What could be more discouraging to a writer, painter, ballet dancer, actor, or composer who is striving to survive and wishes to excel in their craft than to realize that she’s not nearly as successful as she would like and may never be more successful than she has been in the past? This post looks at the situation of a writer. But the ideas and approaches are just as useful for people in other arts.
Andrea, a friend—“Andy”–seemed to reach her peak when she had two short stories published in prestigious literary journals at twenty-four and a novel that sold moderately well at twenty-eight. She didn’t think then it would be her peak, but assumed it was a preview of other successes soon to come. But they haven’t come and she’s been wondering what’s wrong with her.
She’s frustrated and anxious because she knows—she can feel—that she has potentials in her that are waiting to be expressed. But there she is, at a standstill at the age of thirty-three She asks herself privately what she won’t ask in public: “Is this as good as I’ll ever be, experiencing only those three successes?”
But she is not beaten. She hasn’t quit writing as she’s seen so many other once-hopeful writers do. She’ll try to find out what’s wrong and correct the problems she identifies. She’s already on the path to solving the problem by admitting she’s found herself on a performance plateau—in a performance rut.
She realizes that what she needs now are new ideas, new approaches. Being an intelligent woman, she begins problem-solving by trying to understand the problem. She’s a believer in cause-and-effect and starts with the effect: she’s stuck in the mud. She is not giving up trying to improve and achieve greater success as many writers would in her position. But she is not as successful as she would like to be.
She noodles the problem and takes a frank look at herself. She asks:
- Do I have the skills I’ll need to be the writer I want to be? If not, what specific skills should I develop and refine, and how can I acquire them? In each art there is a finite number of basic skills that the person MUST possess if they are to excel.
- Do I have sufficient knowledge of my art–making it, sustaining it, and marketing it? Over the long run, superior achievement depends on superior knowledge.
- Do I have enough talent, that recognizable flair that underlies a good creatives’ life and their every quality work?
- Am I working hard enough? If you study successful people in the arts you will almost always find that they were prodigious workers from the beginning of their careers to the end. Or am I working too hard and burning out (not getting enough sleep and relaxation)?
- What are the main goals I’m trying to reach? Are they the right goals and are they difficult as goals are supposed to be, or are they too difficult for me? Goals should be “moderately” difficult–not too easy and not impossibly hard. What exactly are my goals? Andy decides her main goal is not necessarily to “excel” and it is not to be “successful,” but to write as well as she’s able. She feels that if she does that, success will follow. A basic question she asks is: am I pursuing goals at all or am I feeling nervous and drifting?
- Am I powerfully motivated to succeed as an artist? Or have I lost my zest? If so, how can I get it back?
- Am I able to focus my attention on my work like a narrow beam of bright light or do I have too many irons in the fire? What can I eliminate?
- Am I one of the 15% action-oriented, decisive creatives who make up their mind, take the initiative, and make things happen, or one of the other 85% who delay, postpone, and wait for things to happen?
- How confident an artist am I, ranging from “not very confident” to ‘”exceptionally confident?” These are the indicators of success in the arts: a desire to succeed, skill, resilience, and confidence. Artists fail more because they lack confidence than because they lack skill.
- Am I getting specific, helpful, and honest feedback regularly? Have I made arrangements to do that?
- When I meet setbacks and disappointments, am I discouraged, or do I persevere? Do I sink my teeth into my objectives and never let go?
- Do I know how to overcome creative obstacles–am I good at analyzing problem and impediments in my way and finding solutions?
- Everyone needs encouragement, particularly when their career is dead in the water. Andy asks, whom will I turn to when I need encouragement?
Answering those questions helps Andy dig out of creative ruts she finds herself in from time to time. First thing, she sits down and compares her successful works with her current work and decides they are different. The earlier work was simpler and more heart-felt and sincere. She realizes that she has fallen into a trap of “showing off”–of trying to impress readers with what a good writer she is and how brilliant she is rather than in telling a story in a simple, direct, “Here’s my work, take it or leave it” style.
Andy decides that a big problem usually in recent years has been poor motivation and a lack of confidence because she is so discouraged. She feels that she hasn’t lost her talent and that she is still a good writer and realizes that one or more successes will increase her confidence immensely. Also, she’s not good at concentrating on work. She wastes a lot of time, including moping. She remembers reading a post I wrote about “programming” to increase productivity. She liked it and plans to re-read it and take steps to become a more efficient writer.
Andy feels that if her concentration improves and she absorbs herself in her work, she will become more excited about it, her motivation will climb, and she will complete more works. Her mother is Andy’s biggest supporter in times of disappointment and discouragement. Her mother inspires her. Andy plans to talk to her more often.
She also plans to read biographies and autobiographies of writers living and dead who will inspire her.
She is aware that one reason she hasn’t had successes recently is that she doesn’t submit enough of her work to magazines and publishers. She has become afraid of failure. Overcoming her fear and submitting more will increase her chances of being published, so she will do that too.
Thinking carefully about the answers to these 13 questions sets Andy on a path out of her rut and on to future successes. Perhaps these questions can be useful to you as well.
© 2020 David J. Rogers
For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click the following link:
Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers
Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority