A System for Improving Creative Performance

Reflections on Creative Purposes

In my book Fighting to Win I place emphasis on the Japanese maxim Mokuteki hon’I, which means “Focus on your purpose.” They are a few simple words that can have a major positive effect, changing the whole course of an existence. To focus on your purpose as this post asks you to Brown, black, red, and green targetfocus on a system to improve your  creative performance is to be aware of what you are trying to accomplish–with your life, and in this year, this day, this moment.  When you acquire the habit of saying to yourself often in your daily life–morning, noon, and night–“Focus on your purpose,” those words become a hypnotic motto that stirs your muscles and mind to action. Then your life takes on a quality that is now becoming rare even among gifted creators–vital intensity that facilitates the production of works that can be pointed to and admired. That single goal–producing works as a result of talent combined with discipline–is more powerful than all other creative goals.

I have looked very seriously into what brings success to people in the arts, the sense that the person is functioning in a creative field at as high a level of performance as is possible for him or her. I have come to the conclusion that to reach excellence and satisfaction as a writer, artist, actor, dancer, musician, director, architect, etc., and to excel in any creative field and have a long and perhaps illustrious career, you must pursue, with all the commitment and intelligence you can muster, a small number of certain types of goals.

To excel, to make your mark in a creative field, I realized that you must find your most suitable creative specialty and develop your skills for Golden path through a forest to a shimmering golden lightthat specialty. And you must increase your knowledge of your chosen niche and put yourself on a specific Life Path with the objective always of producing a steady stream of high quality works that will bring you creative happiness. But it was clear to me that much more was involved.

So I wracked my brain for a way to convey in a clear, interesting, and organized way exactly what over the years I had come to believe about how a “real creator” such as those I admire most came into being. I searched my experiences for a useful model. I’d become interested in Buddhism at seventeen and over the years had done a lot of reading and thinking about it. It was there that I found my model.

As you and I live we encounter suffering. That that suffering is the most basic fact of life is the most important tenet of the religion or philosophy or approach to life known as Buddhism. That is the first of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths, physical and mental suffering, dukkha.

A Buddhist strives to follow an “Eightfold Path” which is intended to lead to enlightenment and the end of dukkha. Enlightenment and a life Buddha statue free of suffering are the goal in Buddhism. The Buddhist Eightfold Path consists of eight ideals that when practiced bring an upright and happy life. They are eight prescriptive “rights,” including right association–being careful about associating with good, wholesome, even holy people; right intent–making up your mind as to the one main purpose in life you really want to pursue; right speech–no lying, backbiting, or slander; right thoughts–thinking compassionately, generously, and with goodwill; right conduct–not killing, stealing, or lying; right effort–using your will power and taking action to  achieve a good life; right concentration–the use of techniques to enhance concentration and enlightenment. And there is right livelihood–doing what you’re best suited to do in an honest occupation that harms no one.

Then I thought, “That’s it. That’s what I’m looking for: a clear path that will take a creator to what he/she is seeking and needs strong, continuous encouragement, compassion, and votes of confidence to reach—an eightfold path, but without any religious connotation.”

So now I realize that you and I can realistically speak of The Creator’s Eightfold Path consisting of eight specific components—eight “rights”–that must be present–not one missing–if a person pursuing a career of creative endeavors is to reach high performance and become the real thing.

Introduction to the Components of the Creator’s Eightfold Path

blue and black number 8 in a white circle on a yellow backgroundSuccess in a creative field (in fact success in any field) is not attributable to one thing alone such as talent or IQ as many people believe, or three or four things. I believe there are eight components.  It’s important to understand what the eight components are and the questions they will answer:

 

Right Work/Production Program: How can you produce the quality and quantity of works that you hope for?

Right Craft: How will you know if the creative specialty you have chosen to pursue is the most appropriate for you?

Right Identity: What are the personal qualities that will best equip you for the creative craft you have chosen to pursue?

Right Education, Training, and Development: How can you prepare yourself to reach your highest creative performance?

Right Skills: What are the variety of skills you’ll need, and what is your authentic voice and most expressive style?

