Category Archives: Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement

Good Advice, Quotes, and Concepts for Writers and Artists

You Don’t Have to Feel Good to Have a Delightfully Productive Day

I follow sports closely, and it surprises me how often swimmers, tennis players, track stars, basketball players, and other athletes perform their record best on the very days they are not feeling fit physically or emotionally. They feel “off” but nevertheless they compete and often they excel. Field with pink green, orange, white and purple rows of flowers curving in front of a blue sky with white cloudsI think of the famous Michael Jordan “flu game” when he had to be carried off the floor after the game with the flu by a teammate, yet scored 38 points and led the Bulls to victory.  “Probably the most difficult thing I have ever done,” said Jordan.

That illogical phenomenon of feeling unprepared and yet excelling also applies to people in the arts. Robert Boice said, “Beyond doubt, creative writers who begin a project before feeling prepared or motivated achieve more quantity and quality.” Feeling out of sorts used to stop me.  When I wasn’t feeling right, I’d think, “Why even try?” But now, because I am familiar with athletes not feeling good but performing so well, when I feel not ready at all to write, I become optimistic and confidently sit down at the computer and expect a productive day, and usually have one.

You will be more productive if like those athletes you don’t make your mood the dictator of your performance, but simply however you feel you do your work. Don’t live by how you feel. Everyone Girl looking sad leaning on her handwould prefer to be cheerful and happy, but as far as creative work is concerned, how you feel is secondary. What matters most are the requirements of the craft you have committed yourself to, and one requirement is day after day to put out effort to achieve your creative goals. It seems to me that one constant goal that is shared by most people in the arts is to develop your in-born talents to the fullest and that another requirement is to produce finished works.  When you see your talents growing and you are producing original works regularly and everything is meshing, you are at your best, and you know it.

In the nineteen-sixties a number of America’s excellent poets who knew each other well felt that to write their best poetry–to be in what they thought was the ideal mood for writing verse– they had to feel deeply depressed.  That was their philosophy and what they talked and Young man looking depressed with his hand on his foreheadcorresponded about. Nurturing depression in and out of psychiatric hospitals, some of them committed suicide including John Berryman and Randall Jarrell. Poets Sylvia Plath and Ann Sexton were friends and felt the same. They talked to each other often, and also committed suicide.

But you don’t have to feel miserable to write a poem or a tragedy or be in love to write a romance. Anton Chekhov said that ironically happy writers write sad things and sad writers write happy things. Gustav Flaubert said that the less writers feel a thing, the more likely they are to express it as it really is. J.D Salinger wrote that ecstatically happy prose writers have disadvantages. They can’t be moderate, temperate, detached, or brief.

Some writers seem so grim and bitter about their need to write. George Orwell said that “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon one can never resist or understand.” Opera composer Giacomo Puccini said “Art is a kind of illness.” Nobel laureate Ernest Hemingway felt differently. He felt awful when he wasn’t writing, the opposite when he was: “Suffer like a bastard when don’t write, or just before, and feel empty…Never feel as good as while writing.”

Silhouette of a person with arms outstretched looking at a sunriseWhatever has been said about the relationship between creatives’ state of mind and their performance,  writers and painters I know or have read or heard about have found writing or painting the most fulfilling and blissful thing they do.

 

Overview

I have assembled a number of quotations that pertain to many aspects of the lives of people in the arts– their function, their preference for simplicity, their complex nature, and the construction of their work.

 

The Creative’s Function

It is not coincidental that the remarkable art and architectural critic John Ruskin and novelist Joseph Conrad with his dazzling visual imagery Drawn outline of an eye with an illustration of the world map as the eyehad the same view of the function of writers and artists. Ruskin: “The whole function of the artist in the world is to be a seeing and feeling creature.”

Conrad: “My task, which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel–it is, before all, to make you see.”

 

Don’t Complicate Arts That Are So Simple

Usually, over the course of a career, noted practitioners of an art simplify their views of their role.

“What shall I say about poetry? What shall I say about those clouds, or about the sky? Look; look at them; look at it! And nothing more. Don’t you understand that a poet can’t say anything about poetry? Leave that to the critics and the professors. For neither you, nor I, nor any poet knows what poetry is” (Frederico Lorca).

