Category Archives: Advice

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 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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Do You Have Enough Knowledge To Do Expert Creative Work?

Preface

Most of the time the reason writers, visual artists, and other creatives aren’t yet accomplished isn’t because they are unintelligent or lack talent but because they don’t know enough. Many writers, painters, and other creatives across the globe reading this post are experts. Expert artists differ from non-experts in the knowledge they possess and can bring to the creative task.

Owl sitting on top of a bookExpert creatives have outstanding performances because their knowledge is extensive. An expert’s knowledge is ready at hand to be used and easy for the creative to access.

Most of the mistakes any artist makes are a result of incorrect or inadequate knowledge. If you have the knowledge, you won’t make the mistakes you would otherwise make.

Knowledge guidelines for practitioners in the arts are:

  • Absorb as much knowledge of your art, other arts, and of the world as you are able to.
  • Stop thinking that talent guarantees success, but do continually add to your knowledge.
  • Patiently watch the years of effort pass, your knowledge increasing, and your capabilities growing strong.

Creatives: Older Is Better Than Younger

Elderly woman artist copying a masterpieceIf you want to be successful in the arts, be older rather than younger. Older is better because most outstanding contributions to the arts are not made by people in their teens, 20s, 30s, or 40s, but in their 50s, 60s, and 70s.  Why is that so? The main reason why, artistically, older is better than younger is that to have the ability to do artistic work expertly and do increasingly superior work, the main factor is the artist’s KNOWLEDGE and its PRACTICAL APPLICATION over a period of time that is often long.

That people in the arts generally require a lot of time between their first exposure to their art and their first significant work is well documented. And also well documented is that usually considerably more time must pass before they do their best work. Why is so much time necessary?

It is because artist’s knowledge has to become more comprehensive with time, study, and practice if they are to reach the apex of their performance, make the fullest use of their capabilities, establish their reputation, and reap the highest rewards.

Man busy working and studyingNo artist has ever lived –Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Proust, Picasso, Mozart–who had so much talent that they didn’t need considerable knowledge to excel at a high level. Talent is a blessing, but talent alone isn’t enough.

Talent may be given to artists at birth, but knowledge must be earned through sweat and toil. Artists who reach high success like Faulkner in writing and Cezanne in painting put in many thousands of hours of exhausting work and study.

Absorb Knowledge of Your Field

Absorbing knowledge of your field is a requirement of any artist who wants to far surpass “mediocre” and “adequate.” Every art has a set of fundamental skills that must be mastered if the artist is to graduate to expertise. The rules of the art, its techniques, traditions, history, facts, principles, experts’ opinions, experiences of other artists living and dead, and criticisms the artist receives provide a foundation to help them solve problems that have to be solved if quality works are to be produced.

Eyeglasses on top of an open bookIn any field in which you are intensely engaged, such as serious writing or painting, the brain you feed with knowledge just goes on learning and learning and learning and your abilities grow and grow. The more knowledge you have, the faster you’ll recognize related information that’s relevant to solving problems you are facing. You’ll be able to say, quite quickly, “So-and-so handled the problem I’m now facing by…” Acquiring knowledge  is what you are doing all the time you’re working at your craft, talking with others about your craft, studying it, taking classes, reading, and practicing to develop your skills.

Set and Pursue Knowledge-Enhancement Goals

You would be smart to set specific KNOWLEDGE-ENHANCEMENT GOALS. The greater your knowledge and the then higher the quality of your works, the more tangible the successes you will have.

Many writers in particular are self-educated and have developed their knowledge through a rigorous learning program they designed themselves. It was only after a period of self-education that American author Jack London became the most popular and successful writer in the world.

London submitted stories hundreds of times before his first success. He realized that he had very little formal knowledge–hadn’t graduated from high school–and needed to educate himself. He got hold of the reading lists of universities and studied them on his own.

Woman reading a large bookThe more knowledge that is needed to excel in a field, the more formal education is needed, whether at a university or self-taught.  For example, writers must learn from their predecessors, their contemporary writers, their current times, and people in other fields so that  what has already been achieved becomes internalized and ready for a future use in the same way a master chess player knows the strategies and techniques past masters used to win matches. You won’t amount to much if you aren’t aware of what has come before you. In his advice to aspiring screen writers, Academy Award winning producer Tony Bill said, “Whatever you do—don’t read any ‘How-to-write-a-screenplay’ books. Just read a bunch of great scripts and let it go at that.”

Shakespeare learned from Chaucer. Proust studied the work of Englishman John Ruskin for six years and wrote a book about him. If he hadn’t done that, it is doubtful that he would have written–or even attempted to write–his monumental masterpiece In Search Of Lost Time.