Right Knowledge: What knowledge will you need if your goal is to excel?

Right Motivation/Drive: Do you have the drive and doggedness you will need if you are to excel?

Right Life Path—are you following the Way of the Creator?

 

You can reflect on these components and identify the ones in which you are strong and those in which you are weak and need improvement.

In future posts I will discuss further the components of the Creator’s Eightfold Path.

Here is an introduction to one of the components:

Insights about Right Work/Production Program

The most vital factor of successful production is working with a single-minded preoccupation—the focus on the one thing, the work itself–whether for fifteen minutes or many hours–avoiding and getting rid of distractions, and ignoring as much as you realistically can other responsibilities.

It is not enough to possess talents. Talents must be put to work and result in paintings and poems and such.  Creators make the structure of womanl playing a violintheir creative lives by means of the work they do. If they are unable to work or the work is poor quality or is stopped-up and doesn’t go well, they suffer. Regarding the necessity of a creator to sweat and produce paintings, poems, symphonies or buildings, etc., Saul Bellow said, “For the artist, work is the main thing and always comes first.” Brewster Ghiselin said, “It is only as the work is done that the meaning of the creative effort can appear and that the development of the artist…is attained.” Psychologist Howard Gardner writes about high-excelling creative people. He says, “Individuals whose stock in trade is to do things which are novel, are people who’ve got to have a pretty good command of how they work.”

The Value of Structure

Successful creators almost always structure their work time and environment carefully.  One of the first things a creator does is to clear a work space. A perfect work place and good production routines and rituals are to be treasured. By simply being there ready to work repetitively the same time day after day, the power of good habits goes into effect.

painting of a man playing a cello superimposed on sheets of musicThere isn’t one universal work/production program that suits all creators. A production program won’t work if it’s imposed. Each creator’s program will have to be idiosyncratic–custom-designed by yourself for yourself. To find the ways and means to improve the quantity and quality of your production, you should experiment and try out different approaches until the best work/production program suited to yourself is found.

A well thought out Right Work/ Production Program should be designed to enable you to:

  1. Focus on your work for desired periods of time–minutes or hours, weeks or months
  2. Abandon what isn’t working, putting aside futile problems that will lead to dead-ends and frustration
  3. Free yourself from distractions and time-wasters
  4. Remain efficient and productive in the midst of obstacles and setbacks in either your creative or personal life
  5. Maintain and not fully deplete your energy and stamina
  6. Achieve a desirable level of output

Be Ready to Work

Pan of watercolor cakesFor high quality uninterrupted work to happen, not all, but most creators need isolation and solitude. “The concentration of writing requires silence. For me, large blocks of silence. It’s like hearing a faint Morse code…a faint signal is being given and I need quiet to pick it up” (Philip Roth). Some creators prefer noisy environments.  But even the feeling that you might be interrupted interferes with creative thought.

The Value of Volume.

The big names in an art are often the artists who have produced the most works. They have a genius for productivity. It is a good idea to have Painting of a ballet dancer with a flowing red skirt on a hazy blue cloud backgroundproduction goals continuously in mind. Production ebbs and flows. Some days work comes out of you in torrents. You’re in overdrive. But other days–nothing. But one way or another, good mood or bad mood, you must apply yourself, overcome inertia, and get work out.

In Art & Fear, authors David Bayles and Ted Orland talk about the importance of a creator’s need for production. They write about what happens in a ceramics class that I’ve found also happens in a class of writers.  You could take two groups of writers in a class. Those on the left side of the room would be graded solely on the quantity of the work they produced. Those on the right side would be graded only on the work’s quality. On the final day of the class the teacher would measure the amount of work of the quantity group—500 pages an A, 350 pages a B, and so forth. Those the teacher would grade on quality would have to produce only one story, but it would have to be perfect to justify an A.

A curious thing would happen. The quantity group would also produce the highest quality work. The quantity group would churn out streams of work and learn from their many mistakes and develop wide assortment of skills. But the quality group would get caught up the elusive concept of perfection and grandiose dreams and would become paralyzed. Some creators produce 10, 15, or 25 times more works than other creators. Those who produce the most works usually rise higher, do better work, and find a greater sense of accomplishment.

