Whether you find creative people in remote little mountain kingdoms accessible only by mule or in big, modern, cosmopolitan cities, you will discover that they are surprisingly alike. The many traits they share are not all favorable; some are obstacles. Yet those traits–the worst and the best together–prepare creative people for fascinating lives other people look at with admiration and envy.
Feel deeply and are gifted. They are people whose ecstasies and traumas will be the raw material for their creations–never to be forgotten, but reflected again and again many times in the works they contribute to the world.
May be “overlooked” as school children. Their talents unrecognized, they may have undistinguished elementary and high school careers, only to be recognized for their significant achievements later in life to the surprise of everyone.
Are self-absorbed, concerned first and foremost with themselves, their own wellbeing and state of mind, their projects and their cherished and most private desires, needs, hopes. Their self-absorption can make them overly emotional, temperamental, and difficult. But self-absorption is a necessary feature of a creative personality.
Proud, may react defensively, angrily, bitterly to criticism.
Sadly, at times may be too emotionally ill to work, particularly poets and writers who may be victims of the high and inexplicable incidence of debilitating mood disorders affecting them.
Have a strong belief in, respect, and enthusiasm for their art.
Need confidence. Confidence grows exponentially with each success. The most accurate predictor of future success is past success, as “Since I have written a best seller before, I can do it again.”
Are often “seduced” by their art. There is no shortcut to the tremendous amount of experience necessary to become highly skilled in an art. It is hard for someone in the arts not to see their art taking over more and more of their time and possibly becoming their most important activity, finding themselves doing everything for their art.
Are rebellious, bold, and open to new experiences. More daring than the majority of people. Have no fear of risks.
Have an insatiable need to establish rapport with and hold an audience–followers, fans to applaud them. And yet, deprived of an audience, they will still work just as conscientiously.
Will of necessity bloom late due to the difficulties of becoming established, overcoming a sequence of hurdles, and mastering their chosen art. Late developing, being “behind,” they needn’t despair because they often accelerate and “catch up” quickly after their first successes, often surpassing those who bloomed sooner.
Tend to “live in their heads.”
Consider themselves the best judge of their work, its “foremost authority.”
Are lucky to have the particular creative talents esteemed by society that make them ideal writers, artists, actors, dancers, composers, etc. as if they are people who have been ordered from a catalogue.
“Know who they are.” Are marked by a clear, unambiguous sense of identity, as “I am an historical novelist specializing in women’s roles in England during the Victorian era.”
Can be characterized as having heightened perceptions of the drama in the world and the beauty and importance of their art. In time they develop a “novelist’s mind,” or a ”painter’s mind,” or an architect’s, or dramatist’s mind, etc.
Can be perfectionists who are extremely hard on themselves and others (loved ones, associates, subordinates).
Are not driven by the same needs as even the people dearest to them. (That causes conflicts).
Hold sacred their independence (Will fight for it, don’t want to lose it) Hate having their freedom interfered with or restrained.
Are far more self-disciplined in their work than most people in other fields.
Can be playful, child-like, humorous, silly, fun to be with, and seem younger than their age.
Are committed to the development and refinement of their talents; motivated by “an urge to improve.”
Are exuberant, often boastful, about their achievements.
Must be patient and longsuffering because if they reach high-level mastery and become famous they will have persisted doggedly through thick and thin for years; many “rough spots on the road” appear in a creative person’s career.
Are strengthened by powerful needs to be competent and to be respected.
Benefit from a rare ability to focus on one object, problem, or task for extended periods without being bored or losing interest. (Facilitates completing “big jobs” like writing novels and painting murals.)
Strive to find “the one true voice” that expresses them vividly and accurately. (Doesn’t happen overnight.)
Generally find more pleasure working alone than working in groups; do not avoid, but relish, solitude.
Must quickly develop a capacity for mature self-criticism, objectivity, and judgment about their work and their abilities
Highly value authenticity, integrity, and sincerity.
For survival must become skilled at overcoming obstacles, of which there are many in the arts.
Have a practical problem-solving intelligence; prefer difficult to easy problems.
May show minimal interest in current events, gossip, and politics–not interested in discussing them, “tune them out.”
Creative people possess many gifts, many strengths, and many imperfections. As imperfect as anyone else, they nevertheless benefit the world in innumerable ways.
People in every walk of life and in every hemisphere on earth–in cities, on deserts, in towns and villages–long to create something. My nine year old grandson is a talented artist and cellist studying architecture. His six year old sister takes dance and will begin taking piano lessons in the fall. Their forty two year old father was an excellent cellist in his youth and was inspired by the performance of a famous cellist to return to it last year. My wife, is a former cellist, and has taken up water colors and has returned to the piano. I write every day. I have for many years, and when I am not writing I am thinking about it and planning what I will write. We are representative people no different from millions of others with whom we share the globe because the current era is an Age of Heightened Creativity. Little children and women and men of all ages are bent on having creative experiences. They will not let their creative instincts be stifled.
I think it is worthwhile to look at what happens to creative people who have turned to art for fulfillment.
If You Are to Be an Artist, a Decisive Moment Occurs
A decisive moment occurs early in your life or later—an experience happens—and if you are to be an artist, you become aware that this art is the direction that fits you as no other direction will. You feel that it will lead to fulfillment that you probably would not enjoy were you to follow another route. You’ve had a crystalizing experience in a critical moment when you were first focused and organized toward an artistic purpose you knew was right for you and which you wished to pursue further, a sudden attachment to an artistic field that brought with it a motivation and a sense of knowing what you wanted to do in life.
It became a permanent part of your entire being–an idea, a theme, or an image that became a guiding force in your life. You may not be conscious of it, but it starts you out in a creative direction, and gives you a sense of moving steadily in that direction, of heading straight toward something concrete and specific. Making a living in art is difficult and so most artists must find financial security other than in art. But whatever your occupation if you are to be an artist you will define yourself first as an artist, an accountant, HR manger, or English teacher second.
Nature Cooperates With Gifted People
In his Confessions Saint Augustine wrote, “People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long course of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.” Artists may be guilty of being so totally absorbed in their work that they neglect their health and their families, but are rarely guilty of passing by themselves without wondering. They wonder insatiably about themselves, and explore themselves continually. They do not always understand how it happened that they are more gifted than others but are fascinated by what capabilities they discover in themselves that make their art possible.
Nature equips artists for the creative pursuit that most suits them, making available to them what often will be their most highly developed skill, their core capability, and with an aptitude for a particular art–for painting rather than writing, or acting and not dancing, for example.
Noted composers and performing artists in musical fields–so sensitive to sound and tone—possess what the Germans call Horlust–“hearing passion.” Writers–particularly poets and lyrical writers–have a word passion (they adore words), and painters adore colors and shapes, often from the cradle.
The Self-Absorbed Artist
Artists are absorbed in themselves and smitten by their craft for many practical reasons: first of all because the task of being creative is not like any other tasks. Art comes from the mind of the one person you are, and your duty is to probe that mind’s depths and breadths every time you create. You must plumb from it words, or music, or colors that will be shaped into a finished work with your name on it that will be passed on to an audience who will think, “This is the creation of… (your name); no one else’s. I wonder what they’re like.”
The Inner World of Artists
In a poem poet Emily Dickinson said that the soul selects her own society and shuts the door. Often what is sacrificed and left outside the artist’s closed door is the world of ordinary life–of Wordsworth’s “getting and spending,”
Jean Paul Sartre said, ‘Rather than face the real and terrifying risks of becoming, many human beings prefer not to develop behind the structures, rules, and patterns that society gives them.” Those things may have little or no importance for creative people. Marcel Proust said, “Those who have created for themselves an enveloping inner life pay little heed to the importance of current events.”
What is inside the shut door is the artist’s rich inner life from which creative products pour–without stopping if the artists explore themselves more and more deeply. Transformation of what is inside the artist into what is outside is the overriding goal –to make a book, a painting, a song or a symphony — that is completely as the artist wishes and offering it out to be shared with an appreciative world.
To Artists We Remember Best, Their Art Is All-engulfing.
If you are an artist you are the embodiment of your art. There can be no separating one from the other–art, artist–the work, the producer of the work. You are a daughter or son, citizen of a country, lover, and teacher, true, but you’re also an artist and that artist’s identity may be your center of gravity.
Your art is always somewhere in your mind. It is being processed–being worked up into a properly embellished work–and it is impossible to extract your personality from the work. You cannot be hidden even if you wished to hide. Creative works are the products of the whole person: your intelligence and courage, talents, training, and commitments, your energy, and your memories.
Novelist Henry Miller said, “I don’t care who the artist is, if you study him deeply, sincerely, detachedly, you will find that he and his work are one.” Novelist Joseph Conrad said, “The writer of imaginative prose stands confessed in his works.” Pablo Picasso said, “It is not what the artist does that counts, but what he is…What interests me is the uneasiness of Cezanne, the real teaching of Cezanne, the torment of van Gogh, that is to say the drama of the man.” Artists may try to eliminate themselves from the work, but they can’t. Henry James said that the artist of a work “stands present on every page of every book from which he sought so assiduously to eliminate himself.”
Poet W.H. Auden wrote, “Speaking for myself, the questions which interest me most when reading a poem are two. The first is technical: ‘Here is the verbal contraption. How does it work?’ The second is, in the broadest sense moral. What kind of guy inhabits this poem? What is his notion of the good life or the good place? His notion of the Evil One. What does he conceal from the reader? What does he conceal even from himself?” William James said it is the amount of life in the act of creation which artists feel that makes you value their mind.
