I have been sitting here wondering for the last couple of hours:
How is it possible for creative people–those playthings of their rich imagination–to recognize how extraordinary and talented they really may be when so many seem blind to the heights they may reach if they are patient?
I’ve been wondering too:
How to inspire and rouse creative people to overcome the detours and false starts of the past that so often bog them down and now leap forward and move steadily, with new confidence, toward a more fulfilling creative life?
I was a guest on an hour-long lunch time TV talk show talking about my book Fighting to Win. It had just been named the best motivational book ever written. It identifies the main reasons people are blocked from reaching fulfillment. It prescribes specific remedies for leading a more liberated existence. As the show ended I said, addressing the viewers, “What I’m sayings is, ‘There’s so much to you, DO something with it.’“
Then I shook hands with and thanked the host and the engineer and left. The next day I was in my work room talking with my son who wanted to play hooky from school that day and wanted to talk it over when the show’s producer called. Her voice was excited. She told me that the response to the show “was incredible.” The phone had kept ringing late into the night: who was I, where could they get the book, would I be coming back? She asked me to come back for a “return engagement.” I said I would be happy to.
I am convinced that that little sentence that ended the show was the reason for the fuss. “DO something with it” was saying, “You are something, you have talents that you just must make use of because you will not have another life: this is it.”
All it took was for me to empower viewers out there–homemakers, unemployed people, people taking time off from work, and self-employed people–by reminding them that they are special and not to deny any more their own potential that they might have forgotten or never noticed.
Many people–possibly most, I believe–don’t think highly enough of themselves. Do you think highly enough of yourself? They underestimate themselves and their potential. They think other people can achieve noteworthy things, but not them. Because they are “ordinary.” They settle for lesser lives.
I’ve met many quietly magnificently gifted people who frustrate me and whom I’ve felt like shaking by the shoulders and saying, “Wake up will you: your life is happening and you don’t seem to be aware of it. Your life needs you. Half the days allotted to you have passed and how far have you gotten?”
But I was aware of the audiences’ greatness and had all the respect in the world for them and wanted to tell them: “Don’t waste a day of a precious life; get with it.”
I had talked with such conviction and compassion for them in my voice that they knew I had recognized something exceptional in people and they wanted to know more to help them get started in a new direction. Here’s the background of my thinking. You’ll see why I am so optimistic:
There is a Hasidic term that means “turning.” It’s the complete change of a person’s whole being. Quakers too use “turning” to mean the same major existential event. To realize that you can turn is to realize that you are at liberty to rotate a life that is facing one direction–your life at present possibly–and face it in another, to change the direction of your whole being at any time. What an insight that is.
It’s a misuse of a creative life to be able to turn, to feel the necessity to do it, to feel the powerful urge, and not to turn. Mary Oliver wrote about missing the opportunity to pursue a creative life when that was exactly what you should have done: “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call of creative work, who felt their own creative powers restive and uprising, and gave it neither power nor time.”
Is it time for you to turn?
An inner impulse pushes you and me and all other living things to become what we and they are equipped to become, regardless of how harsh or unaccommodating the environment we find ourselves in. People in the creative arts have often gone through periods of dire deprivation which they overcame. We can learn from them and from trees–oaks and birches, elms, and cedars.
Denied water, a tree is not helpless. It will send out its roots long distances in search of it. Hidden in shadows, it will twist and wind its branches until they reach blessed sunlight. The tree is driven by its nature not merely to survive, but to flourish. It is driven to be all the tree it can possibly be, as beautiful as it can be, as functional as it can be. A tree all twisted–whose life hasn’t been easy–isn’t it lovelier than a tree without twists?
You and I were brought into this world for the purpose of making the most of our creative lives and are driven by an innate urge to do just that, whatever obstacles, phantoms, ogres, and fears we must overcome to find happiness. You could have lived a thousand different lives, but are inclined toward the life of a creative. It is like no other life it was possible for you to have.
