Category Archives: concentration

Why Writers and Artists Are So Intense

I wanted to know why artists and writers are so self-absorbed.

Then I wanted to know why writers, painters, and other artists bloom late.

In popular posts I addressed those questions. Now I want to know why so many writers and artists are intense and have intense personalities.

 

Waking, Wanting To Get Going

Hands typing on a laptopI was excited waking up at 3:00 A.M. yesterday, and I was not thinking of going back to sleep. I wanted to finish some poems where I had left off the night before. I thought, “Let my wife–a calmer, less excitable person–sleep; I love to work and I have work to do.”

Then I started thinking that it was likely that other creative people I know–good friends in the arts–at that very moment also were waking early and were anxious to get to work on their project, that we are similar–we resemble each other in regard to the emotions we bring to bear as we live and work–that we are all creative and we are all intense and excitable. Certain qualities endear creative people to me. One is their intensity.

It seemed to me then that intensity and excitability were a pattern, a hard and fast characteristic of myself and my artful friends, and come to think of it, of many of the famous writers and artists and other creative people I have been reading about, studying, admiring, and writing about all my life. Their intensity made them different.

The Feeling of Intensity

What does intensity feel like?

Sunrise over a lake with blue and orange streaksIntense writers and artists do everything intensely–experiencing, feeling, thinking, and imagining. They are significantly different human beings from other writers and artists (and agents and family members and co-workers) who are not intense. They feel their emotions strongly. They soar high with elevated emotions, and they plunge into dark moods, at times their moods changing so fast as to be bewildering. In contrast, people who are not intense the way so many writers and artists are feel their emotions more mildly and without such major fluctuations between the high moods and the low moods. Differences in intensity between people who work closely together or live together may cause conflicts.

Some writers and artists feel that they are being flooded by waves of joy, that their every cell is being excited. Some writers and artists–perhaps you, certainly I–revise their work tirelessly, at times almost maniacally, ten times, twenty times, thirty times, until they are satisfied the work is the best they can do. Only then can they stop themselves.

The intensity of writers’ and artists’ personality is a powerful element of their creativity. The wonderful poet John Keats thought that intensity–not intelligence or any other quality — in and of itself is the most powerful creative element of all.

Intensity and the Arts

Deep blue-pruple crocus flower against green leavesIntensity is a quality found in many creative people that facilitates artistic pursuits. Abbe Dimnet said that the creator’s intensity will be reflected in the quality of the work: “The experience of most artists is that the quality of their production is in keeping with the intensity of their wish.” Henry James wrote: “It is art that makes life, makes intensity, makes importance.” Horace said, “Painters and poets alike have always had license to dare anything.” It is their intensity that gives them strength. Keats said, “The excellency of every art is its intensity “ A problem every writer and artist faces is maintaining in every phase  of their story or painting  the intensity that keeps it going and energizes the  creator’s every gesture and the work’s every detail.  They must be able to generate and sustain intensity as they work.

Emotional Intensity and Over-Excitability of Many People in the Arts

“Emotional intensity” of the kind I am describing is a quality that Polish psychologist, psychiatrist, physician, and poet Kazimierz Dabrowski found when he studied intellectually or artistically gifted people. The degree of a person’s emotional intensity is a stable characteristic. Some people are intense; some are not. Just as self-absorbed artists and writers can’t help being self-absorbed any more than they can help having the color eyes they do, intense artists and writers can’t help being intense.

Dabrowski recognized that, as I thought, creative people experience an intensification of experience much beyond what other people experience. Dabrowski considered the intensity of their emotions, their sensitivity and emotional extremes–their “over-excitabilities”–to be part and parcel of their makeup. Every aspect of their personality is intense.

They are “spirited,” and are also more sensitive, perceptive, energetic, and persistent than other people. They possess what I have called “inner” skills such as persistence, confidence, and courage that not everyone has but that lead directly to success in the arts. Dabrowski identified five “overexcitabilites” exhibited by more people in the artistically gifted population than in the general population.

The Five Dimensions of Intense Writers’ and Artists’ Lives

  1. Sensual

Sensualists, intense writers and artists seek an enhanced sensory and aesthetic pleasure in seeing, smelling, tasting, touching, hearing, and sex. They delight in beautiful objects and in sounds of words, and in form, color, and balance. Negatively, they may overeat and be sexually over-indulgent.

  1. Psychomotor

Intense people have a surplus of energy, are competitive, enjoy intense physical activity such as fast games and sports, often are compulsive talkers–they may jabber–and act impulsively. They may have nervous habits. They may bite their nails or have nervous twitches.

  1. Intellectual

They enjoy intensified activity of their mind in their curiosity, concentration, and in their capacity for sustained intellectual effort, avid reading, asking probing questions, and making keen observations. They can vividly recall what they see with their eyes (that fundamental necessity for writers and artists) and may be detailed planners.  They are tenacious problem-solvers. They search for truth and understanding. They think about thinking and love theory and analysis. They are logical and independent thinkers.