How Is Creative Excellence to Be Identified In a Person?
As a creative you’re specially endowed with (and may have been born with) not only “creative stuff” but with an assortment of personality qualities that equip you specifically for the writer’s, painter’s, actor’s, composer’s, architect, or dancer’s role. And it’s that identity that gives you the sense that you’re a person with a definite life task—to write, dance, paint, etc.–to create something that comes from your mind, your spirit, and your muscles.
What does a person need to be creative: an active, complex, and excitable mind, and a combination of such inner qualities as curiosity, obsessiveness, doggedness, and endurance. Plus an openness to experience, and an abundance of physical strength and energy. And a high tolerance for ambiguity.
“Develop an interest in life as you see it; the people, things, literature, music—the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls, and interesting people. Forget yourself” (Henry Miller).The most interesting thing in art is the artist’s personality. Artists need intensity: “Nothing is at last sacred but the intensity of your own mind” (Ralph Waldo Emerson).
Artists must be people of action because their main goal is production of works over which they think and sweat. Jean Paul Sartre said, “There is no reality except in action” and said, “Man is nothing else than his plans; he exists only to the extent that he fulfills himself; he therefore nothing else than the ensemble of his acts.”
Artists must be feeling beings because whatever the art may be, the artists’ aim is to express emotions. “Every day I attach less and less importance to the intellect. Every day I realize more that it is only by other means that a writer can regain something of his impressions, reach, that is, a particle of himself, the only material of art” (Marcel Proust). When they are denied the expression of emotions they experience conflict and tension that must find an avenue of relief.
According to critic Malcolm Cowley “Genius is energy–mental energy first of all, but sometimes…physical, emotional, and sexual energy. Genius is vision, often involving the gift of finding patterns” (where others see a random collection of objects.) “Genius is a memory for essential details. Genius…is the capacity for brooding over a subject until it reveals its full potentialities…Genius is also a belief in oneself and the importance of one’s mission, without which the energy is dissipated in hesitations and inner conflicts.”
Besides genius, a creative person has to have talent: technical skills, self-critical ability, and notions about how to present their work so that it appeals. The only obligation that art can be held to is that it be interesting. Who will be the judge of that? Composer Igor Stravinsky preferred the general public: “I am convinced that the spontaneous judgment of the public is always more authentic than the judgment of those who set themselves up to be judges of works of art.”
The Artist’s First Notable Work
The “years of silence” artists often experience is the period when they–even those who are highly gifted–have few tangible successes, or none at all. But that period is not wasted or unimportant. It is a crucial period of growth when the artist acquires knowledge and experience that through practice will culminate in the artist’s first notable work.
What follows then is the full flowering of the artist’s capabilities. Those capabilities become automatic. Then there usually is a rapid increase in the artist’s production of his or her best works that continues for years. There need not be a period of decline. Many artists produce popular works into old age.
Children and adults may drop out, but those who turn to art may well be playing the cello or dancing or painting, only getting better and enjoying their art perpetually–all their lives– with fond memories of what they accomplished and of the exciting people they met on the path they took.
Although talent in the arts most often shows itself early, because it takes so many years to develop their talent and become highly proficient in the arts, people who will become expert musicians, painters, performers, and writers can expect to be late bloomers. Artists who perform at a high level do not demonstrate remarkable talent in short order. They are not usually in their twenties or thirties, but in their forties, fifties, and sixties. All spend many years developing the knowledge, attitudes, and skills that will eventually enable them to be recognized for their mastery. All arts involve learning form and the art’s devices, and the need for control, craft, revisions, and structure–time consuming efforts. All begin by imitating existing techniques they have studied.
Harriet Doerr’s first novel was published when she was seventy three, and won the National Book Award. Playwright George Bernard Shaw and novelists Sherwood Anderson and Joseph Conrad were famous late bloomers. American short story specialist Raymond Carver was too. Painters Henri Matisse, Paul Gauguin, and Grandma Moses bloomed late, as did composer Camille Saint Saens. Gauguin worked for years in the French stock market before quitting and turning to art, and Polish Conrad who would become the quintessential stylist in English, didn’t speak or write a word in English till he was in his twenties.
A survey of 47 outstanding instrumentalists found that their ability was first noticed on average at the age of four years and nine months. Then they began a very long and arduous period of development of their talent. Pianists work for about seventeen years from their first formal lessons to their first international recognition, involving many thousands of hours of intense practice. The fastest in one study was twelve years, and the slowest took twenty-five years. In other fields you may even be an early bloomer, but in the arts if your expertise is to be at a high level of mastery, unless you are a Dylan Thomas, a rarity who was at his peak at nineteen, you had best avoid discouragement and expect to bloom late.
Trouble Getting Started: Two Examples from The Arts
Late Bloomers have trouble getting started, but once they decide what to do with their lives, there is no stopping them. Sometimes the very tardiness of their entering into a field is a powerful motivator to make up for lost time, “catching up” with people of equal age who started years sooner and often surpassing their accomplishments. They think, “I have no time to waste anymore.” They buckle down, focusing, achieving, feeling surges of vitality which if they are in the arts they turn into paintings, novels, plays, movies, buildings and museums, and so on.
Novelist Raymond Chandler was fired from his high-paying executive job (chairman of five corporations at the same time) and found himself without an income. Luckily, he had a talent and became a writer, but not producing a first short story until the age of forty-four and his first novel at fifty-four. That book–The Big Sleep–was a success and spawned quickly many other works–many novels, short stories, essays, articles, and screen plays. Vincent van Gogh, a troubled soul, spent most of his life searching unsuccessfully for a field to work in, trying this and that, believing that there was an appropriate occupation for everyone, including himself. He turned to a life of serious painting at thirty-three. In the brief five years remaining in his life his energy, which was almost superhuman and beyond belief, was ignited, and he produced three thousand works.
The Life Pattern of Late Bloomers
When the majority of their friends and associates are settled in a career and life style, late bloomers are not. Late bloomers may eventually reach the height of their achievements and fulfillment which I call “their true destiny,” but later in life. Their lives fill us with optimism. They demonstrate that whatever your condition at present, whatever your age, a fulfilled life, even one you may not have remotely anticipated, may await you.
To bloom is to reach your true destiny, to live intelligently, not stupidly, to come into your own, to find fulfillment. The discovery of your true destiny can come early in life, or in the middle, or late. It’s the bell curve: of those who bloom: a minority bloom early, the great majority bloom in their middle years, and a minority bloom in their sixties, seventies, or later. But some people never bloom because they don’t set their minds to.
The Sense of Constructing Yourself As You Go Along
If you’re a late bloomer, you’ve made false starts. You haven’t peaked yet, haven’t reached your destiny yet, but you may be determined to bloom one day. Late bloomers are more willing than most to persevere and if need be to fail but try again and again until they reach a life they desire. If you are a late bloomer, more than most people you have the sense that you’re constructing yourself as you go along, even rejecting what other people may call golden opportunities if those opportunities don’t appear to lead you in the direction you desire most.
For example, I had published books before with good presses, starting in my mid-twenties, but my first important book with a major publisher (Doubleday) was published when I was forty-two. The next best seller was published three years later. Before I knew it I was making speeches about them to audiences of thousands in auditoriums across North America and in Europe. I have a flair for public speaking and present myself well, and was approached by an agent with the goal in mind for me to have a national television talk show. It was an excellent opportunity and would have paid extremely well. But my wife and I talked it over and I decided that what I wanted to do with my life above all else was simply to sit at a computer in my upstairs work room while my four children played noisily downstairs and my wife came up once in a while to say hello, and produce artful paragraphs that reflected my years of hard work and training. To me that was blooming. I turned the opportunity down. Late bloomers often make similar very difficult decisions while they are constructing themselves.
Late Blooming Is Problem-Solving
When people try to solve problems, the solutions arrived at toward the end of the solution-generating period are the best. The most effective problem-solvers tend not to accept as the solution the first or the first flurry of solutions that come to mind. Their thinking is, “This is a good-looking solution all right, but there may be better ones,” and they continue to work on solving the problem. They hold out for a better answer. This is called “deferred judgment” and requires that you live in ambiguity, possibly for a long time. But people in the arts have a higher tolerance for ambiguity than the great majority of people. It’s not far -fetched to view late bloomers as people who defer judgment for a period of time–even many years–living patiently in ambiguity until finding a solution to the problem of living their life and reaching what is, for them, a more highly fulfilling existence that makes full use of their talents. If your life is not fulfilling, you know it. No one need tell you.
The Importance of Missions, Callings, and Occupations
Most people–possibly all–who find fulfillment later in life find it in a mission, calling, or vocation. You cannot be dissatisfied when you’re doing the work for which you feel you were brought into the world, a thought that consoled Raymond Carver through his alcoholic’s torturous life. Psychologist Charlotte Buhler was concerned with people finding fulfillment in a “task” as artists find in their art. She wrote, “We find our most complete fulfillment if we can be ourselves and do what we like to do while dedicating ourselves to a task we believe in. In this we transcend ourselves, but simultaneously we satisfy ourselves.” George Bernard Shaw said, “This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one.”