Picture of a green grassy hillside with buildings and trees and blue sky with cloudsPainter Edouard Manet thought the urge to create is a simple reflex that doesn’t require thought: “There is only one true thing: instantly paint what you see. When you’ve got it, you’ve got it. When you haven’t, you begin again.”

William Faulkner wrote in a highly complicated rhetorical style that is difficult to understand unless you read the sentences over and over. Yet he was the most direct person when he spoke. When asked what he thought made a good writer he said, “I think if you’re going to write, you’re going to write and nothing will stop you.”  Saul Below, like Faulkner a Nobel Prize winner, was as direct when he said, “I am just a man in the position of waiting to see what the imagination is going to do next.”

Henry Moore felt that his art had a spontaneity of its own. He believed that if he set out to sculpt a standing man and it became a lying woman, he knew he was making art.

Henri Matisse is reported to have said, “When a painting is finished, it is like a newborn child. The artist himself must have time for understanding it. It must be lived with as a child is lived with, if we are to grasp the meaning of its being” (John Dewy).

 

The Makeup of Creatives

People generally are fascinated by creatives and want to know what makes them able to produce memorable works. A survey was done dealing with women’s preferences for a husband. The most attractive partner was thought to be a writer. And creatives are self-absorbed and fascinated by themselves.

Creatives express love: Alfred Werner of Marc Chagall: He is a painter of love. He loved flowers and animals, he loved people, he loved love. There is sadness in his paintings, but there is no despair and always a metaphysical hope. “When he paints a beggar in snow, he puts a fiddle in his hands.”

Blue and brown fantasy illustration of a face with diagrams of the brain on either sideCreatives have complex memories from which their art derives: “The essential factor of development of expertise is the accumulation of increasingly complex patterns in memory” (Andreas Lehmann).

Creatives convey great ideas: “He is the greatest artist who has embodied, in the sum of his work, the greatest number of the greatest ideas” (John Ruskin).

Creatives involve their whole selves in their art: “It is art that makes life, makes intensity, makes importance…and  I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process “(Henry James).

Creatives are especially perceptive: “It seems to me that the writers who have the power of revelation are just those who, in some particular part of life, have seen or felt considerably more than the average run of intelligent beings…The great difference, intellectually speaking, between one man and another is simply the number of things they can see in a given cubic yard of the world.” (Gilbert Murray.)

 

How is a Work Made?

Pink, brown and gold pieces of a jigsaw puzzle on a dark wooden tableSince the earliest civilizations people have been theorizing about creatives among them and the creative process. The first question was: is creative ability a gift from the gods?

John Ruskin communicated his ideas so beautifully. About the making of a work of art he said, “Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart go together.”

Novelist George Eliot said about creation:  “Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together.”

Creatives have a strong need for independence and resist having their work meddled with, as communicated by this quote from Patty McNair: “Get your mitts offa my story.”

The need for a developed expertise: “The repeated reminder of Mr. (Ezra) Pound: that poetry should be as well -written as prose” (T.S Eliot).

Eventually a writer will come to the conclusion that simplicity and naturalness are the keys to effective styles: “As for style in writing, if one has anything to say, it drops from him simply and directly” (Henry David Thoreau).

Brown tree branches in front of a gold sunsetThe best writing resists critical explanation:  “In truly good writing no matter how many times you read it you do not know how it is done. That is because there is a mystery in all great writing and the mystery does not dissect out” (Ernest Hemingway).

Inspirations are creative urges such as “Go ahead and do it”: “If you find a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it” (Toni Morrison).

 

The Work is Greater than the Artist Who Produced the Work

It is very common for people meeting someone who has produced a great work of art to be disappointed, not with the work, but with the impression the artist makes: “I thought he would be better looking”  “He writes so beautifully but he’s not much of a conversationalist, is he?” Poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky said aptly, “What people can make with their hands is a lot better than they are themselves.”

 

© 2022 David J. Rogers

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

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What Are the Strengths and Weaknesses of Really Good Writers and Artists?

Once you are a really good writer or artist, you enjoy many advantages. But beware because now you will also have new weaknesses.