  1. Imaginational

In speaking and writing, intense writers and artists often use images and metaphors, are given to poetic and dramatic perceptions, and are skilled at inventing. Some can make up fantasy worlds of their own and imaginary companions and are attracted to magic and fairy tales. Under emotional tension their imagery can mix truth and fiction. They may have elaborate dreams and illusions. They cannot tolerate boredom. They may lack self-judgment and be overly-critical.

  1. Emotional

The feelings and emotions of over-excitable writers and artists are intensified. They are given to extremes of emotions, complex feelings and a large range of emotions and have an awareness of the feelings of others. They have heights and depths of emotions that others lack. At times their mood soars. And it also may plunge. Their moods change quickly.

They may have strong physical expressions of over-excitability such as tense stomach, sinking heart, pounding heart, sweaty palms. Intense writers and artists experience euphoria, enthusiasm, and ecstasy, but also shyness, timidity, and obsessiveness.

But Dabrowski found that inner forces were at work in them also, forces that generated overstimulation, conflicts, and pain, and often set them out in a search for a way out. One way out may lead to inner growth and transformation, another may lead to results such as addiction.

Examples of Famous Intense Writers and Artists

Photograph of Walt Whitman with a long white beardWho could be more intense than poet Walt Whitman who expressed a wish to have “one hour of madness and joy,” “to feed the remainder of life with one hour of fullness and freedom,” “To have the feeling today or any day I am sufficient as I am.” Who more intense than novelists Charles Dickens with his phenomenal storehouse of drive that enabled him to work on a multiplicity of books, speeches, plays, travels, and social projects at the same time without ever tiring?

Or Thomas Wolfe whose monumental goal was nothing less than to describe in the millions of published words that poured out of him uncontrollably, as from a spigot, every experience he had ever had? And Gustave Flaubert, a pioneer of a modern writing style, who agonized rewriting his novels and stories to perfection? Or intense painter Vincent van Gogh who produced a masterpiece a day, or Claude Monet, who for his artistic experiments could paint thirty or forty canvasses of exactly the same scene.

There are drawbacks to a writer or artist being over-excitable and intense. But the advantages of being a writer or artist who is intense and has the powerful energies, the drive, and many other qualities that facilitate success in the arts far outweigh the negatives. The creative’s intensity is reflected in the quality of the work they produce–more intensity, better quality work.

If writers and artists are asked to identify the important characteristics they would l really like to have that would positively affect their career, they will be wise to identify intensity.

An intense writer or artist trying to create a vision they perhaps alone perceive is fortunate.

 

© 2023 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click the following link:

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Filed under Artists, Charles Dickens, Claude Monet, concentration, Dabrowski, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, energy, Excellence in the Arts, Imagery in the Arts, Inner Skills, Intensity, Moods, Over-Excitabilities, talent, Walt Whitman, Writers, Writers' Characteristics

Pursuit of Perfection in the Arts

Masks representing theater (blue and redActor Lord Laurence Olivier aimed at perfect performances, as did Peter O’Toole, Olivier’s successor as the world’s greatest actor–the perfect performances in the perfect tragedies as the perfect characters–as Hamlet, King Lear, Othello, or Iago. One night Olivier felt that he had achieved perfection in a performance. Others in the cast also told him he had.  He said, “What I’m thinking is I’ve done it, but will I be able to do it again?” Perfection is difficult and rare. It is hard to repeat. It is a concept that grows in importance to artists as their skills and accomplishments ascend to high levels.

In her essay “Dancers and the Dance” Susan Sontag states that dance differs from the other performing arts. The standards which dancers measure their performance against is not that of the highest excellence as it Is with actors, singers, and musicians. Sontag believes that the dancer’s standard is perfection. She says, “Every serious dancer is driven by notions of perfection–perfect expression, perfect technique.”

Sontag says that dance demands more of the dancer than any other art or any sport demands.  She writes, “While the daily life of every dancer is a full-time struggle against fatigue, strain, natural physical limitations and those due to injuries (Which are inevitable) dance itself is an enactment of an energy which must seem, in all respects, untrammeled, effortless, at every moment fully mastered.” When performing, dancers must hide their pain behind a performing smile. Injuries must be hidden. The dancer’s performance smile is “a categorical denial of what he or she is actually experiencing.” Behind the grace of the dancers is much discomfort and pain they endure while training themselves for such performances and while performing.

A male and a female ballet dancersIt is true that serious dancers currently and throughout history have aimed at perfection, but other artists–usually the best in the art, those that are aware that they have a significant talent–also aim for perfection in their work, I believe. Those who do aim for perfection in their novels, musical composition, and paintings and other art works let it be known through their obsessions with their work that they are extremely serious about their art, and are willing to face its challenges with drive and commitment.

The urge for perfection begins, I think, with a niggling, Then the artists become increasingly aware after a number of works have been produced and (usually  but not always) thousands of hours have been put in,  that perfection is within their reach and not merely a remote fantasy–that THEY–Faulkner, Picasso, Stravinsky, Cassatt, Proust, Cezanne, and Virginia Woolf–have  what it takes.

To be an artist seeking perfection you have to possess art-relevant traits that will equip you for a creative life. If your ambition is perfection, and you are not self-critical and self-demanding, you will have problems. The artist aiming to produce perfect works has to be self-critical, always looking for faults in the works and in themselves that will have to be corrected. When Sontag had praised a dancer for a superb performance she heard “a disconsolate litany of mistakes that were made–a beat missed, a foot not pointed in the right way.” Sontag adds: “In no other art can one find a comparable gap between what the world thinks of a star and what the star thinks about himself or herself, between the adulation that pours in from the outside and the relentless dissatisfaction that goads one from within….Part of being a dancer is this cruelly self-punishing objectivity about one’s shortcomings, as viewed from the perspective of an ideal observer, one more exacting than any real spectator could ever be.”

Intense concentration is necessary too if you hope to produce a perfect artistic performance; this is true of every art. All you need do is look at the intensity of the eyes of an artist painting, or a writer at the keyboard to realize that. Everything in the artist’s mind that is not needed for the artistic performance is ignored, and only what the performance requires is brought into attention.  Anyone who produces great works that are the result of the mind in action such as archers, mathematicians, and artists of unrivaled talent like dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov project a state of extreme (yet also relaxed) focus. Sontag says that state is not just something that is necessary for a great performance, but, “It is the performance, the very center of it.”

Painting of Frank SinatraWhen they are watching the performance of a play what the audience hopes to see more than anything else is a virtuoso performance they will not be able to forget however long they live and how many plays they see. The virtuoso performance is the single most exciting and popular feature not only of drama but of any art, and the most thrilling feature of a virtuoso performance is not the possibility that the artist may fail. Rather, it is the spectacle of succeeding in an extraordinary way–a performance that is perfect because it has no errors. All the time I am listening to music as I do all day long or reading a narrative I think is great such as James Joyce’s short story “Araby,” and Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” I am thinking, “Keep it up James and Frank. Don’t fail. Continue being great until the story or the song is finished and perfect from the beginning to the end”

Playwright Eugene O’Neill, America’s greatest and most innovative dramatist, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1936.  Long Day’s Journey into Night was his masterpiece. One of his experiments was revealing the characters’ interior  monologue. Another was making the speech of poor, uneducated characters a part of the drama. Another Nobel Prize winner–Saul Bellow–who said that writing was more important than his wife and children–aimed to write perfectly. A third Nobel Prize winner–Ernest Hemingway–made no secret that his aim was to produce perfect works and be the greatest writer in the world. Many critics believe he accomplished that goal. Writer Joan Didion thought his every sentence was written with such craftsmanship that it was perfect.  Many critics, teachers, and writers consider the short stories and plays of Anton Chekhov, the founding father of modern theatre, and the leading prose writer of his era, perfect. It is hard to tell what a Chekhov story or play “means” because he does not judge or clarify meanings; meanings are left to the reader or audience.

Perfection in the arts is always attributable to the personality of the artists that filters through their talent. The artist aiming to produce perfect works must keep the audience clearly in mind. Critic Gilbert Murray said that writers who have the powers of revelation are the ones who have experienced–seen or felt–more than the average run of intelligent beings. Behind every work, whether poor or great, are the tastes and the disposition of the person who created it, as well as a sensitivity to the audience. In the theatre the actor’s aim is through the performance to jolt the members of the audience–to please in a powerful way, to be accepted as though a friend, to lodge securely and permanently in their memory, displacing less important things.

The days and nights of everyday living of the artist seeking perfection must be filled to the brim with their art. More than likely, the artist has grown up with it, seen it mature, and watched it take over a good part of his or her being. Short story master Raymond Carver reflecting on his career put it this way: “conversation was fine, camaraderie was fine, making love was fine, raising a family was okay, but interfered with writing.”

 

© 2019 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click the following link:

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Filed under Actors and Directors, Artistic Perfection, Artists, Composers, concentration, Creativity Self-Improvement, Dancers, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Drive, Laurence Olivier, Susan Sontag, Writers

The Warrior Creator

My thirty-seven year old son, a school principal and YA author, and a wonderful man, has been a strong supporter of my work since he was a little boy and went with me to store after store while I autographed books. It’s he who suggested I write a blog. That’s when I said, “A what?” So three years ago that’s what, with my wife’s technical help, I started to do.  I hope my blog friends are reading this post and will benefit from it. A few years ago my son called me and said, “Dad, in an internet reader’s poll Fighting To Win has been maned the best motivational book ever written.” I said, “Well, how do you like that?”  Any creator knows what a joy it is to have his/her work praised. (That’s one reason we work so hard isn’t it?)