Woman looking at Van Gogh Sunflower painting in an art museumFollowing in the footsteps of the greats is a vital route to writing knowledge, and knowledge leads to skills, and skills coupled with confidence lead to success. What helps is an aptitude for learning and learning fast, which I can hardly imagine a person in the arts not possessing.

An artist in one field learning from artists in other fields can be effective. You may wish to make cross-training a feature of your own training. For example, my own observation is that many painters like English artist Janet Weight Reed and Australian Michelle Endersby are also superb writers. They must have acquired that skill somewhere. Hemingway studied painter Paul Cezanne and translated some of Cezanne’s techniques into literary techniques.

Goals you set for increasing your knowledge, like any goal you might set, should be specific and should be programmed–a schedule set up. For example, if you want to improve your short story writing you may wish to develop a schedule to study short story masters Anton Chekhov, Guy de Maupassant, and Ernest Hemingway and read critical studies of their approaches.  Visual artists often select one or a small number of artists and study their work and what has been written about them

Be a Sponge

Yellow natural spongeLet’s hope that your mind is a sponge sopping up knowledge because people in the arts who can acquire knowledge quickly and remember large amounts of it have an advantage when trying to create something original.

 

Review

In any field you’re intensely absorbed in, your brain develops an insatiable hunger and just goes on learning and learning.

You can excel in the arts only when your knowledge is sufficient to excel. Not before. The person who studies harder will acquire knowledge faster and reach expertise sooner.

All artists benefit from setting knowledge-enhancement goals: “What must I know?” “Where will I find it?” “Who can help me acquire the knowledge I will need?”

 

You are a better painter, writer, actor, dancer, etc. now than you were five years ago because you have practiced and because you have acquired knowledge. The probability is that your knowledge is now substantial, and you are still adding to it and amassing it, and that your knowledge is reflected in the higher quality of your work.

 

© 2021 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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31 Prescriptions for Serious Writers

“Writing a novel is a painful and bloody process that takes up all your free time, haunts you in the darkest hours of night, and generally culminates in a lot of weeping over an ever-growing pile of rejection letters. Every novelist will have to go through this at least once and in some cases many times before they are published, and since publication itself brings no guarantee of riches or plaudits, it’s not unreasonable to ask what sort of a person would subject himself to such a thing” (Alice Adams).

Prescriptions:

Have a strong belief in and respect and enthusiasm for writing. To many serious writers writing is the central activity of their lives: no other activity compares. It is probably true that the majority of people, young or old or in between, don’t like to write. But there is just something about the act of writing that people struck by the writing bug find irresistible. Many aspiring writers wait all day for the half hour between putting a child to bed and sleep when at last they are free to pound away at a keyboard.

Be patient because all writers who reach high excellence in their craft will have done so via a long, sustained period of learning and application. P.G. Wodehouse wrote that “Success comes to a writer, as a rule, so gradually that it is always something of a shock to him to look back and realize the heights to which he has climbed.” “If the promising writer keeps on writing—writes day after day, month after month…he will begin to catch on” (John Gardner.)

Fountain pen on an open book Have a need for self-expression and self-disclosure. Good writers reveal themselves in their work. Readers want writers to reveal themselves. A novel, for example, enables authors to convey a wealth of information that expresses them.  Your writing, even the way you turn a phrase and the metaphors you use (why did you use an image of a fish then instead of a train?) and your vocabulary and points of view, tell the reader what you’re like. Writers have a need to discover exactly what they are thinking by writing it out, and then to artfully communicate it to the reader who wants to know.

Be more self-disciplined in matters concerning your work than most people in other fields .Success in writing is largely a matter of discipline.

Learn to overcome boredom and fatigue, particularly through positive self-talk and physical conditioning. .

Sacrifice for the sake of your writing. Anton Chekhov said, “It is difficult to combine the desire to live with the desire to write.” In A Moveable Feast Hemingway wrote, “On Thursday I was…feeling virtuous because I had worked well and hard on a day when I wanted to go to the races very badly.” For some writers writing is more important than their family.  The family goes to the zoo; they stay home and write. “Generally (Eugene) O’Neill elected to lead an existence completely removed from what the great majority of people would call life, It was centered on, was focused on, organized around work” (Malcolm Cowley). Toni Morrison didn’t do anything but write, to the exclusion of everything else.

Take pride in your extraordinary writer’s memory nature has equipped you with. Your writer’s imagination depends so much on remembering what you’ve heard about, read about, or seen. Whatever happens to writers they never forget it, but store it for future use. Katherine Anne Porter said, “We spend our lives making sense of the memories of the past.” Writers must have a gift to remember sensations and images that were experienced at times many years earlier and to relive them in their original freshness and vividness. Not just memories, but detailed memories: “Thus the greatest poets are those with memories so great that they extend beyond their strongest experiences to their minutest observations of people and things” (English poet Stephen Spender). A writer may not be able to remember a telephone number or to pick up a dozen eggs at the store, but will never all his life forget the expression on his mother’s face as she came in the door that particular day. He has a perfect memory for that. Memory is a writer’s workshop.

drawing of a hand with a penPossess extraordinary energy. No outstanding writing achievement has ever been produced without hard work. One of Joyce Carol Oates’ novels had 5,000 pages of notes. When writers are functioning at their best they work at white heat for an hour, a month, or years. Creative people don’t run out of steam.  Their enthusiasm doesn’t wane very long.

Don’t spend your time working on easy problems. Good serious writers work on problems that are hard for them because they’re stimulated by things that are difficult. They not only solve problems, they create them because when they solve those they make progress and become better writers. That’s how they create work that no one has seen the likes of before and expands their abilities at the same time. A major intuitive skill effective problem-solving writers have developed is being able to identify the specific point to approach the crux of the problem.

Be resilient and able to overcome obstacles and to persevere. Many writers persist however difficult the physical and mental effort of pursuing their goal might be. “Creative people are those who are more willing to redefine the ways in which they look at problems, to take risks, to seek to overcome daunting obstacles, and to tolerate ambiguity even when its existence becomes psychologically painful.” (Scott Barry Kaufman and James Kaufman)

Enjoy writing’s sweat factor and be able to produce tremendous amounts of work. Writers–creatives–love to work. Production is the writer’s main goal. Usually the greatest writers are also the most prolific.  Cynthia Ozick said, “There is a definite relationship between being major and having a profusion of work to show. You could write one exquisite thing, but you would never be considered more than a minor writer.”  Thomas Wolfe sometimes wrote 5,000 words in a night. Georges Simenon who was capable of writing 60 to 80 pages per day, produced 200 novels, 150 novellas, autobiographical works, numerous articles and scores of pulp novels under two dozen pseudonyms. Ray Bradbury took two hours to write a poem, half a day to finish a short story, and nine days to write a novel.

Strive for the fullest development of your skills. Developing skills leads to competence, then to expertise, then excellence, then greatness. If you feel you have the skills, you’re less likely to be haunted by self-doubt and your writing will flow more freely.

Young man typing on a laptopHave a strong concern for your technique and style. The reader isn’t meant to notice a writer’s technique, but other writers are aware of it immediately. The first thing you notice about writers is their style. Toni Morrison said that “getting a style is about all there is to writing fiction.” An appealing style is so important to a writer that writers joke about it:, ”If you are getting the worst of it in an argument with a literary man, always attack his style. That’ll touch him if nothing else will” (J.A. Spender).

Maintain an artistic vision and heightened perception. To writers the world is inexhaustibly rich with aesthetic potential. There are dimensions of reality they are sensitive to that other people overlook, perceptions of what might be called “hidden reality.” It’s the business of the writer, who has the creator’s faith that they are seeing a true reality, to find, collect, and communicate that reality in their work. Eugene O’Neill: “I am a dramatist…What I see everywhere in life is drama.”

Have a capacity for self-criticism and objectivity about your work and your abilities. Writers must learn to lay their egos aside as they would any other impediment.

Be sensitive to life and open to experience. Insatiably curious, writers plumb what is outside them in the world and their own thoughts, sensations, and emotions.  They are not afraid of what ogres they might discover in the world they write about or in themselves.

Be what you are: more self-confident, rebellious than the vast majority of people. Writers who lose their youthful rebelliousness are in danger of losing their talent as well.

Have a large tolerance for ambiguity–larger than the great majority of people. That’s one reason writers are generally such effective problem-solvers.

Be restless because you can’t help but be. Writers often move on to other projects just when what they’ve accomplished becomes clear. (Months may pass, years may pass, but be sure to get back to your project and finish it.) The first stanza of a poem by Wordsworth may have been written 28 years before the last stanza was written.

Strive for competence and constant improvement. Writers are never content very long. They are guided by a persistent willingness to write with more expressive power.

Value independence. Writers must be allowed to move unrestrained in their own direction under their own power. No voice should be more persuasive than the writer’s internal voice saying “X is the truth I must pursue.”

Spend a lot of your time alone. Most successful writers would agree with historian Arthur M. Schlesinger that “everything that matters in our intellectual and moral life begins with an individual confronting his own mind and conscience in a room by himself.” Writers often prefer solitude over socializing.

Have the ability to focus. Creative people often learn at an early age that they will achieve more if they focus their efforts on one area rather than dividing them among a variety of pursuits. Writers are capable of intense concentration, losing all sense of time and place, conscious only of the work before them. They will let nothing divert them from accomplishing it. Gustave Flaubert said that only writing mattered to him, and that he kept all his other passions locked up in a cage, visiting them now and then for diversion. Focusing is intense. Emily Dickinson said that if she felt physically as if the top of her head was taken off, she knew that was poetry.

Be playful and value the simple and the unaffected. Writers are in love with simplicity and bring to mind a Chinese proverb: “A truly great man never puts away the simplicity of a child.”

Computer, cup of coffee, and woman's hands writing in a notebookBe able to muster an abundance of physical strength and stamina. Often it’s the end of writers’ endurance that stops their working day. Novelist Thomas Wolfe would turn in manuscripts a million words long . He claimed that the physical demands on the writer made the writer’s life seem to him to be the hardest life man has ever known.

Adapt and make adjustments. An experienced writer has learned when to stop and begin again when something isn’t working.

Be studious in the sense of studying to develop your craft. All writers study and all are self-taught to a greater or lesser degree. Composers and fine artists are likely to have been taught by masters; writers are likely to have taught themselves.

Establish rapport with readers. Your writing is always for someone–yourself certainly. But also the audience, the reader. Skilled writers are aware of whom they are writing for and establish rapport with them within the first few sentences of the work.

Take luck, the breaks, and good or bad fortune into account. Good luck often follows persistence. A failure or wrong direction or bad luck may lead to something fruitful later on. A “wrong” word in a sentence may prove to be the perfect word.

Pencils, pens, markers and other writing toolsHave or develop a business sense. You have a career to manage and responsibilities and expenses. Study marketing and salesmanship–read. Take business classes.

Feel deeply; be emotionally rich. Writing, like music, must convey emotion–from sorrow to joy and everything between. Writers have strong feelings. For example, they often have fiery tempers.

 

If I asked you what you think are the qualities that it’s most important for writers to possess, how would you answer?

I, myself, would begin with “hard worker.”

 

© 2021 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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Useful Writing Prescriptions from Two Major Authors

John Gardner was the winner of The National Book Critics Circle Award, and author of four innovative and yet best-selling novels. He and Ernest Hemingway, the most important innovator in 20th century literature, once named “the greatest writer since Shakespeare,” and 1954 Nobel laureate, were both interested in passing on to other writers insights and prescriptions  on a variety of topics pertinent to serious writing.

A helpful way to incorporate the prescriptions and insights here is described at the end of the post.

  1. Spend as much time as possible writing. It will pay off.

Photograph of John GardnerGardner: “If the promising writer keeps on writing–writes day after day, month after month–and if he reads very carefully, he will begin to ‘catch on.’”  Hemingway, convinced of the value of persistence, wrote, “Anyone who says he wants to be a writer and isn’t writing, doesn’t.  Professionals write regularly. Amateurs often write sporadically.”

Hemingway: “Work continuously on a project once you start it. The hard part about a novel is to finish it…There is only one thing to do with a novel and that is to go straight on through to the end of the damn thing.” Hemingway: “Write every day until you’re so pooped about all the exercise you can face is reading the papers.”

  1. If your work is rejected often, get help, particularly emotional help.

Writers often do their best work when they are intense and feeling good, but intensity can be worn down by rejections. Gardner: It is a terrible thing to write for five or ten years and continue to be rejected–and so at last goes another good writer.”  “Only a strong character, reinforced by the encouragement of a few people who believe in the writer, can get one through this period.” Gardner also said, “It cannot be too strongly emphasized that, after the beginning stages, a writer needs social and psychological support.” He felt that writers need to be part of a community that values the things they value.

Hemingway endured many rejections. That is understandable since his work was original. Nothing like it had been seen before by editors, and editors generally avoid writers who are not “proven.” Hemingway said that 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 never lost confidence in his talent. His reward was fame, wealth, and the highest literary award, the Nobel Prize.

Gardner: When writers are ready to give up, they need four things from an editor or mentor: trustworthiness, reassurance that their work really is publishable quality, a clear understanding of how editors work, and the strongest possible support.

  1. Expect to run into a powerful force–the urge of other people to evaluate your writing, tell you how good or bad it is, and to change it.

Gardner: “No depressed and angry writer can fail to notice, if he raises his heavy head and looks around, that fools, maniacs, and jabbers are everywhere–mindless, tasteless, ignorant schools of critics…misreading a great writer.”

Hemingway said writers may slant a story away from the way they want the story to please a magazine editor so the editor might accept the work for publication. Hemingway’s advice was never do that: “That’s just a lot of shit; I never slanted a story in my life. I never think of publication until I’ve finished a story. Write a story exactly the way you think it should be written, not as an editor would want it.”

  1. Be knowledgeable of the powers and uses of language, and have skill in using words. That is a requirement if your goal is to write potent prose or poetry.