Red silhouette of a woman on yellow background, with an indication of her brain, as she looks at shelves of booksAs a really good writer, painter, actor, architect, or composer you have the ability to generate the best solutions to creative problems. The solutions are much better than the solutions less capable creatives settle on. Your aesthetic judgment is better than theirs. You perceive features of the problems facing you and the solutions to them that lesser creatives don’t notice and can’t think of.

One reason why you are so capable is that if you are  really good at your craft, you are able to keep huge amounts of useful information in your working memory, far more than less excellent writers, painters, etc. can keep in their minds. You can easily draw on that wealth of knowledge you’ve acquired about your art–its history, its techniques and artists, its methods leading to success and those that lead to failure or exasperation. Even genius, left alone with no help from extensive knowledge, is not strong.

As an example of the wealth of knowledge possessed by excellent creatives, let me cite multiple Academy Award-winning and Pulitzer Prize winning composer and song-writer Marvin Hamlisch. Torn or burnt fragments of sheet musicHe had a staggering knowledge of American songs. I knew Marvin and would do exhaustive research trying to stump him with the least known and most esoteric songs my research could find, asking him “Who wrote…?” and “Who wrote…?” However obscure the song and no matter how confidently I thought, “He will never know this one,” he always knew.

But you must guard against a common weakness of really good creatives: over-confidence in their artistic judgement. Capable as you may be, your judgment is not infallible, and sometimes it is wrong. For example, even a supremely talented writer, painter, or architect can waste months or years on an ill-advised project that looked promising but turned sour. Thomas Wolfe studied playwriting at Harvard and wrote bad plays for nine years before realizing, at the suggestion of his lover, that he had no future in playwriting, but was “meant” to write novels.

In another instance it took George Bernard Shaw five years of submitting to publishers one novel each year to realize the opposite: that he had no future writing novels, but could write plays masterfully. An editor who had turned down Shaw’s novels had said, “Unfortunately we must reject this novel too, but the dialogue was wonderful. Did you ever think of writing plays?’ That was all that was necessary for Shaw to turn the direction of his career.

Really good artists and writers are generally (though not always as in the cases of Wolfe and Shaw) good judges of their own abilities. They are self-critical and self-demanding to a very high degree. They are self-absorbed in a positive way and closely study themselves and their work, which they are obsessed with. They are motivated by a so-called “urge to improve,” and monitor themselves so that they are able to detect errors in their knowledge, technique, style, and skill, and do something to correct those errors.

Woman's hands typing on a laptop with a yellow post-it note stuck on the corner of the screenUnlike ordinary writers who might not be aware that their plots are not believable, a really good writer would be aware if theirs were not. Yet, in spite of being vividly aware and quite objective and accurate about their own work, expert artists and writers have the weakness of often being wrong in their predictions about the performance of novices they have been asked to evaluate. It is as though they are unable to recognize talent while it is still in a formative state. In fact, the greater their expertise, the more likely they are to be wrong in predicting the performance of novices.

Something very similar may happen in the field of professional editing–highly experienced editors not recognizing the promise of young writers. For example, when young English schoolteacher William Golding’s submission of his first book, Lord of the Flies, was being considered by Faber and Faber Publishers, the editors, Wooden table with sheets of paper with a red pen on top and a cup of coffee on the sideincluding the senior editor whose judgment was “always right” rejected it as impossible to understand. Only Charles Monteith, who had never edited a book before, argued angrily on behalf of the book he had fallen in love with despite its obvious flaws. Unlike the experts, he saw that good editing could remedy its weaknesses. Lord of the Flies, edited by Monteith, became an international best seller.

Golding went on to write many books, essays, and plays. Golding and Monteith became an example of a superb writer-editor-friends team working together in harmony for many years of productivity culminating In Golding’s Nobel Prize.  So if you are a novice and are looking for objective and accurate appraisal of your ability, it may be a good idea not to ask an expert, but to go to a teacher and to hope  the publisher’s editor assigned to you is as enthusiastic as Charles Monteith was and as willing to fight for your book.

To improve their artistic performance, really good artists and writers will be more opportunistic, making use of whatever sources of information they need to solve their creative problems. Just as stand-up comedians steal jokes from each other, artists and writers “borrow” insights and techniques from other artists in their own art and from other arts as well, and from any other field they are familiar with.

green and yellow field with a fantasy-like swirl going up to a cloudy sky of blue and whiteReally good creatives are able to pull out of their minds–with ease–the insights they need. They are so able and accustomed to using the substantial skills they have developed, that they do so automatically, “without thought” as a Zen master would say. To them writing or painting is easy.  Yet, at the same time, they may be victims of inflexibility in the face of new circumstances. At times they have trouble adjusting to situations confronting them.