Working Regularly Is Almost Mandatory

Abstract flower painting in orange, blue, green and blackIf you neglect an activity for just two days you’ll function much less effectively when you resume work. In writing and painting, as in everything else, inactivity leads to the atrophy of abilities.  Your level of motivation affects your willingness to work. The quantity of your production is in direct proportion to the intensity of your motivation and drive. Creators with drive are able to persist steadily without interruption whereas poorly motivated creators will interrupt their work more often and not engage in it for long periods.  Samuel Johnson said, “If you want to be a writer, write all the time.”

 

© 2022 David J. Rogers

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15 Comments

Filed under 8-Fold Path, Achievement, Acquiring Knowledge, Advice, Creativity Self-Improvement, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Eastern Philosophy, Fulfillment in the Arts, Goals and Purposes, Producing Artistic Work, Right Livelihood, Uncategorized

15 responses to “A System for Improving Creative Performance

  1. eagle5688

    David, really good piece! Reinforcement for your idea in The Tender Bar (not the movie on it which iis not great.

    Hope you are healthy and well.

    I don’t know if you ever read the memoir, The Tender Bar (JR Moehringer).

    I’m rereading it. It’s outstanding.

    Full of his unpretentious accounts of his failures learning to write and his lack of confidence in life. About a poor fatherless boy, so honestly written, In love with writing and books, about many things including almost flunking out of Yale, being let go as a copy boy at the NYT, the bar with men who became his fathers and cheering squad. A glorious, poor, spunky utterly devoted Mom who had been abandoned with JR as a baby by her glib, unloving husband.

    Two Pulitzer nominations, one Pulitzer Prize. He’s now even ghosting Prince Harry’s memoir.

    A million times better than the new Netflix movie based on it. Though that pulled it back to the NYT Bestseller list.

    You might enjoy it.

    (I’ll bet you already read it!)

    Ben

    Ben Dean, PhD
    Founder, President
    [cid:image002.jpg@01D8191F.90EA3BA0]
    301-300-0117
    http://www.mentorcoach.com

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    • Hello Ben. Good to hear from you. I was just thinking today of the interview I did with you and enjoyed so much. I haven’t read The Tender Bar, but you make it sound so appealing, that I certainly will read it. Thanks for the recommendation. I am well, and I hope you are too.

      Like

  2. Oh yeah, totally agree with the structure bit. No successful person has achieved their greatest goals by doing what they want each day, or by following their feelings. Great read. Thanks for sharing!

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    • Thank you for your comment Stuart. It’s great to hear from you. I’m in total agreement with you about the need for discipline if we hope to accomplish anything significant. Looking at your website, I can see that this is a topic you frequently deal with, and in such a lively manner. I hope you are doing well and enjoying your work–and what could be more enjoyable than writing?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love this post and will respond properly in the next few days…Thank you. I am currently working on a deadline….:)

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    • Thank you, Janet for taking time to respond while you are under a deadline. I’m happy you liked the post. I like it too because it’s ambitious. I hope people find it useful. I look forward to your further comment.
      The weather here in America’s Midwest is cold, cold, cold. I’m looking forward to spring. (We go through winters like this every year; you’d think we would adjust to them. But we dont.)
      I hope whatever you are working on is going well.
      Best wishes,
      David

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is another post of yours which I will keep at hand. The key elements I get from this are ‘Focus on your purpose’ – Keep a clear work space and bring structure. into each day. Isolation and solitude are vital along with working at regular times.
    As you well know these are simple elements but not easy to adhere to…unless one is totally committed.
    I think of you in the freezing cold Windy City….spring is not too far off…:).

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    • Thank you for your comment, Janet. I always look forward to what you have to say, and in fact, often have you at the back of my mind when I write these posts. I like the things from the post that you have picked out to remember. It is impossible for me to communicate adequately the importance “focus on your purpose” has had in my life. In my speeches, I introduced 150,000 people to that wonderful expression–and of course in my book. My children grew up with it. It is one reason I’ve gotten so much work done by focusing on my varied purposes.