Photograph of Earnest HemingwayHemingway: “The hardest thing in the world is to write straight honest prose on human beings. First you have to know the subject; then you have to know how to write. Both take a lifetime to learn.”  The vocabulary in a Hemingway work is simple, the sentences clear and uncomplicated. And short. The style is non-literary, and is colloquial American English. His rule was that his language must be readable, accurate, and economical.

Gardner: A writer “is interested in discovering the secrets words carry, whether or not he ever puts them in his fiction…One sign of a writer’s potential is his especially sharp ear–and eye–for language.”  But writers must be cautious because if they care too much about the words they use and call attention away from the story and toward their style, they become “mannered.” Eventually readers tire of them.

  1. Aim for the polished, tasteful, “middle way” that most readers prefer. Some writers write poorly and are not read, and some write too well, too beautifully, and are not read.

Hemingway revolutionized fiction writing by purging it of displays of virtuosity, simplifying it, and avoiding “poetic” prose writing styles, preferring simple Anglo-Saxon English that was used in daily life by “the common man.”

Gardner said, “Though there are exceptions, as a rule the good novelist does not worry primarily about linguistic brilliance…but instead worries about telling his story in a moving way…If the writer has too much verbal sensitivity, his success…will depend on his learning to care about other elements of fiction so that, for their sake, he holds back a little…or on his finding an editor, and a body of readers who love, beyond all else, the same things he loves, fine language….The writer who cares chiefly, or exclusively about language  is poorly equipped for novel-writing in the usual sense because his character and personality are wrong for writing novels.”

  1. Be disciplined. Discipline is the serious writer’s necessary quality. If you’re not disciplined your writing career will probably fizzle. 

The most successful writers from the Romans to those writing today were disciplined. It’s possible that discipline is more important to writers than talent.

Gardner:  ”If one is unwilling to write like a true artist, mainly because one needs to, one might do well to put one’s energies somewhere else.”

Hemingway: “I happen to be in a very tough business where there are no alibis. It is good or it is bad and the thousand reasons that interfere with a book being as good as possible are no excuses if it is not. You have to make it good and a man is a fool if he adds or takes hindrance after hindrance after hindrance to being a writer when that is what he cares about. Taking refuge in domestic successes, being good to your broke friends, is merely a form of quitting.”

  1. Aim to be as prolific as you can if your goal is to be considered great. There are prolific writers and writers who produce very little. You’re more likely to be thought great if you are prolific. Hemingway and Gardner were both great and prolific. Gardner talked about reasons why some writers are not prolific.

There is a definite relationship between being a major artist and producing a number of works. There are writers who produce one exquisite work. Their writing is exceptional, but there is so little of it that almost never are they considered major writers. The greatest writers generally get an early start, producing their first major success sooner than less great writers produce theirs, and have long and fruitful careers into their 60s, 70s and 80s.

Gardner said that not caring much about the kind of novel most experienced and well-educated readers like to read, the “linguistic novelist,” lover of language for its own sake, brings out in his lifetime only one or two books, or none. ”The brilliant artificer’s novel either is never written at all or is spoiled by sentimentality, mannerism, or frigidity.”

  1. Read the best writers. They will rub off on you. 

Both Gardner and Hemingway advocated writers studying other writers, particularly the best of them so that the writer would take from them what they needed to improve. They both believed that would happen as the writer who was willing to learn developed “a new way of seeing.”

Both men were conversant with the classics. In his teaching, Gardner required students to read them. Hemingway was an insatiable student of literature and painting. He read voraciously and believed that all American fiction was derivative of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. He felt that studying the style of post-Impressionist painter Paul Cezanne helped his writing considerably. 

  1. Be an autodidact and educate yourself to write skillfully (as many writers have), or be educated via some other means, but be educated. 

Hemingway did not attend college although his parents, both well-educated–his father a physician–wanted him to. But he felt that he would learn nothing in college that would benefit him. Immediately after graduating from high school he began writing for the Kansas City Star. The paper’s brand of journalism was a strong influence on Hemingway his entire career, teaching him; “Use short sentences; use short first paragraphs; use vigorous English; be positive, not negative.”

In Paris in the nineteen twenties Hemingway had an intense four-years writing apprenticeship with luminaries Gertrude Stein, Sherwood Anderson, Ezra Pound, Ford Maddux Ford, and other writers. With that background he began writing The Sun Also Rises with a sense of confidence and a knowledge of his craft.

Gardner had a PhD and taught writing at universities. One of his students was short story innovator Raymond Carver. But asked if a writer should study creative writing and literature at a university, he said, “If the person means will he become a better writer, yes. But if he means, ‘‘Will I be able to support myself,’ the answer is ‘possibly.’ “

It is helpful to become familiar with prescriptions in this post and strive to apply them.  You could write more often and for longer periods, develop stronger skills with language by acquiring a more expressive vocabulary, write in a more appealing style, find emotional help in responding to rejections (a friend, a family member, or a coach or mentor), be more disciplined about writing through a planned schedule of work, read high quality writers, and develop a study program to improve your capabilities.