For example, marvelous actor Charles Laughton was offered the starring role in the movie The Bridge on the River Kwai, but hard as he tried, he could not form a concept of the role sufficient for him to play it. He turned the role down. He said that he finally realized how it should be played when he saw Alec Guinness play in the movie the role he might have had. Was it an Academy Award winning role, whoever would have played it? Would Laughton have won the Oscar for best actor as Guinness did?

blue, purple, and pink jigsaw puzzle pieces in a disordered pileReally good creatives spend considerable time analyzing the problems facing them while less accomplished creatives spend less time and are not as patient as the exceptional creatives. A study discovered that students in art school who would become the best and most financially successful after graduation took much longer to meditate on and plan their paintings, lithographs, and sculptures.

A weakness of many really good artists and writers is overlooking details that don’t seem to them to pertain to the problem, but do pertain to it. Highly talented people are notoriously blasé about details, don’t worry about them, and don’t like to bother with them. (For example, when F. Scott Fitzgerald submitted the manuscript for The Great Gatsby, it had more than 100 misspellings.) That can also be seen in areas other than the arts. People with extensive knowledge about a sport recall fewer details of a text about that sport than people with little knowledge of the sport.

painting of a serene blue-green lake with trees and blue mountains in the backgroundGenius in the arts or in any other pursuit is almost always specific to one art, one domain. Often it is assumed without too much thought that a person with a high level of skill in one area will almost automatically be skilled in another area or many other areas. That’s called “the halo effect.”  Yet while there are exceptions, the halo effect is generally invalid.  High-performing creators do not excel in areas where they have no expertise. But in a single domain they are on their home turf, and their work is really good.

 

© 2022 David J. Rogers

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

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A System for Improving Creative Performance

Reflections on Creative Purposes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Introduction to the Components of the Creator’s Eightfold Path

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Here is an introduction to one of the components:

Insights about Right Work/Production Program

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

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

The Value of Structure

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

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

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

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

Be Ready to Work

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

The Value of Volume.

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

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

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

Working Regularly Is Almost Mandatory

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

 

© 2022 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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How to Follow the Way of the Writer

In my book Fighting to Win I describe in detail Budo, the Way of the samurai warrior that proved to be of interest to many people internationally. Just as the Way of the samurai has fascinated me for decades, there is a Way of the Writer which I have long been actively involved in that I would like to describe here as I conceive of it.

A Way is more than a discipline. It is a style of practicing a skill or art that embraces the heart, spirit, and mind of the practitioners of the Way–the beginners who devote themselves to the Way and become masters.

Developing into a Writer Following a Way

Hands of a woman writing in a notebook in a grassy fieldA writer begins with a talent. Talent is the raw material from which a writer’s career is shaped. Doing well what others find difficult is talent. It is not possible to describe the complete, complex structure of knowledge and skills the talented writer has acquired. The best predictor of future success isn’t just time spent writing, but the amount of time devoted to improving not just this skill or that skill, but the  specific skills which are the most essential if a person is to become excellent--those ten or so necessary abilities they must possess if they hope to excel. Developing those skills is the first focus of a person on the Writer’s Way.  Skills are taught–by a teacher, or a mentor, or they are self-taught. Many of the most successful and distinguished writers taught themselves.

You read about writing and famous writers and may take classes and may belong to writers’ groups. You may go to writers’ retreats and find Table with book, eyeglasses, coffe cup and white and lavender flowers in a vasecontentment. “There is a blessed peace in a retreat that happens to suit my fraught nature…I arrive in a heaven…and I sink immediately in a sort of peace from life that I don’t seem to be able to find anywhere else” (Lynn Freed).

Someone mentors you or singles you out and offers help. You apply yourself and develop a solid foundation in the mechanics of writing, and branch out into in your specialty and learn its mechanics and then range far beyond the mechanics, becoming a proficient writer, then excellent, then superb, masterful.