It is as though whatever power created us had a particular concept in mind of the creative person we each should become (I was to be a writer, starting at the age of eight; you were to be what?) And after conceiving of us, lovingly, with a gentle nudge, sent us sprawling into this unfamiliar world fully equipped with the complement of unique creative strengths it seems everyone envies and wishes they too had–unique talents, aptitudes, qualities, gifts, sensibilities, skills, intelligence, determination, energy, and inclinations–necessary to thrive and become the successful writer, artist, actor, composer, or dancer we really could be when we set our minds to that goal.
There was an expectation then that once on our own, we would decide what art we would follow and commit ourselves and work hard to achieve mastery of it.
In the course of a creative life that’s changing there is a particular period of upheaval when the momentum shifts and the creative who is moving in the wrong direction stops and starts in a more promising direction. That may entail a deliberate process wherein you set out intentionally, with forethought, to create a more fulfilling creative life, holding an idea of what your life could be steadily in mind, consistently showing the sense of purpose, motivation, and deliberate effort needed to turn that idea into concrete reality. Or a tremendous change in direction of a life may occur in the blinking of an eye.
American Sherwood Anderson turned. He was a successful businessman in Ohio, the President and owner of a profitable company who enjoyed writing his firm’s advertising copy. One day he noticed a stranger sitting in the waiting room outside his office. He asked who the man was and was told he was the printer who set the type for the newspaper advertising that Anderson wrote, and Anderson called him in. All he wanted to say, he told Anderson, was that while setting the type he always noticed how unusually excellent the writing was, that Anderson had a talent.
That was all there was, a printer taking time out to praise the quality of a client’s advertising copy. But it was an event that completely changed Anderson’s life. Anderson went home, cleared space in his attic for a desk and books, and began to write seriously. Eventually he gave up his business and turned to writing full time. With his book of short stories Winesburg, Ohio he became one of America’s major authors. He is considered one of the masters of the short story.
I’ve traveled a great deal and talked to privately, I’m sure, thousands of people about their lives. I’ve found so many times that all it takes to ignite a person’s desire to change their creative career for the better may be just a word or two of encouragement and confidence from another person they respect and trust, even a stranger–a guest on a TV show, for example, or a printer.
As a young man George Bernard Shaw wanted to be a novelist. Every year for five years he wrote a novel–one a year–and sent it to publishers. The manuscripts always came back rejected. But one day Shaw received, in addition to the standard rejection form, a note from an editor that unfortunately his novels did not fit their list. But then in the note appeared the words: “Your dialogue is wonderful. Did you ever think of writing plays?”
He never had, but then he started to, discovering that indeed he did have a talent for dialogue, eventually, of course, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature for his drama. Would Shaw have become a playwright had he not received that note of encouragement, or would he have continued to write bad novels, one a year and meet only failure, sensing he had talent but getting nowhere, or would he have given up writing?
Weary of being one kind of person, creatives about to bloom and produce finest creative works transform themselves into something else: “I don’t have to be the way I’ve been just because I’ve always been that way.” The worst excuse for not changing is to say, “That’s just the way I am. I guess I’ll never be any different.” You’re different if you say, “I don’t have to put up with this obstacle that’s holding me back for one more day “I can buckle down and get to work to develop my talents,” “What I always wanted to be–I can really can be that.”
Every day and every moment in each day you have the power to fashion a new creative life to your own specifications, training yourself, educating yourself, turning, encouraging yourself, forming friendships with other creatives, seizing opportunities, taking risks, working hard, applying yourself seriously to your craft till you are committed to it in a way you never have been before and your head spins gloriously. That will lead to a reshaped destiny all your own. It will be unique to you.
What can I say but, “There’s so much to you. DO something with it.”
© 2018 David J. Rogers
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23 responses to “Creators’ Lives: The Need to Turn and Change”
I am so happy that all those people rang in wanting more.I do feel many people deny themselves any chance of creativity.If I say, why not come to the Art Class with me, they say,I am no good at art
My best report in school was “fairly good at times”…I am glad I am not in school.Writing has been very good for me, for example last night the two poets who read their work would have seemed light years away from me before I started writing.But I felt able to approach at the end and discuss the event with them.
I have got your book and it is very good.. amazing to be the best.
I hope you have a good writing day followed by a pleasant weekend.
My very best wishes
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Dear Katherine, I can understand those people who avoid art class because I am self-conscious about painting. I’m so glad that your confidence about writing is increasing and growing strong. Once I told Janet Weight Reed what a wonderful poet I think you are and she agreed that you are very excellent.
I hope you enjoy and benefit from Fighting to Win. I think you will. Thank you for your comment,
Best wishes, Davidz
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I feel very afraid before I do any kind of art and felt what I did was no good.But I like it and it doesn’t matter how good it is,I learn from doing it.I am sure I will benefit.Thanks so much,David
When I write I am extremely confident of my abilities–there is no fear– but painting is a different story. I’m just not good at it though my six year old grandson who is a fine, talented artist says my watercolors aren’t too bad. Have a good weekend. Today I’m reading T.S. Eliot who I go back to time to time.
Have a good weekend,David.I too feel more confident writing
“Your life needs you.” A whole philosophy or life plan could revolve around this truth.
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Hello dear Mlou. I’m so flattered that you read my blog. I think you’re right–this would be a great theme for a how-to or poetry book. I hadn’t thought of that. Thank you for the comment.
Once again you’ve “hit the nail on the head” for me. When you read my Dec. 17, 2018 blog post, you’ll see where I’m coming from. I’m wondering if I even have the energy to write my novel. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a mighty enemy, and lately I’ve come to question if I can write the book. I take encouragement from this post of yours, reading it several hours after writing today’s blog post. I’m full of self doubt. I know I have the ability to write it, but my energy has been so low the last several months that I just don’t know if I can do it. I will try to “turn” and give my book another try.
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I am so sorry that your illness is so potent and harmful that it causes you to think that you may not have the sheer energy–the basic building block of effort and achievement–to finish the book that means so much to you and has been your companion so long. Pain and loss of energy are awful to have to face, and I feel terrible for you.
I sit here trying to think of how I should respond in a way that will be realistic and practical. Many things go through my mind, but it keeps coming back to painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir. He was so debilitated by severe arthritis that later in his career he could no longer hold a brush in his fingers. (I suffer from severe arthritis too and its pain can be incomprehensible to people not affected by it.) Did Renoir stop painting? No, because of the urge to create–that you feel too–he took up painting lying on his back and holding the brush between his toes. And most impressive, some of his paintings created that way are among his best.
It is hard enough simply to function in an everyday way when a person has no energy and is in pain. Creativity seems out of the question. But even working a few minutes a day will take you further than not working at all.
Possibly you might think of using your material to write pieces that will be shorter and more manageable to produce than a novel and that over time you will find the energy for–little by little. I don’t know. Maybe you were meant to be a short story or essay writer, as Shaw was meant to be a playwright and not a novelist. But you know best about that.
Creative works are the products of the whole person: her intelligence, her talents, her commitments, and also her suffering and the endurance and courage to meet unafraid and overcome the suffering.
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Hi David. I’m happy to see this post.
I try to hide it, to keep people off my back, but I probably have the worst self image of anyone you’re likely to know. I just now bought your book for my Kindle. Because I’m probably going to need it! I’m finally taking the big risky leap to get out of the environment where my business career was intentionally ruined.
Yes, I’m finally draining myself out of the DC swamp. I’ll take an early retirement (perhaps in January). Even with full retirement I couldn’t keep living here. So… I’ve bought a cottage back in the southwest, where I can live cheaply. (I should have never left.) I close on it later this week. I’ll still need to work, but a low wage or part time job should be enough to get me by.
Hugs on the wing.
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Whatever you want to do, I’m behind you and wish you all the best. I don’t know what you mean when you say your business career was intentionally ruined, but you seem happily committed to going back to the Southwest where maybe your confidence and a stronger self-esteem and more positive view of yourself will come into play. I’ve been reading Walden lately and your settling into a simpler, frugal life reminds me of what Thoreau did.
I hope you will continue your wonderful blog which is immensely popular with your many readers, and rightfully so.
I hope you enjoy and benefit from Fighting To Win in your new life.
Hugs to you,
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Thank you kindly, David. I hope your 2019 is off to a wonderful beginning.
On December 20 I closed on a cottage in New Mexico. I finished off 2018 by turning in my retirement papers (here in DC) on December 31st. I’m technically employed through January (using up leave).
I wasn’t up to doing everything for the move as quickly (not so fast for other people) as I hoped. So I won’t hit the road until late February.
I won’t be trying to reclaim the version of me that I lost here. I’m ready for an all new me, as I reinvent myself yet again.
I hope this year brings wonderful things your way.
Happy New Year, my friend.
Such exciting news: forging a new life in New Mexico. I am sure you will be very happy you made the change. After probably contemplating it for a long time, you made decisions, made choices, made arrangements and now are opening up to fresh experiences, new friends, a revised life. Good for you, friend.
I wish you a wonderful life of course and look forward to your sharing your experiences with us out here. Some kind of journal would be nice for us and for you too, I think. I hope you and I stay in touch in this way too in the future.
My life eases on with no strains. Its main quality is happiness–a lovely, talented, kind wife, children, grandchildren, writing, reading, and talking. My wife and I just returned from Christmas in Seville, Spain and New Years in Madrid where there were loud, jubilant celebrations. I had felt a little badly in planning the trip that we would be away from the U.S. during Christmas season because I would miss the Christmas songs I so enjoy. But oddly, I think, ninety percent of the music we heard those twelve days were American Christmas-season songs just as you hear them here. I liked that very much.
I am sure your settling in to that beautiful state will be fun, even if not always easy–moving is never totally easy, is it?
Thank you, Teagan, for retweeting this post on Twitter. That was very kind of you.
Best wishes for happiness in the new year,
Good morning David, I read this post when it first arrived and am only now just answering….better late than never.
I have your book and refer to frequently….it provides the encouragement that is so often needed…..and I thank you very much for that.
This post, as is the case with all your posts, spoke to me. I had a ‘Turning’ when I was 40 years old. Until that point I had been plagued with anxiety and low self esteem. My ‘turning’ happened in the ‘blink of an eye.’…it was and still is the most amazing thing that has occurred throughout my life. It changed everything for me.
Prior to ‘Turning’ I was scattered, fragmented, fearful in all ways and especially of truly expressing myself – all of which caused great frustration and inner turmoil, not just for me but I am quite sure for those around me.
It seemed that after my ‘turning’ the right people came into my life offering the encouragement that I needed….maybe before it was there, but I simply wasn’t ready to acknowledge it.
A fellow artist, one who I greatly admired from a distance at that time, Howard Thorne….saw some of my portraits in a local gallery and put a note through my studio door, where I was both living and working….and simply said….’Never stop painting.’ It was exactly what I needed…and consequently he and I became good friends until his death 24 years ago. I painted a large oil portrait of him which is now owned by his family. When he died, he left his body to the University of Pa….and so at his funeral the portrait was draped with the American flag (he had been a prominent war artist)
Howard Thorne, with those three simple words gave me the encouragement I needed at that moment….and I will never forget it.
Life’s journey can indeed be wonderful and each and every day very precious. Thank you so much dear David….I will now look forward to you next blog. janet 🙂
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I suppose it is always hard to compare a person who seems one way now–your current strength and self-assurance–to the one you were–your anxiety, low self- esteem, and fear. Your transformation might not have happened without those three words from Howard Thorne. But when you needed him, he was there in your life. That’s a wonderful, uplifting story. Would you mind if someday I wrote about it?
I’m glad you refer to my book when you need encouragement. I used to travel continually, giving talks on Fighting to Win, and twice ran into FTW readers who told me they had been going through hard times–one a breakup in a long relationship–and the other the loss of a job. Each of them put the book where they would see it often–on a desk, for example. They said just looking at the book filled them with courage to face and overcome their difficulties. I think, “My little book I worked so hard over can do such things.” What a joy for me.