 

© 2020 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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13 Questions to Ask When Your Artistic Career Is in a Rut

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.

Face of woman thhinkingAndrea, 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 Car stuck in the snowpath 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Do I have enough talent, that recognizable flair that underlies a good creatives’ life and their every quality work?
  4. 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)?
  5. 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?
  6. Am I powerfully motivated to succeed as an artist? Or have I lost my zest? If so, how can I get it back?
  7. 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?
  8. 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?
  9. 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.
  10. Am I getting specific, helpful, and honest feedback regularly? Have I made arrangements to do that?
  11. 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?
  12. Do I know how to overcome creative obstacles–am I good at analyzing problem and impediments in my way and finding solutions?
  13. 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 Pink shovel in grey dirtdecides 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.

Woman in aqua sweater writing in a bookShe 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:

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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2 Psycho-Techniques for People in the Arts

Man alone at sunsetFrom childhood on, there have been moments in my life–and I think you have experienced this in your life too—when I’ve had to perform and no one could help me—not my mother, not my wife, not a friend.

The responsibility for what would happen next was completely my own—standing alone on a stage in an auditorium looking into the 12,000 eyes of the 6,000 people who had paid money to hear what I had to say, for instance. Or standing at the starting line of an 800 meter race with seven highly trained athletes that in a couple of minutes I would be trying hard to beat as they would be trying just as hard to beat me.

Runner in blue running suit at starting lineIt’s very lonely knowing that whether or not you will succeed depends solely on your own skills, your own personality and character, your own preparation, and your own strengths. Then no one can help you, no one can write the novel for you, no one can paint the portrait for you today, or dance in your place, or perform your role in tonight’s play. You’re on your own, my friend. Will you be at the height of your talent today or won’t you? Will you have it? Will your work be good? Will you be satisfied?

At crucial moments–beginnings, endings, changes of direction–everything you are, everything you know and hope for, everything that drives you, and all the capabilities you’ve worked so hard to develop and refine to the highest possible level are brought to bear on that always-ultimate artist’s goal–to produce a work of which you will be proud.

I’m a great believer in using psycho-techniques to help performance and wrote a whole book about them that an internet poll named “best motivational book evert written”–Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life.

I’d like to recommend two psycho-techniques here that I find useful: Think Aloud Strategies and Brief Performance Cues. They will be helpful whatever your art, whatever your occupation.

 

Use Think Aloud Strategies to Inspire Yourself

a mouth talking into an earWhen you write, you’re asking yourself, “Does it sound right?” “Does it flow?” “Is it a good quality?” You’re also “self-instructing.” Self-instruction is talking to yourself to guide actions and telling yourself what strategies you should use. A writer may self-instruct to use more imagery in the story, and self-monitor to count the number of images or tell herself, “My mind is starting to wander. I should focus my attention better.”

“Think aloud” strategies involve verbalizing “private speech,” the kind of speech you don’t usually use in public. People don’t generally talk aloud to themselves, and when they do, their speech is often incoherent. But sometimes thinking aloud to yourself clarifies your understanding and activates problem-solving.

A think-aloud strategy often entails reciting out loud the chatter that’s going on in your head. Describing to yourself how to proceed and execute a task should improve performance.  For example, you might say aloud, “There are too many long sentences: mix long and short sentences.” Self-verbalizations such as self-praise statements—“I’m really doing well”–verbalizing the strategies you’re using—“I’m keeping track of time”–and actions you’re taking—“I’m stopping to review the paragraph before moving on”– are extremely  helpful kinds of thinking aloud.

 

Use Brief Performance Cues

Performance cues are important reminders that you repeat silently or say aloud. Focus on a few simple reminders–summaries of the main things you’re trying to accomplish—that you should bear in mind: “I want my writing style to be simpler.” The cue you’ll repeat to yourself, “Simplicity!” Completing a project brings the artist elation. A project cannot be a work of art until it is finished.  Not starting, but finishing works, is the artist’s credo. The cue is “Finish!’ “Finish!”  Above all else, if you are a writer your writing should always be clear. The writer’s cue is “Clarity.”

Thumb up with a smiley face on the thumbBoil your whole performance down to a few statements, words, phrases, or images:

 

“Relaxed and confident”

“Good work today”

“Stay focused”

“Organized and sharp.”

Patience!”

“Persevere!”

“I’m in the groove

“Grit and guts!”

“Take risks.”