You may be a natural-born novelist, or essayist, playwright, poet, or screen writer, or you may begin writing no more promising than anyone else. But at some point—it could be at the age of seven or forty or sixty five or at a bleak crisis or turning point or epiphany in your life–if you are on the first steps of the Writer’s Way, you  begin to write more purposefully, mindfully, self-consciously, and ambitiously. Your goals grow higher, your future path a little less faint.

Tip of a fancy fountain penThen, possibly without being aware of how it happened, out of the act of writing more frequently, acquiring knowledge of effective writing, involving yourself in the writing world, enduring at times frustration, suffering, and pain you wouldn’t have had were you not a writer, and growing in confidence, your writer’s style and voice growing clearer, you are “taken” by the craft of writing fully and completely–unequivocally.

You find yourself a practitioner of the Way of the Writer. As a writer involved in a Way you are willing to give up other rewards for the sole experience of writing because for you writing is satisfying in a way few if any other things are. It is not so much the content of the writing you do that accounts for your pleasure, but the process of writing that brings joy in and of itself. The biographies of great artists make it clear that the creative urge often “yokes everything to the service of the work” (Carl Gustave Jung). For most serious writers, to write itself is more rewarding than the acclaim they receive.

What It Feels Like If You Are On the Way of the Writer

Path with pink tulips on either sideWriting as a Way opens up new facets of your being that you might not be aware of. You write regularly over an extended period of time–one year, five, ten, thirty, or fifty. It’s writing that you think most about and talk with other writers about and possibly bore your loved ones speaking about. Writing as a Way becomes an indispensable part of your daily and weekly life.

At times writers on a Way write night and day, revision upon revision, embellishing, reworking, cutting, shaping and reshaping, and finally deciding if the work is done and ready “to go out.” Although writing is often grueling, tedious, and not easy but difficult to master, few other things matter as much to practitioners of any of the arts as sweat and work. When you’re away from writing, you crave it. If you’re away too long, you become edgy, nervous, and irritable. The only relief is to get back to the writer’s work you adore. You try to write at least one hour every twenty-four. 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.

Something you find essential in the act of writing keeps you going and makes you return to it again and again in spite of the setbacks and deep disappointments every writer knows well. There is “just something about” putting words together, of experimenting with ideas, of holding them in your mind as you would analogously hold a ball in your hand, and of the emotional release of “losing” yourself in the work, of having a penchant for detail because writing is an art of detail.

Hand clasp with the words Learning, Knowledge, Experience, Competence, Skills, Ability, Training & GrowthwWhen you’re writing, you’re focused. Your mind is sharp, crisp. Your thoughts don’t wander. You’re not thinking of anything else. A headache disappears. Worry about the rent dissolves. You forget about yourself, almost as though you’ve stopped existing except in the words you’re putting so carefully on the screen before you. You may be working on four, five, or six projects simultaneously, moving from one to another as the mood strikes, each project requiring different talents. When people don’t recognize the value and quality of your writing, your faith in yourself helps you persist. Poet Stephen Spender said, “It is evident that faith in their work, mystical in intensity, sustains poets.”

The joy and exhilaration you receive on the Writer’s Way even from the physical act of sitting at the computer, taking a first breath of your work day, getting ready to write, and touching the keyboard with your fingertips, or the thrill at the design of the text on the computer screen is beyond the experience and comprehension of non-writers. Those aspects of the writer’s life add up to an experience which is often as necessary to the writer’s wellbeing as loving and being loved.

Container of pens, pencils, and highlighters in front of a computer keyboardThe most distinguishing quality of creative people is a persistent and enthusiastic absorption in their work, in spite of any frustration and suffering they may endure. Creative talent is indistinguishable from passion and intensity. You can hardly call yourself creative without them. One reason writers who are experts are more accomplished than writers who are very good but not great is that experts are more passionate about writing and spend more hours at it, working six hours while less capable writers work two hours.  The only way you could keep some people from writing would be to break their fingers.

When you are a writer on a Way, when you’re writing you are in your element and are maximally effective. You have high aspirations. You’re willing to sacrifice other pleasures and have a need to do your work without being interfered with, to be free of conflicts that impede your writing goals.