Getting More Education and Training Is a Route Many Late Bloomers Follow
Late bloomers need more time to get settled. My son was a high-powered advertising salesman making a lot of money. He began to dread his work. He was unhappy because he felt he wasn’t doing anything meaningful. He wanted to work in a helping profession. He had been hit by a car and sustained serious injuries and underwent a long, painful recovery. His friend was killed in that accident and my son was deeply affected. He felt a powerful need to apply himself to serving an important goal that went beyond his own self-interests. In his late thirties he went back to school and acquired a Master’s degree in social work. He now provides therapy to people who survive traumas as did he.
Going back to school as a transition to another field is a strategy late bloomers find appealing, in essence ending one career and starting another.
Some Goals and Interests the Late Bloomer Just Does Not Forget
Or, you may set out again in pursuit of goals that were dear to you in the past and you’ve neglected, possibly for a long time. Especially determined people are more likely than most to find success by changing their lives in mid-stream, pursuing abandoned purposes and projects, resuming activities and interests that they have laid aside, sometimes many years earlier, but never stopped thinking about. Herbert guided tours through the North Woods before stopping to assess what he wanted. After asking himself hard questions about where his life was going he returned to his earlier interest in medicine. He went back to school and became an MD. Wally Amos was an unsuccessful Hollywood talent agent who found that he had always enjoyed most baking cookies. So later in life he opened the first store in what would grow into the Famous Amos Chocolate Chip business.
It Is Never Too Late To Become the Person You Are Supposed To Be
No matter your age or position in life– a seventy-three year old grandmother of ten, a middle-aged druggist, or a young clerk, housewife, or college student– you can always become the person you have the wherewithal to be. Because you haven’t bloomed yet doesn’t mean you won’t. Your heights of satisfaction and accomplishments may be ahead of you. When you bloom isn’t the important thing. Blooming at all is.
Have you bloomed? If you haven’t what are you going to do about that? People who aren’t leading satisfactory lives haven’t bloomed at all, and many are trying to, but many have never started trying, and just as many have given up. Better to start if you haven’t already, whatever your age or condition in life. You can always forget the past and start out again, making no excuses for starting out late. Experiment, follow your instincts, and assess yourself and your feelings about your life. Are you going right or are you going wrong?
You can either search for fulfillment or flee from it. You can’t trade it for someone else’s fulfillment because theirs seems easier or more profitable or praiseworthy. Yours is yours. It stands in need of you. You are asked to fit yourself to it. It is given just as it is, just as the yellow sun and blue sky are given just as they are.
You may not be doing something you should be doing and because of that may not be feeling the creative zest that should fill you while you write, paint, compose, practice, or perform. Let’s begin by asking why some creatives work tirelessly while many of their fellow creatives’ time spent doing the work they should be doing is minimal.
A secret is the rewards the former give themselves. The operating principle is simple and clear–easy to understand: it is human nature to want to do things which you will be rewarded for doing.
Creatives who reward themselves for their efforts work harder and longer, accomplishing more than those who perform the same tasks, but don’t reward themselves. And self-rewarders are much more likely than non-rewarders to solve the problems they face while performing their craft. Rewards strengthen their problem-solving persistence, and persistence is the only way difficult problems of an art will be solved.
Don’t wait until the whole task is finished before rewarding yourself. Reward yourself for finishing components of the task. For example, a poet might reward herself after completing a stanza or a line. An actor, known for his spellbinding performances, might give himself the task of learning his lines to perfection (as he always does) before he rewards himself with a glass of wine. The reward needn’t be major. Just so it’s something that you find pleasurable.
It is probable that if you increase the rewards you give yourself, you will find yourself putting in more time at your craft (another principle is that the more time you spend developing your abilities, the more successful you will be.) By rewarding yourself you will probably become more adept at solving the creative problems facing you than you have been, and will accomplish more than you are accustomed to. Self-rewards also increase concentration.
Rewards are particularly effective when what you’re working on is tedious, as the crafts of art may sometimes be. The person who is under the misconception that the artist’s life is romantic and so exciting that it is free of boredom hasn’t known how dreary making creative things can sometimes be.
You may make the reward of breaking for dinner or going to a movie contingent on putting the finishing touches on the article. Or, as a reward, get away from your work place and do something pleasant and refreshing: go to the zoo, visit a museum, talk to your friends, walk to the store and buy a Reese’s Pieces.
Ernest Hemingway said, “Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times.” Rewards that are a result of your accomplishments increase your self-confidence and are an antidote to discouragement. Self-confidence is crucial to all artists. Achieving your goal may be all the reward you need, but if there aren’t any rewards along the way to the goal, you may feel little or no motivation to continue working and may be susceptible to the scourge of discouragement.
The greatest danger facing a creative is the possibility of quitting. When you quit, your career ends. The majority of creatives quit–hundreds of thousands every year– from the little boy or girl who, although gifted, doesn’t want to practice anymore, disappointing parents whose hopes were high, to the writer who for years has never had a work published and thinks, “What’s the use?” Quitting is more likely to occur if the creative receives no rewards from continuing to work and thinks it is hopeless to go on. A reward brightens your spirits and makes you want to go on.
If rewards you need do not come from the outside, they must come from yourself to sustain you until eventually they come from the outside too. The greatest predictor of future success is past success. If you’ve succeeded once, you can do it again. Have faith. In other words, all that may be necessary to supply the motivation to go on working for years may be a single success. But if you give up, even that single success, as important as it could be, will be unreachable.
Decide how you’ll reward yourself. Custom design your rewards to suit yourself. Some people devise complex systems of rewards involving charts where they record steps on the way to the goal. Parents sometimes use this rewards of this kind to encourage children to practice. For me, “making paragraphs” that I think are pretty good is a reward in itself. Good, clear, paragraphs bring a strong feeling of satisfaction—a glow of overall contentment that I’ve worked energetically and efficiently and it’s paid off. I look at paragraphs on the screen and they excite me.
Then as a further self-reward, after a substantial workday I get to read the wonderful books I collect that are waiting in stacks downstairs for me. To get that feeling that will last into the next working day, leaving a residue in my mind of language beautifully used–to read those books–l will work very hard for hours, even when the work is not enjoyable and seems to be going nowhere. But if I don’t persist, I give myself no reward.
Make self-rewards you’ve designed for yourself a key part of your work schedule and see positive changes in your creative behavior. Don’t forget to reward yourself every day. Begin now by listing the rewards that will motivate you most strongly: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on.
When you do a good job you might walk through a rose garden. Or if you prefer noise, walk down a busy street.
Creatives do exceptionally well what others find difficult, and that is the definition of a talent. Talent is the distinguishing quality of creatives, usually talent in one field. Although a creative can be very talented in more than one area, as many bloggers are, as Vincent van Gogh, a wonderfully expressive writer of letters as well as painter was, the creative’s talent in one area dominates. My seven year old grandson is a much better painter than I am because he is gifted in art, and I certainly am not. (It doesn’t take long for the buds of talent to burst into bloom in a child). My talents are linguistic, and of all the arts I, who grew up in home where music filled the house, I’ve always wished I could write beautiful music–but I can’t.
I have a composer friend whose music is performed by major orchestras. He’s received many prestigious awards. But he can’t paint as well as my grandson. I can’t touch my friend in any aspect of music. He is much too talented musically for me. But he can’t write poetry or prose as well as I can. Nature specializes creatives and points them in a direction. Whether they will choose to follow that direction in the course of their life or will not is their choice. How serious they will become about developing their talent–whether refining it to a high level or ignoring it–is up to them.
When you’re making use of your main talent you’re as effective as you will ever be in any area of your life because your talent is what psychologists call your “dominant faculty.” Putting it to use habitually, day after day, to be free without being interfered with in any way, is a wish, a hope, a goal, of all serious creatives.
For the creative the quality of curiosity is extraordinary because it is so intense. Also there is a fascination with how everything works, fits together, and is useful that starts of its own accord in childhood and stays with creatives to the last day of their life. Being curious and having an aptitude for picking up knowledge here and there is important. People who have stored up a wide range of knowledge have a very good chance of being creative. Once they are serious creatives and are deeply involved in their field, they have a hunger for extensive knowledge of it: “The most eminent creators are consistently those who have immersed themselves utterly in their chosen field, have devoted their lives to it, (and) amassed tremendous knowledge of it” (Geoff Colvin).
Then there is a desire, impossible to satisfy in a single lifetime, to create original things–poems, symphonies, paintings, performances–that are added to the culture, and in doing so to leave behind at career’s end a legacy, the traces of a vital human being who walked this earth, breathed, achieved, and had a personality, a name, and a reputation which will outlive the talented person by a year, or ten, or a hundred.
At a certain eventful time in creatives’ careers when they are no longer a novice and have matured as a craftsman, the need to paint or write, compose, act, or dance takes over, becomes powerful, and can’t be ignored. This is a turning point in the career of the creative, a new level of involvement with their craft. The creative may well feel as novelist Henry James did, that “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.” The creative becomes willing to give up other rewards for the sole experience of practicing an art because it is both fulfilling and challenging in a way little else is.
To practice the art may be more than adequate compensation for disappointments in other areas of life. Disappointed in love or work, if novelists they may choose to stop thinking of their hurt and turn their active minds to the task of writing a story with many characters and an intricate plot. Rather than grieving a loss, a ballerina turns to the only art she’s known since childhood and begins to warm up.
There is now something in the movements of the body and mind of creatives as they work, of muscle and thought, of experimenting with ideas, and entering the pleasant elevated mood of losing oneself in the work–some force implicit in the creative act–an urge that is more intuitive than rational, subliminal and subconscious. Those aspects of the processes of creation add up to an experience which may be so blissful that it can be as addictive as abuses of alcohol, drugs, gambling, and sex. But creativity is a positive addiction, not a harmful one.