Boldness

 

The cues will excite your spirit. They will improve your performance. Begin by writing out performance cues you will use when you’re working.

 

Those psycho-techniques along with the insights you can find in Fighting To Win should help you make the most of your talent.

 

© 2020 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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Advice and Other Odds and Ends on the Literary Life

Writers have a great deal to say about the literary life which may be of interest to aspiring writers reading this post and to veteran writers too.

 

Make a Bundle of Money–At Least Try (Why Not?)

Many agents and publishers told a friend of mine that his manuscript was unpublishable. He had faith in himself and didn’t believe them. He persevered. It was published. It sold 25 million copies Stack of hundred dollar billsand he suddenly was rich. On the other hand, when Ernest Hemingway was young and poor in Paris and unable to support his family with his stories he would catch pigeons in the Luxembourg Gardens when the gendarme on duty went into a café during his break, and then take them home and cook them. Some writers, like painters such as Pablo Picasso, love being rich. Picasso said he wanted to work without material worries “like a pauper,” “but with a lot of money.”

Samuel Johnson said that no one but a blockhead ever wrote except for money. Novelist Anthony Trollope said that what motivated him was what motivates lawyers and bakers—“to make an income on which I and those belonging to me might live in comfort. But poet Kenneth Rexroth said, “I’ve had it with these cheap sons of bitches who claim they love poetry but never buy a book.” Jules Renard said: “Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.”

Irvin S. Cobb wrote: “If writers were good businessmen they’d have too much sense to be writers.”  “The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business” (John Steinbeck).

Blaise Pascal said that anything that is written just to please the author is worthless. William Faulkner (was usually out of money): He said “I began to think of books in terms of possible money. I took a little novel and invented the most horrific tale I could imagine and wrote it in about three weeks”–the financially successful Sanctuary.

Interfering with an author’s desire to be solvent if not rich is the difficulty of getting books published: commenting on the difficulties of getting his play Auntie Mame on the stage, Patrick Dennis said, “It circulated for five years through the halls of fifteen publishes and finally ended with Vanguard Press, which, as you can see, is rather deep into the alphabet.”

A consolation is that your book may be too good to be popular. It’s silly to think that most successful writer is necessarily the best writer: “A best-seller is the gilded tomb of mediocre talent” (Logan Smith.)

 

When At a Party of Artistic People, Talk Like a Genius

Two dogs looking like they are having a conversationWhat do geniuses talk about? Marcel Proust, James Joyce, Igor Stravinsky, and Pablo Picasso attended the same Parisian party in May, 1922. Proust complained about his indigestion and Joyce about his headache. Picasso admired the women and Stravinsky snubbed them all.

 

Make Sure You’re Writing Has “Zing”

An agent told a writer-client that his books weren’t selling because there wasn’t enough sex in them. The writer said, “Are you kidding,” and opened his book and showed him the scene on the first page: the countess races out into the street naked with the hero also naked and in a state of arousal chasing her.

“Yes, yes” said the agent, “but look how far down the page.”

 

Take Criticism of Your Work and Yourself with Grace

Charles Lamb’s first play was hissed off the stage by the audience. Lamb was in the audience and hissed too because he didn’t want to be recognized.

White swan on smooth blue waterOne of the problems superb writers face is that they–and no one else–are the best judge of their work and yet they must endure sometimes ignorant, amateurish editors and critics. Henry Miller found himself being abused by editor after editor he submitted work to. He snarled, “Who are these shits? Where do they get off saying such things to me?”

What is a critic’s function? Screenwriter Wilson Mizener said that a drama critic is a person who surprises the playwright by informing him of what he meant.

The French critic Saint-Beave was challenged to a duel by an angry author and given the choice of weapons. “I choose spelling.” he said, “You’re dead.”

Writers want to be treated courteously, understandingly, and considerately, and why shouldn’t they be? But a literary critic burned Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure and sent him the ashes. Virginia Woolf and James Joyce’s work are often compared, but she didn’t like his writing at all. She said Ulysses was “The work of a queasy underclassman scratching his pimples.”

 

Be Truthful and Accurate

English novelist Arnold Bennett bragged that his description of one of his character’s death couldn’t be topped for its accuracy because he had taken infinite pains over it, basing it on his father’s death. Bennet said that all the time his father was dying “I was at the bedside making copious notes.”

 

Be Prepared for Mishaps and Misjudgments (No one’s perfect)

Ernest Hemingway lost and never recovered a trunk full original manuscripts of his short stories he forgot on a train. John Steinbeck’s dog chewed up half of the first daft of Of Mice and Men. Cat with eyes wide openSherwood Anderson died after swallowing a toothpick with a hors d’ oeuvre at a cocktail party.  Katherine Mansfield married a singing teacher eleven years older than herself and abandoned him the morning after their wedding night. George Bernard Shaw said, “Experience is the name everyone gives to his mistakes.”