At times you live with uncertainties, doubts, and tension. But over the months or years you develop strength, confidence, and faith in your abilities and judgment. If asked, you’d define yourself as creative, inventive, determined, and enthusiastic. You’ve found that you have good insights into your capabilities and are aware of those you lack. The hardships, worries, disappointments, and stresses you encounter—if they don’t drive you away from a Writer’s Way–play a necessary part in making you stronger. There are many things you can’t do well that other people are far better at. But one thing you can do is write better than most other people.

Lone tree on a pink field with a white and blue skyWhatever your mood, even if grim, writing make you feel beater. Pleasure increases the more you write, partially because you work independently, isolated and self-sufficient. Since creative achievers typically engaged in solitary activities as children, you’re 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).

The more you write, the more automatic your writing becomes. Then it is done without the interference of thought, like a bead of dew dropping simply and directly from a leaf: “My work is done at a subterranean level and as fragments come to the surface, I record them as they come up” (Katherine Anne Porter.)

Writing Is Blissful, but Painful

Virginia Woolf referred to a writer’s “rapture.” She said, “Perhaps this is the strongest pleasure known to me. It is the rapture I get when in writing I seem to be discovering what belongs to what, making a scene coming right, making a character come together.” That rapture is what writers often experience while writing, engaged in the Way of the Writer.

Man sitting in front of a computer laptop with hands clasped behind his head in evident frustrationIt is not unusual for writers and other artists fully absorbed in their work to be for that time in a state of ecstasy while they think, “What I am working on is essential to my fulfillment. I will be tenacious; I will persist for long periods without being diverted and try to make my work exceptional and appealing to an audience, applying all the skills of the craft I’ve labored so diligently to develop.”

But a person on a Writer’s Way is not spared emotional and physical suffering.  George Orwell thought that writing a book was “a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness” that writers are driven to by a demon they don’t understand but can’t resist. 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.”  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.”

Following a Writers Way, You’re a Seeker and Teller of Truth.

Path winding through autum trees of gold and orangeIn the arts, Anton Chekhov said, one must not lie, but must always be truthful. You’re trying to find what your truth really is and how best to express it and not deviate from it so that readers will understand it and find value in it and trust you. It is only through your writing that the truths you’ve discovered, and now believe in and strongly feel, will be expressed. How hard and how long you’ll have to work to express your truth is unimportant because every time you write it’s a coming into your own, a renewal of the best you have to offer the world.

 

The logical end of the Writer’s Way is to become a capital W writer, a Real Writer–to become known by your family, friends, teachers, editors, agents, and readers, and to define yourself as “someone who is very serious about writing.”  Juvenal expressed the truth that “The incurable itch of writing possesses many.” Why across the world in every hemisphere and country is that true?

Long road extending between rows of treesThrough writing you’re drawing out of yourself all that is in you–all the knowledge you’ve acquired, all the experiences you’ve lived through, what your emotions are, what skills you bring, and what you aspire to become. You gain meaning in life and a better understanding of who you are through performing writing. You have the sense that you are a person who is able to reveal important things. Delving deeply, expressing to the world what treasures you have found, you are now an artist, a remarkable status you have achieved by following the Way of the Writer.

 

 

© 2021 David J. Rogers

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

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Do You Have Enough Knowledge To Do Expert Creative Work?

Preface

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

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

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

Knowledge guidelines for practitioners in the arts are:

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

Creatives: Older Is Better Than Younger

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

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

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

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

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

Absorb Knowledge of Your Field

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

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

Set and Pursue Knowledge-Enhancement Goals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be a Sponge

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

 

Review

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

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

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

 

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

 

© 2021 David J. Rogers

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

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Should a Painter or Writer Plan the Work?

Let me tell you about a problem I had:  I started to write a prescriptive how-to book for serious creatives interested in becoming skilled craftsmen in their art. It was to be titled A Book for Creative Writers and Painters in Training. But wouldn’t you know it, right away I was in a container of pens, pencils, and highlighters in front of a computer keyboardfix. I was writing what should be an easy section on planning what you are about to write or paint. Now planning is something I know a lot about. For years I was a trainer for a consulting company I founded. I trained thousands of people to use the best techniques of planning so they might effectively plan whatever business or career project they had in mind.