As a mature creative, your thoughts are continually on how to get better. In an interview Pablo Casals, aged ninety, was asked why he, the best cellist in the world who had been practicing the cello for eighty five years, still practiced every day, and he said, “Because I think am making progress.”
You’re already excellent at your craft–you are far above average–but are not satisfied and talk about getting better. You study, you read, you learn, you discuss. You seek feedback and help because no one in the arts or sciences–no one in life–succeeds in a noteworthy way without someone advising and helping them–a teacher, a mentor, a friend, etc. You work exceptionally hard because if you are an artist you can’t help yourself and there is no other way to work, not always knowing why you do, but feeling strongly you must.
You know, and experience of the creatives who have preceded you bears out, that the more hours you work, the better you get. And your skills improve–you can see that–and your work does get recognizably better–either slowly, or moderately fast, or by leaps that may astound you. Your satisfactions, ambitions, optimism, and hopes rise as your work improves.
Creative people are models of focused human effort. Few people seem to recognize that. In my many speeches to businessmen and women I had an unusual point of view. I referred to my life-long love–artists–as the best examples of highly motivated people. I’d say, “Strive to have the soul of an artist. Learn what it’s like to create something and the value of persistence from artists. Study artists. Read biographies of artists. Let their habits filter into your behavior.”
The commitment to write (or sculpt, perform on stage, etc.) can be extreme and may surpass other of your commitments. Nobel laureate writer Saul Bellow said writing had always been more important to him than his wife and children. There are other creatives such as painter Paul Gauguin and short story master Sherwood Anderson who felt the same and abandoned their wives and children for art.
The overriding aim of creatives is very practical. It is production: to produce polished works that must be completely finished because “It is only as the work is done that the meaning of the creative act” can be understood (Brewster Ghiselin). “The only certainty about writing and trying to be a writer is that it has to be done, not dreamed of or planned and never written, or talked about … but simply written” (Janet Frame). 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 creative sets out to answer the production question, “How can I produce the quality and quantity of work I want?” A perfect work place and good production routines and rituals are to be treasured. Simply by being at your work place ready to work repetitively the same time day after day, the power of good habits goes into effect.
If creatives are unable to work or the work doesn’t go well, they suffer. A creative must always have goals and begin every day’s work with those goals in mind: “Today I will buckle down and…” Many tremendously talented creatives aren’t nearly as successful as they have the talent to be. They are frustrated because they haven’t figured out for themselves the best work/production program that will achieve a desired level of high-quality output.
If you are a creative, if you could you would create night and day because for you there is never enough time and your talent finds resting very hard. Long before you finish one work, you’re contemplating the next. When artists work, they are seeking freedom of expression through perfect technique. Many of them are willing to sacrifice material rewards just to be able to exercise their talents and do their work without being interfered with or restrained–to make creative things free of conflicts. Many creatives choose lower paying jobs that will allow them time to do their creative work over higher paying jobs that don’t allow them to.
You may be working on 3, 5, or more projects simultaneously, moving from one to another as the mood strikes, putting one aside and picking up another. A creative’s lively, but unsettled production-oriented mind is a cornucopia spilling over with concepts, words, techniques, methods, facts, recollections, hopes, fears, needs, problems, solutions, texts, authors, disappointments, successes, plans, possibilities, family, projects, and if a professional, finances. It rests only at bedtime. And often, not even then.
The logical end of the Creatives’ Way is to have the identity of a capital C Creative, a Real Creative–to become known by your family, friends, teachers, editors, agents, other creatives and lovers of the arts, and to define yourself as “someone who is very serious about producing creative work, and is very good at it.”
The trappings of your chosen discipline appeal to you. Great writers “loved the range of materials they used. The works’ possibilities excited them; the field’s complexities fired their imaginations. The caring suggested the tasks; the tasks suggested the schedules. They learned their fields and they loved them….They produced complex bodies of work that endured” (Annie Dillard, The Writing Life).
When you’re away from your art you miss it. If you’re away too long you become edgy. Away from it longer, you become irritable and hard to live with. If you don’t do your art for 48 hours, your skills begin to decline. The only relief is to get back to your work as quickly as possible. You try to work at least one hour every twenty-four. If you work for four hours you are more satisfied with yourself than if you work for two hours.
Creatives are subject to the heights and depths of moods. The act of working makes you happy, makes you confident, and empowers you. However badly you might feel when you begin a day’s work, you feel better when you are working and when you finish you almost always feel good–but you need to work at least a little. Gertrude Stein said that even though she had never been able to write more than a half hour a day, all day and every day she had been waiting for that half hour.
When you’re producing your art, you’re searching for something: authenticity. You’re trying to cut through the fakery, the tricks, the games, the insincerity, the deceit and phoniness, and the lack of conviction so that you might tell the whole truth as you see it–accurately–withholding nothing. You are modest and try to do nothing merely to make a splash because you believe that it’s only through producing work that is sincere and deeply felt that the truths you’ve discovered and now believe in and feel strongly about will be expressed.
For many serious artists, the art’s process itself is more rewarding than the product that ends the process. In this world there are many competent writers who have almost no interest in having their work published. That doesn’t excite them, but the process does. There are pianists who prefer practice to performing in public.
Patience is a necessity for creatives. Eventually after a long period of impatience you learn patience. “It’s so hard for people to be patient. It took me a very long time to get better, and a very, very long time to begin to publish. I wasn’t very patient. It’s painful….Young people are pushed so hard right out of school to get the first novel done. It takes time to write well. You have to sit with it. You have to be patient with it. You have to trust your intuition and your own material and stay with it as long as it takes” (Andrea Barrett). It’s been said that genius is nothing but an aptitude for patience.
Creatives must have a stomach for loneliness and must be able to adjust to it when it strikes. They have no choice. Pleasure increases the more you work on your art, partially because you work alone, independent, isolated, on your own, self-sufficient, and that is how most creatives enjoy working. Since creative achievers typically engaged in solitary activities as children, they are no stranger to working alone. “Aloneness…is not merely the effect of the circumstances in the life of creators: it is often also part of their personality–for the creator is frequently apart and withdrawn even in the presence of others, and makes a deliberate attempt to seek solitude” (R. Ochse). Creatives solve many problems every day. Creatives are problem-solvers. Research on problem-solving shows that people are likely to come up with better solutions when they work alone. Poet Lord Byron said, “Society is harmful to any achievement of the heart.”
At times you live in uncertainties, doubts, tension, anxiety, and fear. But over the years you develop the strength to resist them. You acquire confidence and faith in your abilities and judgment. You fear fewer things. You grow less anxious and have a much fuller and more accurate understanding of yourself. The hardships, worries, disappointments, and stresses you encounter play a necessary part in making you stronger. Your strong faith in yourself helps you persist through obstacles, psychological blocks, and setbacks. Poet Stephen Spender said, “It is evident that faith in their work, mystical in intensity, sustains poets.”
Through your art you’re drawing out of yourself the end result of the entirety of your being–100 percent of yourself from your toes to the top of your head. That includes all the knowledge you’ve acquired, all the experiences you’ve lived through, good and bad, happy or painful, what your emotions are and the breadth and depths of feeling they are capable of because art depends so heavily on feelings, how courageous you are, what skills you bring, and what you aspire to become. Then, self-aware, you have a clearer understanding of who you truly are, and how high the talent you possess that is growing stronger and more apparent might take you, and what new pleasures your talent may open for you.
The beautiful paintings featured on this post are by Australian artist Richard Claremont. He says, “A successful artist knows that we do art because we have to. We would do it even if no one ever got to see it. What really matters is our commitment to our own vision, painting from our heart, creating work that matters.”
Artists have about fifty qualities that fit perfectly together to make them best suited to be artists rather than engaging in other occupations. One of those qualities is their love of and attachment to work. The majority of people do not like to work, consider work a burden, and would rather not work, but seek leisure and rest. But most writers, painters, actors, and ballet dancers who will become known vary from that norm.
Creative people do not avoid work, but absorb themselves in it, even though the work of a recognizably accomplished artist is difficult, extremely hard to master, and taxing. What drives them to the easel or keyboard every possible day is the joy of working and a desire for creative fulfillment, a special state of being that lies at the far end of hard work that evades most people.
The Turning of Backs by Janet Weight Reed (Circa 1984)
In The Creative Process Brewster Ghiselin states that artists and thinkers create the structure of their mental lives by means of their works. C. G. Jung said, “The work in process becomes the poet’s fate.” The work–the painting, novel, or musical composition–must be finished [half-finished doesn’t count] if the artist is to be satisfied because “it is only as the creative work is done that the meaning of the creative effort can appear and the development of the artist brought about by it is attained.”
William Faulkner, author of thirteen novels and scores of short stories, said that “the only thing a man can do for eight hours a day is work. He can’t eat for eight hours; he can’t drink for eight hours; he can’t make love for eight hours. The only thing a man can do for eight hours is work. ” To the artist work isn’t an obstacle, but a gift, a challenge not to be avoided, but to be embraced happily.
Faulkner’s secret was to stop looking at the clock. He wrote, “Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.” Staring at the clock never gets the artist’s work done.
Vincent van Gogh talks about the agonies artists feel when they are unable to perform artists’ work, his feelings then of being imprisoned in “an …utterly horrible, horrible cage.” Work is so essential to artists’ sense of wholeness that not being able to work at an artist’s role in van Gogh’s judgment reduces artists to a state of “nothingness” and uselessness.
Symbolic Self Portrait by Janet Weight Reed (Circa 1990)
When men and women commit to a serious artist’s life they introduce into their existence the most demanding effort and emotional upheavals generally they will have ever known. They might have been stevedore longshoremen on the docks of New York, but will never know days of exhaustion like this: “Work every day till your [sic] so pooped about all the exercise you can face is reading the papers” (Ernest Hemingway). Poet Emily Dickinson said that if she felt physically as if the top of her head was taken off, she knew that was poetry
Artists begin each day with the goal of working hard. I have been laid up with bad colds for weeks, unable to work, and it has been frustrating and truly painful for me when all I want is to get back to writing my book.
Artists are almost always bent on working hard: “Work is the law. Like iron that lying idle degenerates into a mass of useless rust, like water that in an unruffled pool sickens stagnates into a stagnant and corrupt state, so without action the spirit of men turns to a dead thing, loses its force, ceases prompting us to leave some trace of ourselves on this earth” (Leonardo da Vinci).
Photographed during the installation of three 18ft hanging mobiles commissioned for an architects building in Pa. USA Janet Weight Reed
Even striving to sew together an artist’s life is daunting: “The sheer labor of preparing technically for creative work, consciously acquiring the requisite knowledge of medium and skill in its use is extensive and arduous enough to repel many from achievement” (Brewster Ghiselin). “From the hard work of men are born…the fidelity to right practice which makes great craftsmen…[and] the devotion to a calling” (Joseph Conrad).
Every serious writer can identify with Flaubert’s “I have written no more than 25 pages in all in six weeks…I have gone over them so much, recopied them, changed them, handled them, that for the time being I can’t make head or tail of them.”
To persist like that takes drive and commitment that’s extraordinary. While you might be able to do that because you’re a writer and you know what’s needed, almost no one you know, from your brother-in-law to your auto mechanic, can imagine doing it voluntarily because they’re not artists–those individuals who think nothing of it.
The “Big Two” of Focus and Energy Lead to Artistic Success
Artists are exceptionally complex thinking and feeling beings who by the grace of nature possess the two main qualities leading to success whatever the field: intense focus and accompanying extraordinary quantities of physical and spiritual energy–Focus and Energy.
Many of the greatest artists and writers have an overpowering urge to produce specific works and have labored astronomically long hours for many years, frequently with no vacations to speak of because there was nothing they would rather do than their work—an unheard of 60 hours, 70 hours, 80 hours every week.
Twentieth century inventor and visionary Buckminster Fuller worked in a frenzy, concluding his work days only when overwhelmed by exhaustion. Honore de Balzac wrote fifteen hours a day for twenty years, and to fuel his energy was in the habit of drinking at least fifty cups of strong coffee every day—so much so that coffee poisoning was one of the causes of his death. Focus and energy are why artists can produce tremendous amounts of work, often four, six, ten times what less focused and energetic people produce.
Poet John Milton said that some people “scorn delights for more laborious lives” and asked, “What hath night to do with sleep?” The tremendous number of hours high achieving writers, sculptors, and ballet dancers are able to work may account for their ability to produce work after work at breakneck speed.
Another reason for such speed is because after a certain number of years of constant practice, producing works becomes automatic for artists. All the skills they need are intact and functioning at extremely high levels, and inspiration comes to them spontaneously and involuntarily immediately and without strain, like wine flowing out of a cask, when they sit down to type at their computer or stand facing an easel with brush in hand,
The pace you work at is as individual as DNA. John Irving says, “I write all my drafts by hand. It’s the right speed for me—slow.” Erle Stanley Gardner was different. He once worked on seven novels simultaneously, dictating 10,000 words in a day, and was the world’s fastest writer. And he was also a lawyer.
Portrait demonstration in Paris. Janet Weight Reed
Why is it that producing a creative work is often so much more painful than the envious non-creator can imagine? French novelist Gustave Flaubert wrote a friend, “You have no notion what it is to sit out an entire day with your head between your hands beating your unfortunate brains for a word.”
At times the novelist, essayist, poet, or dramatist writes night and day, then executes revision upon revision. Kurt Vonnegut said that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent if only they write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little each time. Although writing is sometimes grueling, tedious, boring, and very difficult, few other things matter as much to writers.
The act of producing art–so liberating to the artist–may also involve emotional suffering. Julian Green wrote, “if only people knew what lies at the heart of my novels. What a tumult of desires these carefully written pages conceal! I sometimes have a loathing for the furious cravings that give me no peace except when I am writing.”
If you are to succeed in a noteworthy way as an artist you must have the ability to focus intensely for extended periods of time. 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. They may not be good at math, may not care for games, may never go dancing. As a child all Pablo Picasso wanted was to draw or paint and was such extremely poor student in every other subject that people thought him stupid.
The Most Distinguishing Quality of Creatives
Persistent and enthusiastic absorption in their work is the most distinguishing quality of creatives in spite of Flaubert’s and Green’s kind of suffering, or your own very real suffering. Creative talent is indistinguishable from passion and intensity. You can hardly call yourself creative if you lack them.
Landscape – Brecon Beacons Wales by Janet Weight Reed
One reason writers and painters who are experts are more accomplished than writers and painters who are very good but not experts is that experts are more passionate about their work and spend more hours at it. The only way you could keep some artists from writing or painting would be to dislocate their fingers. Even before their fingers were fully mended, the artists would be back at work.
What makes writers and painters, actors and composers so persistent? It is their thrilling, hard-to-contain joy in the act of creation itself: “It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning [of a new work] quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything” (Virginia Woolf).
When they are creating, artists are capable of losing all sense of time and place, conscious only of the work before them. They will let nothing divert them from accomplishing their creative goals, working night and day if need be. 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.
Egrets in Flight by Janet Weight Reed ( recent)
The artist’s sometimes astonishing work production is aided by flow, a state described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In flow you’re fully absorbed in the act of writing, painting, acting, composing–more fully absorbed than you have been in anything else. Your concentration and positive emotions are strong and alert, and you know exactly what needs to be done. You put aside personal problems. You lose your sense of being in time and of having a body or a mind. Art comes out of you effortlessly.
You’re relaxed, “psyched,” focused, and yet detached at the same time—in a state of harmony with your surroundings. You’re as confident and feel as competent as you’ll ever be. When artists are in flow they are functioning at their most potent ability.
The main qualities of flow are the following ten:
Your goals are clear and not muddled. (When you work at your craft, your goals must be so clear that you can state them in a single sentence.)
There’s unambiguous, immediate feedback on performance so that adjustments can be made. It’s hard to become immersed in your art if you’re not certain about how well you’re doing, what’s feasible and what isn’t, and whether you’re wasting your time or are accomplishing something that’s worth accomplishing.
Your skills are well-matched with the goal you’re trying to achieve: whatever the skill the art calls for, you possess. You’re very confident that you have every skill you’ll need to reach the goals of the project at hand. To attempt something you lack the skills for will only frustrate you.
Your concentration is highly focused.
You’re not worried about failing.
There’s no sense of “self” separated from the work at hand. You do the work, but don’t think, “I am doing this work.” There is no “I” involved. You are non-attached.
Your sense of time is distorted. An hour seems like a minute or a minute seems like an hour.
The activity is so enjoyable in itself that you need no external reward. But pay and other external motivations can also lead to you being in the zone such as when after years of trying unsuccessfully, you have a great financial success and public recognition.
You don’t feel tiredness.
You lose your appetite or don’t notice it and you skip meals.
Being In the Groove
Very much like being in flow is being in the groove. In The Creative Habit dancer/choreographer Twyla Tharp talks about “finding your groove.” Grooves can last minutes, hours, or weeks or months, and are usually preceded by a breakthrough idea. What does it feel like when you’re in a groove?
“When you’re in a groove, you’re not spinning your wheels, you’re moving forward in a straight and narrow path without pauses or hitches. You’re unwavering, undeviating, unparalleled in your purpose. A GROOVE IS THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD. It’s where I strive to be, because when you’re in it you have the freedom to explore, where everything you question leads you to new avenues and new routes as everything you touch miraculously touches something else and transforms it for the better…And then it’s over…There’s no point in analyzing it. If you could figure out how you get into a groove you could figure out how to maintain it. That’s not going to happen. The best you can hope for is the wisdom and good fortune to occasionally fall into a groove.”
Hummingbird by Janet Weight Reed
The beautiful paintings included in this post are by one of my favorite artists, Janet Weight Reed. The images shown here are a tiny example of some of the work she has completed during a career which has spanned 45 years.The hummingbird, symbolizing the “unseen magic” of the world is her signature image.
Janet says, “Waking each day filled with anticipation, excitement and sometimes trepidation is I believe one of the many reasons that keeps an artist/creative going. To be in the flow and rhythm of creative work is a wonderful state of being. No matter what else is going on in one’s life a deep sense of fulfilment takes over.”
I won’t ask if you have ever been in flow or in the groove or have known the bliss of creation because if you are an artist working every day with seriousness, living the life of a creator, I know you have, possibly many times.
Instead, I’ll ask, “Were you in the groove today? How did your work go?”
I have been sitting here wondering for the last couple of hours:
How is it possible for creative people–those playthings of their rich imagination–to recognize how extraordinary and talented they really may be when so many seem blind to the heights they may reach if they are patient?
I’ve been wondering too:
How to inspire and rouse creative people to overcome the detours and false starts of the past that so often bog them down and now leap forward and move steadily, with new confidence, toward a more fulfilling creative life?
I was a guest on an hour-long lunch time TV talk show talking about my book Fighting to Win. It had just been named the best motivational book ever written. It identifies the main reasons people are blocked from reaching fulfillment. It prescribes specific remedies for leading a more liberated existence. As the show ended I said, addressing the viewers, “What I’m sayings is, ‘There’s so much to you, DO something with it.’“
Then I shook hands with and thanked the host and the engineer and left. The next day I was in my work room talking with my son who wanted to play hooky from school that day and wanted to talk it over when the show’s producer called. Her voice was excited. She told me that the response to the show “was incredible.” The phone had kept ringing late into the night: who was I, where could they get the book, would I be coming back? She asked me to come back for a “return engagement.” I said I would be happy to.
I am convinced that that little sentence that ended the show was the reason for the fuss. “DO something with it” was saying, “You are something, you have talents that you just must make use of because you will not have another life: this is it.”
All it took was for me to empower viewers out there–homemakers, unemployed people, people taking time off from work, and self-employed people–by reminding them that they are special and not to deny any more their own potential that they might have forgotten or never noticed.
Many people–possibly most, I believe–don’t think highly enough of themselves. Do you think highly enough of yourself? They underestimate themselves and their potential. They think other people can achieve noteworthy things, but not them. Because they are “ordinary.” They settle for lesser lives.
I’ve met many quietly magnificently gifted people who frustrate me and whom I’ve felt like shaking by the shoulders and saying, “Wake up will you: your life is happening and you don’t seem to be aware of it. Your life needs you. Half the days allotted to you have passed and how far have you gotten?”
But I was aware of the audiences’ greatness and had all the respect in the world for them and wanted to tell them: “Don’t waste a day of a precious life; get with it.”
I had talked with such conviction and compassion for them in my voice that they knew I had recognized something exceptional in people and they wanted to know more to help them get started in a new direction. Here’s the background of my thinking. You’ll see why I am so optimistic:
There is a Hasidic term that means “turning.” It’s the complete change of a person’s whole being. Quakers too use “turning” to mean the same major existential event. To realize that you can turn is to realize that you are at liberty to rotate a life that is facing one direction–your life at present possibly–and face it in another, to change the direction of your whole being at any time. What an insight that is.
It’s a misuse of a creative life to be able to turn, to feel the necessity to do it, to feel the powerful urge, and not to turn. Mary Oliver wrote about missing the opportunity to pursue a creative life when that was exactly what you should have done: “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call of creative work, who felt their own creative powers restive and uprising, and gave it neither power nor time.”
Is it time for you to turn?
An inner impulse pushes you and me and all other living things to become what we and they are equipped to become, regardless of how harsh or unaccommodating the environment we find ourselves in. People in the creative arts have often gone through periods of dire deprivation which they overcame. We can learn from them and from trees–oaks and birches, elms, and cedars.
Denied water, a tree is not helpless. It will send out its roots long distances in search of it. Hidden in shadows, it will twist and wind its branches until they reach blessed sunlight. The tree is driven by its nature not merely to survive, but to flourish. It is driven to be all the tree it can possibly be, as beautiful as it can be, as functional as it can be. A tree all twisted–whose life hasn’t been easy–isn’t it lovelier than a tree without twists?
You and I were brought into this world for the purpose of making the most of our creative lives and are driven by an innate urge to do just that, whatever obstacles, phantoms, ogres, and fears we must overcome to find happiness. You could have lived a thousand different lives, but are inclined toward the life of a creative. It is like no other life it was possible for you to have.
It is as though whatever power created us had a particular concept in mind of the creative person we each should become (I was to be a writer, starting at the age of eight; you were to be what?) And after conceiving of us, lovingly, with a gentle nudge, sent us sprawling into this unfamiliar world fully equipped with the complement of unique creative strengths it seems everyone envies and wishes they too had–unique talents, aptitudes, qualities, gifts, sensibilities, skills, intelligence, determination, energy, and inclinations–necessary to thrive and become the successful writer, artist, actor, composer, or dancer we really could be when we set our minds to that goal.
There was an expectation then that once on our own, we would decide what art we would follow and commit ourselves and work hard to achieve mastery of it.
In the course of a creative life that’s changing there is a particular period of upheaval when the momentum shifts and the creative who is moving in the wrong direction stops and starts in a more promising direction. That may entail a deliberate process wherein you set out intentionally, with forethought, to create a more fulfilling creative life, holding an idea of what your life could be steadily in mind, consistently showing the sense of purpose, motivation, and deliberate effort needed to turn that idea into concrete reality. Or a tremendous change in direction of a life may occur in the blinking of an eye.
American Sherwood Anderson turned. He was a successful businessman in Ohio, the President and owner of a profitable company who enjoyed writing his firm’s advertising copy. One day he noticed a stranger sitting in the waiting room outside his office. He asked who the man was and was told he was the printer who set the type for the newspaper advertising that Anderson wrote, and Anderson called him in. All he wanted to say, he told Anderson, was that while setting the type he always noticed how unusually excellent the writing was, that Anderson had a talent.
That was all there was, a printer taking time out to praise the quality of a client’s advertising copy. But it was an event that completely changed Anderson’s life. Anderson went home, cleared space in his attic for a desk and books, and began to write seriously. Eventually he gave up his business and turned to writing full time. With his book of short stories Winesburg, Ohio he became one of America’s major authors. He is considered one of the masters of the short story.
I’ve traveled a great deal and talked to privately, I’m sure, thousands of people about their lives. I’ve found so many times that all it takes to ignite a person’s desire to change their creative career for the better may be just a word or two of encouragement and confidence from another person they respect and trust, even a stranger–a guest on a TV show, for example, or a printer.
As a young man George Bernard Shaw wanted to be a novelist. Every year for five years he wrote a novel–one a year–and sent it to publishers. The manuscripts always came back rejected. But one day Shaw received, in addition to the standard rejection form, a note from an editor that unfortunately his novels did not fit their list. But then in the note appeared the words: “Your dialogue is wonderful. Did you ever think of writing plays?”
He never had, but then he started to, discovering that indeed he did have a talent for dialogue, eventually, of course, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature for his drama. Would Shaw have become a playwright had he not received that note of encouragement, or would he have continued to write bad novels, one a year and meet only failure, sensing he had talent but getting nowhere, or would he have given up writing?
Weary of being one kind of person, creatives about to bloom and produce finest creative works transform themselves into something else: “I don’t have to be the way I’ve been just because I’ve always been that way.” The worst excuse for not changing is to say, “That’s just the way I am. I guess I’ll never be any different.” You’re different if you say, “I don’t have to put up with this obstacle that’s holding me back for one more day “I can buckle down and get to work to develop my talents,” “What I always wanted to be–I can really can be that.”
Every day and every moment in each day you have the power to fashion a new creative life to your own specifications, training yourself, educating yourself, turning, encouraging yourself, forming friendships with other creatives, seizing opportunities, taking risks, working hard, applying yourself seriously to your craft till you are committed to it in a way you never have been before and your head spins gloriously. That will lead to a reshaped destiny all your own. It will be unique to you.
What can I say but, “There’s so much to you. DO something with it.”
Writers can learn many important, specific, things from other writers who are more experienced, skilled, talented, and knowledgeable. The three writers described here, a taste of whose beautiful work is included below, were masterfully gifted, serious craftsmen. The drive to write superbly dominated their lives. They breathed writing. The writing they labored over provides examples of exceptional achievements that writers wishing to cast a similar mesmerizing effect in their prose may benefit from. I hope you do.
Mesmerizing prose makes us feel emotions when we read by activating and feeding our senses of sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste because the reader experiences vicariously what he or she is reading. In mesmerizing prose, quickly, without delay, the writer sets the tone and mood; sad in the case of the first James Agee piece that’s coming up, wistful and nostalgic in the second, reflective in brilliant John Ruskin’s analysis of the unique abilities of the creative artist.
Charles Dicken’s excerpt has a different mood–satirical and bitter. The writing in all the pieces here is specific and as clear as fine glass. What other quality is as vital to good writing as clarity? No one wants to wade through prose that’s muddled. It shows a writer with a disorganized mind. Or one who has stopped at least one draft too soon.
A skilled mixture of nouns and verbs and a balance of showing and telling strengthens the text. Adjectives and adverbs are used sparingly. The passages are brief. They could have been much longer if the author desired. There is no mistaking the author’s voice. Other than Ruskin’s philosophical piece, the pieces mix description with action. They are not static; they have zip and they move. They point out the effectiveness of an author’s ability to create word pictures, all good writers being creators of images that come out of their mind in dribs and drabs, or torrents, to lodge in the reader’s mind, ideally memorably.
Every kind of writing improves with practice, but none benefits more than descriptive writing–a skill that can be learned. Rembrandt said, “The more pictures you paint, the better you get,” and the same goes for mesmerizing prose. The main ingredient of these three writers is fluency–the generation of numerous ideas (an ability of smart people with fertile, excitable, complex minds); the ability to “see a lot” in things,” more than lesser writers see. In the same way, a skilled painter, looking at a field of wheat or a human face perceives much more than most people with untrained eyes perceive.
Where does that ability come from? An active mind that is able to explore objects and ideas in impressive detail while always maintaining a consistent tone to express the details, pulling image after image recalled from the writer’s life from the conscious and subconscious mind where they are securely stored and always ready to be put to work in text.
Here’s a piece that creates a mood through simple diction and cadences reflecting the mind of the character being described. The excerpt is by James Agee (1909- 1955) from the nonfiction documentary Let Us NowPraise Famous Men. It is set among Southern tenant farmers during the American Depression. Agee–novelist, poet, movie critic, essayist, and screen writer–posthumously was called “the most prodigiously talented American writer of his generation.” About combining the skills of an artist to write a nonfiction documentary, he said, “Isn’t every human being both a scientist and an artist; and in writing of human experience, isn’t there a good deal to be said for recognizing that fact and for using both methods?”
“I am fond of Emma, and very sorry for her, and I shall probably never see her again after a few hours from now. I want to tell you what I can about her…(W)hen Emma was sixteen she married a man her father’s age, a carpenter… She has been married to him two years; they have no children. Emma loves good times, and towns, and people her own age, and he is jealous and mean to her and suspicious of her. He has given her no pretty dresses nor the money to buy cloth to make them. Every minute he is in the house he keeps his eye right on her as if she was up to something, and when he goes out, which is as seldom as he can, he locks her up: so that twice already she has left him and come home to stay, and then after a while he has come down begging, and crying, and swearing he will treat her good and give her anything she asks for… and she has gone back…Her husband can no longer get a living in Cherokee City. (H)e has heard of a farm on a plantation over in the red hills of Mississippi and has already gone, and taken it, and he has sent word to Emma that she is to come in a truck… and this truck is leaving tomorrow. She doesn’t want to go at all, and during the past two days she has been withdrawing into rooms with her sister and is crying a good deal, almost tearlessly and almost without voice, as if she knew no more how to cry than to take care of her life….but she is going all the same, without at all understanding why.”
You’ll find it worthwhile to read the section of In Let Us Now Praise Famous Men this excerpt is taken from to see how the writing you just read came out of the feelings of affection that developed between Agee and Emma.
Now here is a descriptive excerpt from Agee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Death in the Family. The novel shows the effects of his father’s sudden death on a young boy. This famous passage, set to music by Samuel Barber, is a prelude to the novel.
“We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee… On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt and I too am lying there. First we were sitting up, then one of us lay down, and then we all lay down, on our stomachs, on our sides, on our backs and they have kept on talking. They are not talking much and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine, quiet, with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth, and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of the night.”
Nothing dramatic happens on that lawn, but Agee communicates the preciousness of everyday life, and the boy’s feeling of calmness and security. But it is yet mixed with a feeling of the fragile nature of this family and the life he cherishes. The language, almost hypnotic, conveys how every child feels, and how most every adult feels remembering pleasant days of youth.
Here is an ideal example of analytical nonfiction. It is John Ruskin’s (1819-1900) writing on the nature of the imaginative mind from his book Modern Painters. Ruskin was the leading art/architecture critic of the English Victorian era and the best writer among all the critics. He explored the creative process. His writing style, based so heavily on a Biblical style, and his ideas, and original insights were widely admired by artists, critics, and the general public. They influenced Marcel Proust who spent six years studying them, translating them into French, and being influenced by them before setting out to write the monumental In Search of Lost Time. Ruskin claims, as I’ve believed as long as I’ve been writing, that once having experienced something, writers don’t forget it, but rather, having memorized their life, remembers its every detail. Writers and artists can remember every blade of grass on the street where they lived when they were ten. What one writes about, the other paints.
Here’s Ruskin writing about the painters he so admired:
“Imagine that all that any of these men had seen or heard in the whole course of their lives, laid up accurately in their memories as in a vast storehouse, extending, with the poets, even to the slightest intonations of syllables heard in the beginning of their lives, and with the painters, down to minute folds of drapery, and shapes of leaves or stones; and over all this unindexed and immeasurable mass of treasure, the imagination brooding and wandering, but dream-gifted, so as to summon at any moment exactly such groups of ideas as justly fit each other; this I conceive to be the real nature of the imaginative mind, and this, I believe, it would often be explained to us as being, by the men themselves who possess it, but that they have no idea what the state of other peoples’ minds is in comparison; they suppose everyone remembers all that he has seen in the same way, and do not understand how it happens that they alone can produce good drawings or great thoughts.”
Here is an extended metaphor drawing a parallel between fog and human behavior from Charles Dickens’ (1812-1879) Bleak House. Immensely gifted and inventive, Charles Dickens is generally considered the greatest Victorian novelist. In this satirical excerpt from Bleak House, fog reminds the narrator of the murky ethics and hypocrisy of the High Court of Chancery, metaphorically the Bleak House of the title.
“Fog everywhere. Fog up the river where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marsh, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs, fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships, fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his little ‘prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of the fog, with fog all around them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds…Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which the High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds this day, in the sight of heaven and earth.”
James Agee, John Ruskin, and Charles Dickens. If they were a baseball team, or a soccer team, what a powerful team they would be. All writing should be interesting, but why not go further and write mesmerizing prose using them as examples to learn from?
I think it’s well established that wherever they been born and bred, many writers–young, middle-age, or old–are shy. Certainly I personally have met and read about scores who are. Shy writers may be far more prevalent than we realize. Shy writers and shy artists, actors, dancers, soloists, and composers are well documented and may in fact be the rule rather than the exception in the world of artistically creative people.
As is true of all complex psychological characteristics, it is not easy to assess why a man, woman, or child is shy–what causes it– possibly particularly for the person who is shy and tries to understand why. Causes are part genetic and part environmental–that’s known; but that insight doesn’t tell us much about writers and shyness. Does serious writing (painting, acting, composing etc.)–possibly in an occupation–attract shy people because it requires so much introspection, savage self-criticism, and living much of the time in your head just as shy people do? Can shyness be outgrown? I think so. I’ve seen that happen.
Shy writers may puzzle us and make us think, “Why in the world should she (he) be shy?” when they possess all the qualities that should result in a more socially self-assured and confident person, (and confidence is so crucial to a creative.) They have qualities some people would flaunt, such as prodigious and unique giftedness, highly developed skill, physical attractiveness, stunning achievements, exceptional intelligence, and disarming charm. Yet many shy writers, from the most famous to the least famous, despite having everything a person could want, are chronically ill at ease in any spotlight, and can’t remember a time when they weren’t. They try their best to avoid drawing attention to themselves, and are dismayed or depressed when they can’t.
Of all the world’s short story writers, Russian Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), is generally acknowledged to be the best. By the age of twenty-six he was a national celebrity; fingers were pointed at him wherever he went. He never failed at anything, for example transitioning without any apparent effort from great fiction to great drama. He was cultured, well educated, and intellectually brilliant, the most popular Russian writer of his generation, and unlike most of us other humans, never suffered great sorrow. Yet he was shy.
His shyness might explain his hatred of personal appearances, promotions, exposure, and publicity. He refused to do readings: “I don’t recite…If I do it for three or five minutes my mouth dries up, my voice grows hoarse, and I can’t stop coughing;” “I recite abominably The main thing is I’m terrified. There’s a complaint called ‘fear of open spaces;’ well, I suffer from fear of the public and publicity.”
He was an innovator whose ideas on the art of short fiction–extraordinary economy of language, objectivity and complete absence of moralizing, lyricism, blurring of the boundary between protagonist and author, understatement, extremely brief openings (two or three lines at most) or none at all, surprising detail in physical description, repetition of key words, inconclusive endings–have become standard practice, changing the way that genre is created.
As an adult he had all the requirements of happiness. But it is possible that an absence of affection in his childhood permanently stunted his personality. He wrote: “So little affection came my way as a child that I treat caresses as something unfamiliar, and almost beyond my ken, now that I’m grown up. That’s why I can’t show fondness for others, much as I’d like to.” Extreme holding back of emotions, introversion, social discomfort, and self-effacement distinguished the mature Chekhov.
He said, “Father began teaching, or to put it bluntly, beating me before I was five. He birched me, boxed my ears, clouted my head, and when I woke up each morning I’d wonder if I’d be beaten that day. My brother and I were forbidden to play and lark about.” He described himself as “a serf’s son, a one-time shop boy (his father was a struggling, eventually bankrupt grocer), public school student, brought up to worship rank, to kiss priest’s hands, to defer to other people, who said thank you for every bite of food, who was often beaten, who had no galoshes to wear.”
Chekhov began what was to become, unexpectedly, a literary career as a struggling medical school student who submitted short comic pieces to humor publications. Later, as a serious writer, he was to say that his early comic works “exhibited no characteristic beyond silliness.” Soon he was writing a popular and widely discussed column of comic tales. But, he said, he was “bored stiff and longed to give it up,” much as he needed the fifteen rubles a month which it earned him. His creative imagination was so fertile that he bragged that he could select any subject at random, “an ash tray or even a wall” and make a story of it. He said all he thought about other than stories was “Money. Money. Money.” He vowed he would not die a journalist, an occupation of “scoundrels.”
He maintained a medical practice, and his identity as an author cannot be understood in isolation from that of Chekhov the physician. He wrote, “Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature my mistress.” He never asked for payment from struggling people in the arts. His medical practice supplied him with material, bringing him into close contact with people from all levels of society, and did so at times of crisis when they were too much under pressure to wear their usual masks. For a writer who specialized in detaching characters from their illusions about themselves that was invaluable. But he neglected his own health though he was aware that he was tubercular, and that that more than likely would be the cause of his death, as it was to be.
In 1886 veteran novelist Dmitry Grigorovich hailed Chekhov as a writer of genius with a remarkable literary career in store for him if he did not waste his talent writing trifles. Grigorovich wrote to Chekhov: “Judging by the different qualities of your undoubted talent, your true feeling of inner analysis, your masterly descriptive passages, the way in which you give a complete picture of a cloud at sunset in a few words, etc., you are destined, I am quite sure, to become the author of many excellent and truly artistic works.” It was Grigorovich’s letter that finally decided Chekhov to be more serious about his work, and to devote all his time to literature.
He turned away from writing comedies to more serious, literary writing, and then his stories became almost without exception perfect works of art. Publications asked him to name his own price. Chekhov responded with modesty, reserve, and anxiety. According to biographer Ronald Hingley, “There was no true satisfaction for him in all this fuss. He was meeting too many people; he felt over-praised,” in the way American novelist Walker Percy would feel seventy years later when he wrote, “Reading reviews of your own book is…a no-win game. If the review is flattering one tends to feel vain and uneasy.” At the age of twenty-nine, when he wrote the memorable “A Dreary Story,” Chekhov had firmly established himself as the finest active Russian fiction-writer of his generation.
When abruptly Chekhov’s stories began becoming widely popular and catapulted him from obscurity to celebrity something happened to him that he hadn’t expected. He became self-conscious and unsure of himself. He said: “Formerly when I didn’t know that they read my tales and passed judgment on them, I wrote serenely, just the way I eat pancakes. Now I am afraid when I write.” Janet Malcolm: “His letters of that period have a feverish, manic quality…He is alternately boastful and fearful. Chekhov’s letters now also begin to express his ambivalence toward writing that was to remain with him. They suggest that the literary artist…is doing something unnatural…Chekhov would often talk of idleness as the only form of happiness.” A similar tension between writing as legitimate work for a person to do appears in the biographies of many working class and middle class writers. Chekhov resolved his dilemma by slowing down and going at his work with more seriousness.
Praise of his work only irritated him because he doubted the critical abilities of those who praised him: “I yearn to hide somewhere for five years or so and tackle serious, meticulous work. I need to study, to learn everything from the very beginning because I am a complete ignoramous as a writer. I need to write…sixteen pages in five months, not eighty pages in one month.” Very self-critical,, he wrote, “For two years I’ve disliked seeing my work in print. I couldn’t care less about reviews, literary chat, gossip, success, failure, high fees.”
He ascribed to himself laziness, apathy, and idleness: “My flame burns low and steady without flaring and crackling. That’s why I never dash off fifty or sixty pages in a night, or get so absorbed in work as not to go to bed when I am tired. And that’s why I never do anything outstandingly stupid or remarkably brilliant. I think that if I lived another fifty years and spent all the time reading, reading, reading, and learning to write well…which means economically, then I’d bombard you all from a vast canon which would shake the heavens. But as it is, I am a pygmy like everyone else,” “Everything I’ve so far written is nothing compared with what I’d like to write.”
His personality’s reserve was so profound that he found it extremely difficult to establish intimate friendships with anyone, man or woman. Everyone closest to him was always aware of a certain distance that couldn’t be broached. Famous, renowned, envied, he had not a single friend. An acquaintance said, “He never opened his soul to anyone.” Chekhov was capable of touching deep emotions in his writing but was not able to make intimate contact with anyone in his real life.
But with his difficulties his achievements in the craft of short fiction are yet unsurpassed.
Whether they are five or seventy-five, beginning creators don’t know the first thing about their craft, but don’t know they don’t know. They’re playing, experimenting, discovering, having fun, and are thrilled to be creating, and that’s enough. Then in time, if they are to become more skilled writers, artists, actors, dancers, and so forth, they will realize they don’t know enough about the craft they’ve now become attracted to more seriously.
They want to get better and be more accomplished and have success. So they strive to learn as much as they can about their craft. That drive to get better and better still, to find their one true voice that activates even their deepest creative potentials, to learn, to reach consistent excellence over a long period of time dominates true creators as long as they live.
The more skillfully advanced creators know a tremendous amount about their craft and at times are capable of unique and extraordinary creative feats that make you gasp. Yet, they are incomplete. They realize there are many other things of a non-technical nature to know, having to do with surviving a creator’s sometimes intense, demanding, troubled, uneasy, or tragic existence. Preparation is the key to creative success, whatever the field. Without survival skills the creator is not fully prepared for a creator’s life.
They acquire survival skills or they do not survive: their career ends prematurely, or they crack up, or their talent abandons them, or the production of work grows increasingly difficult, the ease and effortlessness of the master disappears, leaving in its wake frustration and regret. Horace said that painters and poets alike have always had license to dare anything, but when they lose confidence they become afraid.
Stage I: At the start of their careers, would-be serious creators work as though technique and mechanics aren’t especially important. They have a story to tell, a message to communicate, a vision, and that’s all that counts. They start out full of naïve optimism. Unless they are creative geniuses who have powerful creative intuition that more than compensates for technical shortcomings the result is that the work they produce suffers from creative ailments.
The execution of the work may be dull, awkward, muddled, and show almost no regard for the audience—a failure of craftsmanship. Successes are few. Possibly there are no successes at all. Creators get depressed and doubt their talent: are they good enough or are they fooling themselves that they can produce work that will please them and please an audience? The root difficulty is being blind and deaf to the need for technical abilities. In time that becomes very clear to creators who may come to realize their technique stinks and needs many improvements.
Stage II: Intelligent creators now turn their attention to acquiring techniques so that their work becomes more coherent, less obscure, and less naïve. Technical abilities take over from inspiration. Creators become preoccupied with acquiring technical knowledge about their craft and the mechanics of producing quality work. They study to ferret out the secrets of the best in the field, read articles, books, and blogs. They take classes, educate themselves (the principal source of a creator’s expertise), find a mentor, locate good teachers, get involved in a writer’s, artist’s, or actor’s milieu, and may go to workshops, conferences, and retreats. They work hard. Their technical skills do improve. They are better creator this year than they were last year.
Stage III: Then creators realize that technique and mechanics are insufficient–that there are many creator’s survival needs they didn’t anticipate, and are unprepared for, and a whole set of little-discussed survival skills directly related to success and fulfillment that technique can’t help them with. Serious creators’ lives are full of pressures, strains, dilemmas, quandaries, and problems. Bonnie Feldman was of the same mind when she said in Writing Past Dark: “The bookstores shelves sagged with volumes on technique. A hundred authors explained how to show don’t tell, and why a story needs a conflict. Why hadn’t anyone written a book that would help me?”
What Technique Can’t Help You With
Creator-survivors must be natural, less controlled, less inhibited, less blocked with punishing self-criticism, more expressive and spontaneous. They must be balanced, flexibly-minded, less strained, less anxious–carefree, focused on their work, not themselves –manifestations of good mental health. How otherwise will they ever be able to “snare the spirits of mankind in nets of magic?” Technique will not teach creators those things, yet they are crucial to the writer’s, artist’s, actor’s, and performers’s well-being and productivity.
Technique will not teach you the single greatest survival quality of any successful creative enterprise: a desire to excel that dominates the creator, a need so strong that not much else matters as much. That is an empowering survival skill major creators possess without exception. Do you possess it?
Technique won’t help you overcome the miseries of self-doubt and discouragement—the creator’s main inner obstacles to success–that dreariness that has ruined tens of thousands of creator’s careers. Technique is terribly important, but it will not teach you the survival quality of simple, unadulterated courage in the face of hurtful setbacks, cruel criticism, and heart-breaking adversity.
Nor will it teach you the necessity of creator’s taking calculated risks, normally the only path to success. It will not teach you the survivor’s drive, high focus, and persistence which may be a more important success factors than brilliant intelligence. These are qualities creators must possess to survive.
Technique will not teach you the daily-needed psychological skills of optimism, powerful motivation, and stamina. Technique will not teach you a single one of psychological and spiritual survival skills that you need to supplement the creative techniques you’ve acquired.
Preparing For Survival
Creators should learn to dialogue among themselves freely, unabashedly, happily in their everyday creative lives about such needed Stage III creator’s inner survival qualities as strength, persistence, will power, commitment, empowerment, sense of purpose, discipline, good creative moods. And ideal creative moods, resilience, enthusiasm, guts, energy and sweat, passion, sacrificing for the sake of your craft, and boldness, doggedness, adaptability, endurance, patience, maintaining at all times a confidence of succeeding, and other dimensions of you, the creator. These inputs will make you a better-prepared.
If you lack those internal skills of the heart and mind you must acquire them just as you acquired creative technique. You can do that. You can acquire survival skills of mindfulness, meditation, and non-attachment. You can learn to endure rejection and manage stress. You can learn to listen to your body and enjoy your work more. You can become more optimistic and resilient. You can learn tranquility and peace of mind from reading people like the master Vivekananda. You can read biographies of great creators to see how they overcame adversity. You may wish to read my Fighting ToWin which has specific strategies to help you on your path.
Be aware of where you are deficient and what your survival needs are, as “I am not a confident person now; I must work on that.” Then you can set out on a program of self-development designed to better equip you for your chosen creator’s role, your creator’s life path that you may wish to follow till the last breath of your life.
Begin the day by asking, “Am I strong today?” “Will I persist?” “Will I be confident?” “Will I stop doubting my talent?” “Will I adapt and be patient?” “Will I be enthusiastic today?” “Will I be courageous?”