 

You Must Focus on Writing Above All Else (Are you a writer or aren’t you?)

“The true artist will let his wife starve, his children go barefoot, his mother drudge for her living at seventy, sooner than work at anything but his art” (Playwright George Bernard Shaw.) “Everything goes by the book, honor, pride, decency–to get the book written.  If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn is worth any number of old ladies” (William Faulkner). At ten in the morning a writer friend of Shelley left him standing by the mantle in his study as he read. When the friend returned at 6:00 p.m. Shelley was standing in the same place reading and hadn’t moved an inch the entire day.

 

You Might Have to Work at Odd Jobs Before Hitting It Big

Novelist /teacher John Gardner said almost all full-time jobs are hard on writing. Henry Miller dug graves for a living. Vachel Lindsay traded poems for bread. Erich Maris Remarque sold tombstones. Novelist William Burroughs was an exterminator. Poet Carl Sandburg was a janitor. William Faulkner was a bootlegger and postmaster of a university post office. Raymond Carver worked in a morgue. George Bernard Shaw said, “You must never suppose, because I am a man of letters, that I never tried to earn an honest living.”

 

Like Athletes, You Must Warm Up Before You Get Started

While writing The Red and the Black, Stendah,l in order to acquire the right tone, read two or three pages of the Civil Code every morning. Willa Cather had to read from the Bible before she was Athlete stretchingready to start writing. Ernest Hemingway had to first sharpen all the pencils he anticipated using that day. Edgar Alan Poe petted his cat before he started. Thomas Wolfe took long walks to get ready.

Like most writers Honore Balzac had to have coffee first. He overdid it, though, drinking fifty cups a day, and eventually dying from coffee poisoning. Samuel Johnson drank twenty-five cups of tea before starting his writing day.

Rudyard Kipling couldn’t get started unless the pen’s ink was very dark. Alexandre Dumas, pere needed rose-colored paper to start if he was writing nonfiction, but for fiction he had to have blue paper and yellow paper for poetry.

 

Writing Is Not Easy so You Might Need Something to Motivate You

The great innovator Gustave Flaubert said it was a delicious thing to write. I’ve never known or heard about or can conceive of or imagine a writer who didn’t feel that way. There’s just something about the act of writing that is motivation enough for most writers. But Victor Hugo needed some other motivation too. So at the beginning of his work day he gave all his clothes to his servant who was ordered to return them only after Hugo had finished a day’s work of several hours.

 

You May or You May Not Need Solitude

Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels, went a year without talking to anyone. Truman Capote’s advice to young writers was to socialize and not “go up to a pine cabin all alone,” because “You reach that stage soon enough.” Voltaire preferred the company of his mistress. He wrote in bed using her back as a desk.

 

Make It a Point To Please Your Publisher and the Book Buyer

Victor Hugo wanted to know if his publisher liked Les Miserables whose manuscript he was submitting. He wrote on its cover “?” His publisher answered “!”. That is the most succonct literary correspondence in history. A publisher’s salesman said, “I often think how shocked authors would be if they listened to the book store clerk selling their books. They’ve worked a year on their book, two years, three years, maybe longer, and there it is. A word or two and a decision is made.”

Your book must match the taste of the person who will buy it. The author of the sensationalist best-seller Peyton Place said, “I’m a lousy writer; a helluva lot of people have lousy taste.”

Popular W. Somerset Maugham said that he had never met an author who admitted that people didn’t buy his book because it was dull.

 

If You Have a Grudge Against a Fellow Writer, Here’s What to Do

“If you are getting the worst of it in an argument with a literary man, always attack his style. That’ll touch him if nothing else will” (J.A. Sender).

 

You May or May Not Have First Book Overwhelming Success, But Be Patient

Maurice Valency thought that failure is very difficult for a writer to bear, “but very few can manage the shock of early success.” P.G. Wodehouse said that success comes to a writer rather gradually, and that it is something of a shock to him or her to realize the heights to which they have risen.

Humorist Robert Benchley said, “It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”

 

Your Main Goal Is Production of Text, so If You Write Very Fast, You Can Produce Lots of Books

In his life Alexandre Dumas, pere wrote 1,500 volumes. British author John Creasey and French author George Simenon each wrote more than 500 books. Earle Stanley Gardner wrote 140 books. He dictated 10,000 words of text a day and once worked on seven books at the same time.

 

As You Can See, Writers Lead Fascinating Lives. But Don’t Believe Them

Playwright Lillian Hellman said writers are “fancy talkers about themselves.” She said that if she had to give advice to young writers she would say, “Don’t listen to writers talk about writing or themselves.”

 

 

© 2020 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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