But I couldn’t go on when I realized that it would have been hypocritical of me to tell writers or painters how best to plan an artistic work when I had an epiphany, a realization which was that I never–never–plan  a written work.  I then asked myself a question: “Why don’t you plan texts?” and found myself answering “Because I consider planning unnecessary at least for me and writers and painters like me, of whom I’ll bet there are an astounding number.” It’s not that non-planning is superior to planning or planning superior to non-planning. They just suit people who create differently.

The Habit of Planning

Even as children girls and boys who will become writers and painters when they grow up have been told and taught by teachers to plan the work before they begin to execute it.  They are taught that in grade school, and in graduate school professors or experienced visiting artists and writers stipulate that every work should have a plan. Planning becomes a habit that isn’t questioned because “everyone knows you have to have a plan before you begin. How else will you know how to proceed?”

When these now adults feel that urge that stirs a person to create a work they immediately tell their mind to start concocting a plan that will guide them in making the idea for the work or the painting’s main emotion into a tangible reality, as a finished landscape or a finished novel, for example.  A novelist submitting a book proposal to a publisher must include a plan that the publisher will scrutinize and refer to to judge the potential of the book.

Having made a plan that the creative has thoroughly thought out, the writer or painter can tell anyone who asks what they are trying to accomplish in the work because the plan’s goals and sub-goals and the book’s or painting’s features are precise. Some writer’s working plans are so detailed that they are hundreds of pages long, and some painters make abundant pre-painting sketches and work-ups.

Road extending to the distance with the word start at the beginningSome creatives meticulously plan and think the work to be produced through to the last detail. But some non-planner creatives begin to paint or write without a subject in mind, preferring to permit the work to grow organically and emerge. Some writers, like me, begin without any conscious concept of how to proceed other than, at best, a notion not at all well-developed of what the work should probably be about.

For example, it seemed to me that a “How-to-live” book containing the knowledge, spiritual insights, and wisdom of the Japanese samurai I had acquired could be helpful in many practical ways to people now living everyday lives if it were adapted and written properly. I wrote a brief six -page proposal, it was accepted, I wrote the book successfully without a plan, and from its revenues I bought a house.

Like the speaker in the poem “The Waking” by Theodore Roethke, non-planners “learn by going where [they] have to go.” They start not knowing yet what they will create, waiting for an inspiration to guide them.  Writers will write something and then react to what is written, and then without a plan a work begins to take shape little by little. They write a book this way. Non-planning painters work the same way–each brush stroke an experiment.

hand of a child painting vibrant colors Non-planning Virginia Woolf said that her idea for Mrs. Dalloway started without any conscious direction. She thought of making a plan but soon abandoned the idea. She said, “The Book grew day by day, by week, without any plan at all, except that which was dictated each morning in the act of writing.” Had someone asked her what exactly she was trying to accomplish other than to follow a woman throughout a day she would have replied, “I’m not sure.” The planner- writers are sure of where they are going. Their plan tells them.

Research

The research cited in David W. Galenson’s book Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creation sheds light on the question this post asks: should a painter or writer plan a work? The answer is that not everyone profits from planning the work because given the methods of creativity of some artists and writers planning a text or a painting is superfluous.

Mona Lisa paintingThe more spontaneous process which non-planning creatives like greats Woolf and Mark Twain (possibly America’s greatest writer) and Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci use to complete a work is contrary to the rational goal-setting, plan-making processes.  Following a plan inhibits certain creatives for whom a more spontaneous approach results in better work.

If a writer for whom planning the work is contrary to the way they think and create is forced to develop a plan, doing so will be difficult and stressful because doing so is unnatural to someone for whom planning a painting or a text is unimportant. Such people are dying to omit planning and to get to the keyboard or the easel and create the way they do best, relying on repeated inspirations to guide them to the right words and pigments as they experiment with this sentence or brush stroke, and that until they are satisfied that they have done the best they could, and the work finished.  With regard to a plan before starting the execution of the work they think: how can I possibly plan the death scene, for example, when I don’t know at the moment what my mood and state of mind will be when I reach that section a year from now?

Often in the act of executing the work the non-planning writer or painter realizes that the plan that seemed perfect as they imagined the work will simply and emphatically not do the job. I’ve had that experience with every book I’ve written. I ignored the plans and proceeded in what Galenson would call an “Experimentalist’s” manner. A plan sometimes has to be done because that’s what teachers and publishers want and “grade” you on, but no plan will ever satisfy a writer or painter whose methods of creating works make detailed plans unnecessary.