Hand with penAnd any author knows that if he writes a book that catches on, he’ll never get rid of it. He will become identified with it the rest of his life.  So here I am, the author of Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life. I’m happy to say that that prescriptive how-to-do-it self-improvement book is a classic that since it first came out thirty years ago has been widely used by people of all kinds here and in Europe and Asia as a guide to actualizing their wonderful talents that otherwise may have lain dormant and unused. It started as a book popular with people in the work world, particularly business people, but then quickly spread to people in the arts.

Over the years I’ve received thank-yous from accountants and sales people, and painters, writers, opera singers, composers, movie directors, actors, musicians, and so on–people who’ve come to realize that whatever their walk of life might be, the psychology of the warrior fits them to a T because they are thinly disguised warriors too.  It’s a tribute to Fighting to Win that it Is still available as an eBook, is still being read, and is still changing lives.

I turned to the study of the samurai way of life as a result of hard times taking a terrible toll on me. I experienced far too many disappointments and was cheated in business by people I had trusted. I was looking for something that would Samurai swordsman in silhouettesalvage me from the kind of misery I was experiencing and in the samurai Way found strength as well as insights, strategies, and techniques I could use to pull myself out of the awful lethargy I had settled into. By way of the book, magazine articles, TV and radio, the internet, and speeches, I’ve been fortunate to meet many wonderful people. They have told me that they too have found solace from setbacks and gained the psychological and spiritual wherewithal to excel in their careers through samurai wisdom and what I call “the inner skills of creative people.”

The samurai of Japan were the greatest warriors who ever walked the earth. Trained to perform phenomenal feats of courage and fearlessness, they were stern, quiet, utterly serious people who devoted their lives to developing their skills, spirits, and minds to the highest possible level.

Just as all creative people face internal obstacles that interfere with their lives, so did the samurai. The bulk of his or her training (there were women samurai) was devoted to overcoming those inner obstacles that are no different than the obstacles you and I and creators of all descriptions face—anxiety, procrastination, self-doubt, hesitation, fear of taking risks, nervousness, discouragement, crippling over-analysis, depression, apprehension, impatience, anger, and more.

Japanese Character for Warrior

Japanese Character for Warrior

Creators and warriors both begin as ordinary people with the potential to be exceptional and memorable, to apply themselves and acquire impressive skills not everyone possesses, and to develop talents and excel at their chosen life path–their “Way.” Each Way is different: the Way of the painter is similar to yet totally different from the Way of the actor, which is like but different from the Way of the writer or the ballet dancer, etc. At a certain point in their training and development, they cease being ordinary anymore, but have become extraordinary. They have wholly recreated themselves.

To function superbly in their chosen role–the painter to paint, the writer to write, the performer to perform, the samurai to fight–of necessity all must be brave,  be bold, take chances, and resist discouragement, fear, hesitations, and self-doubt. Ideal warrior creators have the courage of a lion, the boldness of a gambler, and yet the sensitivity of a butterfly. Critics and nay-sayers are not capable of intimidating them–nothing does. Think how liberating it is to be incapable of being bullied by agents, by publishers, by directors. They are not flustered. Now you are thinking how glorious that would be. When they are facing critical moments, their goal is to be as relaxed as a person sitting down for breakfast, and that’s possible.

I’m sure you know many creators who encounter the fear of performing their craft–that’s one of their fears. When I Empty canvas on easelvisited a successful painter friend of mine I saw the same unfinished painting on the easel. Nothing about it changed month after month. Not a single new brush stroke touched the canvas. Then she moved away and I didn’t see her for a number of years.  When we got together again I asked first thing since that was what I was the most curious about: “Whatever happened to that green pastel that was on your easel for so long?”

She said, “I never finished it.”

I said, “You were afraid.”

She said, “I was terrified of it.”

I know a singer who has had a successful professional career, but suddenly and inexplicably after five years developed a fear of performing and for two years retired because of it. She read the book, applied what she read, resumed her career, and was more successful than ever. Her ordeal of not being able to perform matured her.

Fear–there are a thousand of them–is the creator’s most formidable foe. You know that: fear of not being good enough or creative enough or smart enough or talented enough, of being rejected by an audience, of never reaching the success you dreamed of since childhood.

Some creators are afraid even to enter their work room in the morning. The creator’s fear tightens him/her up. Confidence disappears and self-punishing self-doubt takes its place. Their thoughts don’t flow as they did when they Archer about to shoot an arrowwere confident.  To create becomes difficult if not impossible. But once creators learn to defeat fear, their minds and spirits are immediately rejuvenated, and creativity flows out of them in torrents: the novel takes shape; the just-right color is added to the canvas. What can possibly stop them now?

Warrior creators must always be ready to overcome almost unbearable personal impediments that might stop other people and to overcome scores of obstacles of all sorts standing between them and their highest ambitions.  Every year thousands of painters and thousands of writers and other creators give up and quit–just quit–and thousands more are getting ready to quit right now, possibly you. Hopefully they’ll eventually learn that adversity can’t be avoided and in fact is essential to a creator’s development.  If only they had persevered a little longer. Persistence is a creator’s good and faithful friend.