I’m so happy that you had your dear daughter with you for Christmas. I’d like to know more about your book and the writing. Also, I eavesdropped on your conversation with one of your friends about Walt Disney, and wanted to point out to you that he grew up in Chicago. He was a south-sider, while I grew up far away on the north side.
Very best wishes to you for a happy and creative 2019. Your friendship means very much to me, and it is always a great pleasure to hear from you.
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Good morning David, I often think about the way I used to be which brings with it a great sense of gratitude that my life changed. It has also heightened by awareness of others who are suffering from anxiety issues. Howard Thorne was definitely in my life when I needed him. Such a fantastic artist and human being. Please do feel free to write about my experience. I am always happy if it can help others.
Your book assures the reader that there is another very clear path towards wellbeing and fulfilment which is why it helps so many people.
I hadn’t realised that Walt Disney was from Chicago. What an amazing man. Over the holidays I watched a lovely film where Tom Hanks played Walt Disney. It was about the making of Mary Poppins….a superb film, one I highly recommend.
I am writing a little every day and when thoughts come at random times, I put them down. This is such an interesting process….and as I move my way into it, I find that there are many comparisons to painting. When I am a little further ahead, I will definitely be asking you for advice. Right now, I am putting things down in an almost chronological order – and as my daughter noted, which will ultimately lead to something very different…..
I have forwarded your recent blog to an artist friend in India and to my daughter in Boston….both have responded very positively. Your words help so many…and I am very grateful that we connected through the medium of blogging.
Happy and most creative New year dear David. janet 🙂
Janet, I too know the joys of coming out whole after an ordeal as you did, so I can identify with the gratitude to someone who helped save you. Yes, he was such a significant person in your life–so generous and kind to you.
Thank you for your permission to write about it. Thank you too for your compliment of FTW. I do feel the book has helped many people, and for that I feel proud. In my first job out of college I wrote essays designed to help people who were working to help disadvantaged youth improve their lives and find work. My writing was read by people all over the world and was highly thought of, and did help thousands of people who needed help badly. So, I’ve been grateful for a long time for the writing skill I was given that has served others in very real ways.
I am excited for you about the process of writing a book you are now engaged in. To me sitting at the computer and gazing on at the keyboard that is waiting for my fingertips thrills me beyond compare. I can be sick or worried, exhausted, troubled, but when I am in my chair with an idea in mind that must be put down, I am strong and ready for anything. Please do let me aid you in any way I can.
I find it interesting that your process in writing is similar to that in painting. I would like to hear more about that. We must discuss it in the future.
What a testimonial–you sending off my post to your daughter who means so much to you, and to your friend. (I’m curious–would you mind telling me the friend’s name?) Thank you. I’m happy they liked it
I’ve found many rewards blogging. None is greater than friendship. What a wonderful feeling I have when you address me as “dear David.” You are dear to me as well.
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Good morning Dear David,
When you described your feelings of writing…I smiled broadly, because those are the exact same feelings I have when in front of a large blank white canvas….Oh the utter joy of it:)
Maybe, because I am somewhat dyslexic….always was but of course when I was young nobody had ever heard about it…I am writing everything down in long hand to begin with and then moving to the computer.
Although I am finding the process to be very exciting and interesting, I haven’t reached the stage yet that you described or the one I know so well when painting.
Here is a big difference between painting and writing. When I paint, I can see what I am doing immediately all in one place. it’s right there on a canvas or gallery wall in front of me. When I write I don’t get that same instant gratification.
So that I don’t spend lots of time constantly going back and forth re-reading…..I am writing in a very ‘free form’ way. Putting the words down as they come and then quite a bit later I transcribe to the computer and that’s when I see it more clearly. I hope this makes some sense to you.
The similarity to painting for me is the understanding the rhythm and flow of something before you have even put brush to canvas or pen to paper. When I am painting and have that feeling, I know exactly what to do next. With writing it’s not that fluid for me yet…..especially when embarking on a book which will cover many subjects and many years.