Planners and Non-planners

colorful abstract paintingGalenson describes two significantly different types of artists. The “everything must be planned” artists are called Conceptualizers: they must have a full-blown concept of the work they wish to create in all its detail before they begin writing or painting the work. Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, James Joyce, Herman Melville, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were Conceptual writers. Pablo Picasso was a Conceptual painter. Conceptualizers state their carefully- wrought goals for a particular work precisely before the work’s production. For their paintings conceptualizers like Georges Seurat (the best example of a painter who planned)–a very cerebral painter) make many detailed preparatory sketches that may be so detailed and finished that they are works of art in themselves. While painting, they closely follow a preconceived image they hold clearly in mind.

The other type of writer or painter Galenson calls” Experimentalists”–each new idea they set about to write is an experiment. Experimentalists such as Charles Dickens, Henry James, Twain, and Woolf, and painter Paul Cezanne have a totally different approach.  They allow the work–a novel’s plot, for example–to take shape as if it were growing organically on its own because they believe that creating should be a process of discovery.

The extreme Conceptual painter “is one who makes extensive preparations in order to arrive at a precisely formulated desired image before beginning the execution of the final work.” In contrast extreme Experimentalists “make no decisions for a painting before beginning to create what will become the final work” except to have needed materials and a space to work, etc.

watercolor landscape with mountains in blues and purplesOnce Conceptualizers find the crucial problem they advance slowly with a plan, but Experimentalists move fast without a plan. Experimentalist’s goals are imprecise. They have ideas about what the work will be like when it is finished, but are unclear about everything else until the piece is written, the painting mounted on a wall. That imprecision is how Experimentalists like to work, but it creates problems. Not clear as to what they want the final work to look like, they have trouble finishing works.

Because they have trouble finishing a work many Experimentalists often return even after many years to finish works they earlier abandoned. They “hang on” to works rather than being done with them. They have difficulty deciding when the work should be presented to the public in the form of a painting that is for sale, or a book that is ready to be offered to a publisher. It is said that Experimentalists Michelangelo and Da Vinci never really finished a single work. Mark Twain was very slow in producing works and labored over his books’ endings. His endings are never satisfying.

One of Da Vinci’s greatest contributions was his rebellion against the rigid procedures of traditional artists’ training that emphasized the use of careful preparatory studies, advocating in its place methods that allowed artists the freedom to develop their own ideas as they worked.

Which Bloom Early and Which Bloom Late?

orange and yellow tulips with green stems and leavesConceptualizers tend to bloom early, often with a striking new style or innovation or great success at the start of their career. They mature quickly, starting very early, not gradually through years of trial and error as Experimentalist painters like Jackson Pollock and Claude Monet did, but rapidly.  A young Ernest Hemingway’s innovative writing style quickly revolutionized writing throughout the world.  At twenty-six he took over as “the big man” in American literature.

A problem for Conceptualizers is that they may be captive to their early success and develop fixed habits of thought and become too committed to a single way of approaching artistic problems.  They become stuck.  Experimentalists experiment, writing works that are not all the same.  Another problem of Conceptualizers is that like F. Scott Fitzgerald, so mournful in his last auto-biographical short stories, many Conceptualizers spend their last years wondering where their talent has gone.

Experimenters tend to bloom late. As in the case of Impressionist Monet, their skills are not full blown at the beginning of their career as is often the case with Conceptualizers, but develop slowly over the course of a career spanning sometimes decades: they get better and better as time passes.

Is One Method Better than the Other?

It may be thought that non-planners are not as well-organized as planners and may produce disorganized works, but that not true. They organize as they go. Throughout history, both methods have produced superb works.

 

© 2021 David J. Rogers

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

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Finding Fulfillment in the Arts

Abstract watercolor in blues and greensPeople 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.

Watercolor paints with brushIt 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.

Girl with headphones listeningNoted 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.”

Door opening to sceneWhat 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.”

pink rose openingPoet 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).

purple neon designArtists 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.

Smiling child with art suppliesChildren 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.

 

© 2021 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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Filed under Artists, Becoming an Artist, Creativity, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Fulfillment in the Arts, