 person

        • I am quite sure that we will meet in person – either on your side of the big Pond or this side. Maybe Wales – now wouldn’t that be lovely. Hope you and Diana enjoy a lovely day and week ahead.
          By the way I find that I want to work more and more now because I am aware (not in a morbid sense) that time is limited.

          I am off to France on Feb 25 for a few weeks of portrait and landscape painting centred around a little village in the south west. This is something I love to do.

          Hummingbird Hugs


        • davidjrogersftw

          Dear Janet, I surely would love that. It would be great fun in Wales and an emotional experience for me being in the place my father described to me so vividly throughout my childhood. Do you haave any plans to be in the States in the future?

          What a wonderful life you have–flitting about Europe, meeting old friends, making new ones, and painting to your heart’s content. We have a plan this spring to visit my older brother John at his home in Virginia. He’s a very hospitable man, and we will have fun gorging ourselves in restaurants and seeing many historic sites including Lexington, the site of the last battle of the American Revolution.

          Hummingbird hugs to you as well, Janet


  3. Reblogged this on My Life as an Artist (2) and commented:
    Another superb post from David Rogers. I believe this is a post that all creatives would do well to read and digest. Wishing on and all a very creative day. Janet


    • davidjrogersftw

      Dear friend, thank you for reblogging my post. I write these posts here in the middle of America and send them out and they find their way to you. I wait to see what you have to say; I value your reactions so much. And when you tell me they’re good, I am very pleased because I respect your delicate and refined sensibilities.

      I enjoy knowing your friends are reading my post and appreciate your putting me in touch with them. There seem to be whole colonies everywhere of creative people or just people in general who love your work and you and what you have to say…Such as me.


      Liked by 1 person

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