When you are a warrior creator your spirit must be strong and poised, in the words of the samurai strong enough to bring down “a wall or iron.” If you are knocked down you must not lie in bed and moan and whine, but must jump up. Knocked down seven times by circumstance you must jump up eight. You must take care that your spirit is never broken, whatever happens.

Your “depths” should never be penetrated. Inside the warrior creator is a tiny core of strength that nothing can touch. You must control your breathing so that energy is released like steam from an engine because the work creators apply themselves to is unbelievably difficult. Tremendous vitality spread over a whole lifetime and put into every poem, every sculpture, and every actor’s role is needed if one wishes to create.

Like samurai, warrior creators strive to remove all psychological blocks, and learn specific techniques for doing that, and having done that to be able to function freely without conscious effort, the way do when you are your most creative. When you are at your best and well trained everything is automatic, the fluid movement of a master swordsman, the ease of the gestures of a violinist, the sure brushstroke of an experienced painter, the rhythmic typing of a writer in the zone.

The work seems to do itself, and everything is easy. The release of the arrow is the most difficult problem the archer Dew falling from a leaffaces. Like the inspiration of the artist, the release “should be done without thought, like a drop of dew falling from a leaf or a fruit falling when it’s ripe.” One’s every creative act should be like the release of an arrow.  I’ve seen people like that and so have you.

All that warrior creators need is within, in their minds. Your mind holds all the secrets.  The meaning of all things is within, not something that exists “out there.” Warrior creators “grow from within.” You should leave your mind alone and not complicate it with fruitless anxieties and jealousies so many creators experience. Only then can the mind function uninhibited, in the state of highest creativity.

The mind of the warrior creator must never get “caught” or “snagged” (toroware), or “stopped” (tomaru) on internal obstacles like a fish on a line but should always be flowing smoothly from thought to thought to thought like an unimpeded river. When warrior creators are at their best, their hearts are undisturbed and at total peace, their bodies and minds operating without conscious direction. To the master in any field, to execute their art is no more difficult than to breathe or utter their name.

When most productive warrior creators are confident and self-possessed, they are certain that sooner or later they will succeed. There can be no doubt about that. They are disciplined.  Their egos are under control. They look squarely at reality and never flinch from it. If up ahead is something unpleasant, well, up ahead is something unpleasant, so let’s get to it right away and get it over with.

Warrior creators are always trying to improve themselves. Tomorrow they should be smarter, stronger, more knowledgeable, and better skilled than they are today. They do things mindfully, deliberately, and are fully committed. Whatever they do they have every intention of completing. They are “immovable” and don’t budge from their important goals.

Warrior creators are designed to move. They know that when things are done leisurely, seven out of ten turn out poorly. Poster saying "Action is your natural inclination, a fulfilling life your true destiny"The Way of the warrior creator is action, action, and more action–getting things done, not procrastinating, not delaying, not stalling, but finishing what you start without delay and going on to the next thing.  The main goal of all creators is production–to produce works, an actor to play many roles, the writer to write many stories, the lithographer to work with many plates. No creator is more able to produce voluminous works than men and women of action.

The warrior creator knows that when you encounter calamities, it isn’t enough to say you’re not upset, but it is best to “dash forward bravely and joyfully” to meet the difficult situation.  What you fear the most you must get to first. Warrior creators accept whatever they are doing and flow with whatever may happen. They are taught to expect nothing but to be mentally and physically prepared for anything.

They focus: the concentration of the artist is astounding to the non-creator. Their lives are focused too, to enable them to do their work without interference. Among their affairs are many responsibilities, but no more than two or three “matters of greatest concern.” The most important time in the warrior creator’s life is the present moment: “There is only one purpose of the present moment, but a person’s whole life is just a succession of present moments.”

For the warrior creator every moment brings with it a CHOICE POINT at which one’s whole life can change: “From this point on, after this present moment ends, shall I be strong or shall I be weak, shall I commit myself to my craft or continue playing at being a painter, shall I buckle down and see what I can become at last?” These are crucial questions.

The warrior creator is to think what a frail thing life is and is reminded that every day of his/her life may be the last. Poster saying "The delicate cherry blossom doesn't last long in the wind that blows it from the tree."There is no fear of death. So warrior creators dedicate their lives to the fulfillment of their obligations to others and to themselves. They have an obligation to their art, their craft, and to live with the energy and flexibility that go into a creator’s every work: “Never let the thought of a along life seize upon you, for then you are apt to indulge in all kinds of wasteful dissipation.”

The warrior creator turns back again and again to the creative work to be done in this much too brief life, this single blessed moment that is occurring right now.

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

Interview with David J. Rogers

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Total Concentration: The Heart and Soul of Creative Work: Part Two

A heart surgeon was performing a delicate operation when large chunks of the ceiling came crashing down all around him. People in the operating room screamed, the noise was deafening. But the surgeon was so concentrated on

the surgery that he didn’t notice.  When your creator’s mind is as deeply on the act of creation as it should be when you are painting, writing, dancing, acting, like that surgeon you will be aware of nothing else. You will look up and see that your friend has been talking to you and you didn’t notice or that rain is coming in the window that has blown open while you worked. You won’t hear blaring music from the apartment next door.