      Diana was reminding our children yesterday that this cold we’re going through right now is not nearly the cold we experienced eight years ago when the wind chill hit -84 degrees F.

      I hope your recent work went well. The other day I was thinking about your writing project and look forward to your publishing pieces of it in progress. Do you think you will?

      Best wishes,
      David

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      • Thank you David. I began at the beginning of the year to post a vignette on my blog every week….On Saturday I posted Vignette 7. Doing it this way is helping me a great deal. When you have time, let me know what you think.
        I can’t even imagine – 84 !!!! We are already experiencing some mild spring like days…when I say mild about 10 degrees F…and when the sun is out that’s quite lovely.
        Remember that this too shall pass…..and before you know it you will be watching baseball and enjoying hot weather:)

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  5. HeidiAngell

    I like the Introduction to the Components of the Creator’s Eightfold Path. It is a fascinating proposal. As someone who spent almost 7 years as a full-time author, I can also attest to the importance of a routine.

    I am curious when the research says that even 2 days off the muscles begin to atrophy, do you think that only applies to writing or do you think that if you write ad copy, work on editing, write social media, that all help continue to grow the creative skill since they all involve words and the telling of a story?

    It would be interesting to see if there’s any research specifically on this. My own anecdotal experience I found self-editing throughout the writing process (reading back over what I wrote the night before and making small edits) not only helped my writing be cleaner the next day but also helped when it came time to just focus on editing the completed draft.

    But my back cover blurb was always a nightmare to write at the end (probably because I didn’t do it as frequently and because I waited until the end.)

    Then I started writing the blurbs for the series as soon as I knew what the book would be about (I usually plan 2-4 ahead) and that seemed to go smoother and they felt “the same” as in they fit together. (I also re-read a past book if I take a break between books in the series and it helps me capture the tone and personality of the characters.)

    A few years ago I hit burnout and walked away from writing. The last couple of years, I’ve been dabbling again trying to re-release my past books, develop courses, and promote, all around a full-time job. I constantly feel pulled in too many different directions and struggle to get organized. In the past, I set aside a few hours each day to work on each thing. But obviously, with a full-time job you can’t do that.

    So this last year, I decided to break up my tasks by days. While most of my tasks I can seem to jump back in after a week being away (Editing, formatting, publishing, marketing) my writing day keeps being a blank. I’ve tried a ton of tasks that have been recommended to work through writer’s block but only managed to get “in the zone” once and it was because it was part of a promotional deadline.

    But perhaps it’s because most of the other work is non-fiction and all that time off between working on fiction is causing some atrophy.

    I might have to reconsider my approach. Thank you for the inspiration!

    Like

    • Hello Heidi.

      It’s good to hear from you.

      I can see that you are struggling to straighten out your creative life. From what you tell me, I think you are getting frazzled, doing too much, so slowing down, narrowing down, and calmly focusing are good ideas. Among the samurai I write about, it is said that we should count among our affairs just two or three matters of “great concern.” As much as possible you might try out that advice.

      I think creative people who often work themselves into knots benefit from “pushes” to get them going. Your push once was a promotional deadline. But I want you to reread the part of the post about “Focus on your purpose.” Through doing that, blocks disappear and your productivity increases. I’ve seen “Focus on your purpose” change whole lives.

      Possibly your problem is that you are a writer and not a plumber. Authors analyze and agonize over blocks. Plumber say “What’s the big deal. I have dirty jobs I’d rather not do but I do them because that’s my role. If I were a writer, I would write, no analysis, no theories, just punching away at the keyboard.” That’s how a plumber would wear down a block.

      You have accomplished so much and have so much energy you’re blessed with. Once you get into the rhythm of regular writing–which may be soon–you will be back in the groove.

      Best wishes,
      David

      Like

      • HeidiAngell

        Thank you for those kind words! A lack of focus is definitely one of my greatest struggles. I feel very called by each of my stories but also by my courses. I really do need to try that 3 really important things and see if that will help!

        Thank you for a very thought-provoking post!.

        Like

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