Christie was delighted to receive your blog saying that it was exactly what she needed at this moment in time. The other person I sent it to is Jayanthi Rani who is a beautiful artist. Jayanthi spends her winters in India with her family and then returns to the UK in the spring. She also comes to my painting course in Portugal which is where we met several years. ago. She wrote to say how much she got from it…..
OK. my dear friend….I hope that you, Diana and family enjoy a lovely weekend. May your creative juices flow…
My very best wishes
I think what causes you some concern about your writing this book will disappear when you gain more confidence in writing a book. I think you are lacking some of your painter’s freedom of thought and confidence in doing this work, understandably because you are learning the ins and outs of doing it. But right off the bat don’t make a great deal of the difficulties and new creative territories you are encountering. They are to be expected even by someone writing their tenth book. Like the painter, the writer has 403 problems to solve every day. Just know that whatever problem you will face you will be able to solve to your satisfaction.
I want you to be fearless and bold, as fearless and bold as you are painting and enjoy yourself Take chances, experiment, play around. I remember in writing FTW I wanted to talk about the fact of death and my editor cautioned me against it: it would depress the reader. But I had guts and wrote it and the editors thought it was beautiful and effective.
Not being able to see the whole piece at the same time is more of a problem for you than it is for a writer like me because the writer can never see the whole thing in one view–on a screen, for example, and grows accustomed to that whereas a painter, as you point out, can see everything in a glance. You’ll adjust to that by relying on your writer’s memory which will develop and lodge a pretty accurate directory of what you said and generally speaking where you said it.
To see more of the piece at one time I write single space and fix the screen so it is split in two columns–that’s a lot of words on the page at the same time. Then you click and go quickly through the text hundreds of words at a time.
Writing is a synthetic art like painting, I suppose, requiring a great deal of going over and over and inserting here and there and there again, for me hundreds of times, even in a piece that is five thousand words. But I’m meticulous during that going back and forth process which for me doesn’t wait for a good first draft but goes on all the time from the first sentence on. In fact, I cannot go on to the second sentence until I am completely satisfied with the first; can’t go on to the second paragraph until the first is just right. But of course, that does not mean that I won’t go back later and change them.
What happened to you in painting is that it became automatic to you just as writing is automatic to me. But you do a great deal of writing, and so I think it is pretty automatic to you already. I marvel at how much you do. But again, don’t let the book intimidate you. Have no fear of it. When you catch yourself thinking, “This book has really got to be something, “ stop yourself and just get back to writing good, smooth, interesting sentences of the type you write constantly. You’re a very wonderful, accomplished writer-artist. The fluidity you want will come of its own accord. Just take one little topic at a time and write it well and go on to the next topic.
Never for a single moment forget that you are a wonderful writer and possess all the skills and discipline you will need to produce a work that will say exactly what you have wanted it to say and will be proud of. The book will be nonfiction, and you write nonfiction beautifully and constantly. The strongest basis of confidence is past success and you have had lots of past successes.
Best wishes to you, as always,
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Dear David. Thank you so much for taking your valuable time to write this….It is much appreciated.
You have hit the preverbal nail on the head…I need to be fearless and bold and spontaneous in the same way as I am in my painting.
‘Taking one topic at a time’ is excellent advice…it is all exactly what I needed to hear.
As I move forward I am writing down any questions that I might have for you later.
I might add that your advice has reinstalled my feelings of excitement about this book – thank you.
May you day and week be creatively fulfilling.
I am happy I’m being helpful to you. If ever you sense that I’m not getting the right focus on what you say and need to hear about, please correct me so I can respond to your concerns.
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Your posts are deeply encouraging to me, David. You put into words so much of my innate existence – thoughts and driving forces that are beyond words for me. But writing about these intangibles, you validate them and give me confidence to believe they are true and mean something. Thank you.
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Your comment is so kind and generous. If I am achieving half what you think I am, I will be so pleased and will feel I’m doing all right.
Surely what you, an obviously sensitive writer, have discovered about human experience and now express in your work means something important the rest of us should hear about.
Best wishes, new friend,