Creative people often notice that if their ability to concentrate while they are working is poor, their work is also poor, but that if their concentration is good, their work is also good–cause and effect–that concentration is essential to their doing their best work.

An actor’s concentration must be total and never not total from curtain up to curtain down. The more total her concentration, the more engrossed in her performance the audience will be.  Also, the more concentrated a writer is while writing, the clearer the writing should be. And isn’t clarity the secret of supreme writing that not every writer has learned, but the best writers have? It’s obvious that to produce clear work you must be thinking clearly.

Part One of this two-part post began…

 … Concentration is the heart and soul of creative work. How to develop and sustain it is a concern of actors, painters, dancers, pianists, composers, writers, and all other creators. Unless you bring to bear all the mental and physical alertness and clear-mindedness that you have the potential for you will not be enjoying the best conditions for your creative work.

 … Creators who can concentrate their mind like brilliant beacons of light at will can focus anywhere and can work under any conditions, and whenever they wish.

 … Concentration is an ability most people have not developed. Their minds run wild.

 Creators must concentrate on what they are doing in the moment, in the “now.” Then they must be able, when that “now” is finished, to move onto the next “now.” They work very hard. They should strive to develop the ability to be as little affected by distractions as possible, to brush them off and to quickly resume their performance after an interruption. Some creators avoid distractions almost completely by eliminating TV, clocks, telephone calls, Face Book, Emails, and unnecessary conversations.

Select a place where you concentrate best—for most creators that’s the same place every day. Get started (the best way to get started is to get started), keep distractions and diversions to a minimum and don’t stop for any reason until the day’s goal is reached, except for brief rest periods. Look at the prescriptions for increasing concentration in Part One of this two-part post.

Persist working and growing in the face of obstacles and inevitable setbacks. Overcoming psychological obstacles such as discouragement, self-doubt, lack of confidence, and the ubiquitous creator’s fear of who knows what is another skill creators must master. You can still do great work if you don’t let the obstacle stop you from concentrating. You must also learn to pace yourself and maintain your energy and stamina over days, weeks, months, and years.

Konstantin Stanislavski was the most significant and most often quoted figure in the history of actor training. He was a pioneer attempting to define the actor’s mental, physical, intellectual, and emotional processes in a way that was comprehensive and had never been attempted before. He said, “The first step of creative art is concentration of attention…Through my system we try to achieve a state of concentrated attention.”

He said that concentration cannot be defined in a few words. But that “the thought must be fixed entirely and absolutely on one object or idea and only it, without breaking the circle of creative attention for anything else…You need all the power of your attention to dwell on each separate aspect of your task.”

How are you to know that your mind has become concentrated? What is the test? It is when the awareness of time has vanished. The more time passes unnoticed the more concentrated you are.

When I was so ill and in such pain I looked for relief. I observed that since the human mind can be on only one thing at a time, if I absorbed myself deeply in some thought or activity my mind could not be aware of my misery. Prize fighters, hockey players, football players, bullfighters, soldiers in combat, and others engaged in activities requiring intense concentration may be seriously injured but yet experience no pain whatsoever. I took seriously the Buddhist aphorism “Without mind there cannot be pain.”  When my mind was deeply engaged in working on my Growing Up Stories when I was ill the sensations of pain, so horrible usually, thankfully, didn’t trouble me.

It’s easy to be absorbed in the creative problem if it’s interesting–that’s not hard at all. But what if it’s not interesting? What if it’s boring? You know as well as I that creative work and the slow snail’s pace process of developing your skills to a level you’re satisfied with are often drudgery. Drudgery or not you still have problems to solve before you can go on with your creative performance. What can you do? When something is not interesting the first thing you do is what you shouldn’t do: you give it less attention. But give more of your attention to something and it will become more interesting.

The famous biologist Louis Agassiz was known for turning out students with highly developed powers of observation. Many of them went on to become eminent in the field. A new student appeared and asked Agassiz to teach him. Agassiz took a fish from the jar of preservative and said, “Observe this fish carefully and when I return be ready to report to me what you noticed.”

Left alone, the student sat down to look at the fish. It was a fish just like any other. The student finished looking and sat waiting, but no teacher. Hours passed and the student grew restless. He asked himself why he had hooked up with an old man who was obviously behind the times.

With nothing else to do, the student counted the scales, then the spines of the fins, then drew a picture of the fish. In doing so, he noticed the fish had no eyelids. He continued drawing and noticing other facts that had escaped him. And he learned that a fish is interesting if you really see it. (From Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life)

You may turn to something else and return to your work later when you’re more focused. At times concentration can be so intense that it actually interferes with work and is exhausting, and so then it’s better to decrease attention.

Some people find that working when they’re tired and their mind is less sensitive to distractions is best for them. Then their work speeds up.

Your job to figure out how to focus on your work for a desired period of time. You have to learn to abandon what isn’t working and put aside problems that aren’t worth bothering with because they will lead to dead-ends.

Condition your mind. Practice concentrating on one thing at a time until you can concentrate at will. Focus on concentrating on things, on people, on ideas, on the text you’re reading. Look at your thumb. Turn it, study it and see it. Stare at your face in the mirror for ten minutes. See the blemishes; see the beauty you’d never noticed.

Fix your mind completely on one thing at a time and give it all your full attention–that one thought that it’s most important  to express in that one sentence,  that one right word that will capture exactly what the poem means, that one brushstroke, that one most-important emotion you, the actor, will communicate to the audience in Act Two. Practice keeping yourself in that state of alertness as long as you’re working.

The great Vivekananda said, “There is no limit to the powers of the human mind. The more concentrated it is, the more power is brought to bear on one point; that is the secret… In making money, or in worshiping God, or in doing anything, the stronger the power of concentration, the better will that thing be done.”

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

http://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

 

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Total Concentration: The Heart and Soul of Creative Work

Part One of Two Parts

In the lives of great creators past and present, we find many characteristics that equip them uniquely for their role, especially tremendous powers of concentration. Those same powers of concentration are readily available to you.

Concentration is the heart and soul of creative work. How to develop and sustain it is a concern of actors, painters, dancers, pianists, composers, writers, and all other creators. Unless you bring to bear all the mental and physical alertness and clear-mindedness that you have the potential for you will not be enjoying the best conditions for your creative work.

Creators who can concentrate their mind like brilliant beacons of light at will can focus anywhere and can work under any conditions, and whenever they wish. For example, even fledgling actors are able to routinely commit to memory many pages of complex dialogue in a short period because of the phenomenal ability to concentrate they’ve had to acquire if they wish to act.

Make a pact with yourself: when you do creative work let nothing interfere with the only life that exists at the moment, namely the life of an actor or dancer or sculptor, and so forth. Just kick everything else out of your mind. All your life now for this time is the role your whole being has equipped you for because you have a love of your craft. There is no separation between you and it. It is part of you as much as your arm.

Concentration is an ability most people have not developed. Their minds run wild. That people generally are so poor at concentrating is shown in the fact that patrons in an art museum look at a work on average for 1 1/2 seconds. But out of the necessity of producing a stream of tangible works of high quality, many creators have disciplined their mind to be clear and not to wander. Those creators remind me of this famous story about concentration from the samurai Way. Samurai are ideal examples of how with application a person can increase his or her mental powers substantially and turn them to practical results, how ordinary people can become extraordinary.

Centuries ago in Japan there lived a man who had devoted himself completely to kyudo, the Way of the bow. Early one evening he was walking in the mountains when suddenly he saw a flicker of movement in the shadows. It was a tiger, its back arched, ready to pounce. Without hesitation the archer nocked the arrow. Concentrating all his power in the shot, since it might be his last, he let the arrow fly. A direct hit, right in the head. Without stopping to examine the dead animal, the archer continued on his way.

The next day, though, he became curious and returned to the spot. But hard as he looked he could not find the dead animal. He was about to abandon his search when he saw his arrow, lodged in a huge boulder. It hadn’t been a tiger after all, but his concentration had been so intense and his shot so powerful that the arrow had been driven into solid rock.

From this incident came the famous maxim about concentration and power in any Way of life–business, athletics, the arts, everyday life, and more: “Ichinen iwa wo mo tosu:” “The focused mind can pierce through stone.” (From Fighting To Win: Samurai Techniques For Your Work and Life.)

One-pointed, stone-piercing concentration is the ability of you, the creator, to direct your attention exclusively on the challenges of the work at hand as they appear, and being able to prevent any stray, muddling, interfering thoughts that aren’t related to solving the creative problems confronting you.

Also from the samurai Way , applicable to the Way of the creator, is the story of a contest:

The greatest archers in the land were invited to the contest. A fish was put up on a pole a great distance away. Asked by the judge if they could see the fish, one by one the archers said they could. One last contestant stepped to the line.

“Can you see the fish?” asked the judge.

The archer replied, “I’m looking at its eye.”

This was the champion.

Learn to concentrate on the fish’s eye and you’ll often find success in creative work. You will produce more works, and the work’s quality will improve.

I proved to myself the benefits of concentration in another context when I was a bodybuilder. I said, “I’m going to devote myself to this and see what happens.” It is as much a craft with high standards of performance and traditions as acting, painting, and writing. For the body builder and the writer at work a single stray thought not belonging to the performance breaks concentration. A lift is wasted, an injury is possible. The writer loses that one thought that would have conveyed exactly what the text needed. I worked hard and concentrated totally on each separate lift and every repetition with remarkable results. I had put into practice the words of champion bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger: “One lift with concentration is worth ten lifts without concentration.”

The first quality of the creator’s concentration is an alert, undivided, focused, attentive mind that has nothing left over for anything unnecessary, irrelevant, and inessential while you are creating. As much as possible you want your concentration to be uninterrupted while you work and to not be diverted from the task involved in creating, or divided for any reason. How does a creator work on developing an alert mind?

Preparation: You begin preparing your mind for the task of writing well before you sit down at the computer, on sculpting before you enter your studio. Skilled actors don’t wait until they get to the theatre, but prepare themselves for their first entrance on the stage while they are still at home. On the days they are to perform they don’t clutter their minds with all sorts of unimportant things that have nothing to do with playing their role. When they arrive at the theatre they may not stop to engage in idle chatter that takes their mind from their performance. When they are putting on their makeup in front of the mirror they are solving problems and finding inspirataion.

In the morning start the day by thinking of the novel you’re writing, or the painting, or the role you’ll play when the curtain goes up tonight, of what you want to have accomplished creatively when your work days ends. And think of it in the afternoon and before you go to bed.  Think of it when you drink coffee and brush your teeth. Think about it whenever you can. Scribble notes about it on napkins when you’re having lunch. You must be a novelist, actor, painter, etc., the whole day, not just an hour or two.

Harmful emotions like anxiety, fear, envy, discouragement, and self-doubt are threats to your concentration. So you must learn to concentrate on the task and forget the emotion.  As much as possible, put how you’re feeling out of the equation. Tell yourself your emotions are irrelevant at the moment; you’ll take care of them after work.

Take your mind off what you’re feeling. You can feel afraid to write, as many writers do, and still write, and you can still do what you doubt you can do if you don’t let the fear and doubt stop you from concentrating. And too, once you’re engrossed in creative work, however poorly you were feeling before, your mood almost always improves and becomes more positive, optimistic, hopeful, confident, even blissful.

While you’re working develop your attention so that no extraneous thoughts interfere with the work. Don’t worry, for instance, whether you’re at your best today or you aren’t, or think about what might happen if you succeed and produce a great work–the glory, the applause– or if you fail–or if you have the sniffles or would rather be making love. Don’t fret about bills or personal problems or what you’ll make for dinner. Again and again bring your mind back to the work because right now it is the most important thing.

It’s hard to change your concentration from low to high if the environment you’re working in isn’t comfortable. It may not be comfortable for me, but it has to be for you.  For example, I am very comfortable with chaos–not in my personal life, not at all, I crave tranquility there. But in my work room chaos is welcome. To me in chaos there is order. But my wife tsk-tsks, and says, “It amazes me that you can possibly work under these conditions.” To placate her I say, “You’re right. I have to organize this mess.”  But between you and me I have no intention of ever organizing the mess.

You have to find an environment in which you can flourish, or create one. Many writers work in restaurants. I see them in the Starbuck’s down the street. Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway wrote in cafes and was extremely productive. But home is best for me. F. Scott Fitzgerald didn’t have a comfortable work setting because of his wife Zelda’s constant interference.  She would take Scott away from his work to have fun and play pranks. One night she collected all the women’s purses at a party and boiled them. Whatever the place you work you should be able to go to it, focus, and be productive.

A perfect work place and good production routines and rituals are to be treasured. Simply by being there ready to work repetitively the same time day after day after day the power of good habits goes into effect. Some creators’ work habits will strike you as strange.  The poet H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) splashed ink on her clothes to give her a feeling of freedom when she wrote, and poet A.E. Housman rarely wrote unless he was sick.

For high quality, uninterrupted work to happen, not all, but most creators need isolation and solitude. To get rid of distractions some creative people eliminate newspapers, TV, clocks, telephone calls, emails, face book, and unnecessary conversation. One study showed that following an interruption for an email or phone call people were so distracted that 40% of the time they didn’t get back to work, but moved on to something else. If you quit 40% of the time, how long will it take you to finish your novel?

All your mental powers should be aimed in only one direction–toward the work at hand. But your creator’s imagination is always boiling over with ideas and has a playful impulse to lead you astray. To keep out even the smallest distracting sounds, the wonderful and eccentric Marcel Proust who was so focused on writing that he never learned how to open a window or boil a kettle of water wrote in a cork-lined sound-proof bedroom. “If you’re silent for a long time, people just arrive in your mind” (novelist Alice Walker). But some creators concentrate best when it’s noisy:–a jack hammer under their window, a baby shrieking. Which do you prefer, silence or noise?

 

I’m planning to publish Part Two of “Total Concentration: The Heart and Soul of Creative Work” in a few weeks. I hope you’ll look at it. It answers an important question every creator asks: “It’s easy to be absorbed in the creative problem if it’s interesting–that’s not hard at all. But what if it’s not interesting? What if it’s boring? (Creative work is often tedious.) You still have to solve the problem.  What can you do?”

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

For my interview from the international teleconference with Ben Dean about Fighting to Win, click on the following link:

www.mentorcoach.com/rogershttp://www.mentorcoach.com/positive-psychology-coaching/interviews/interview-david-j-rogers/

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by David J. Rogers

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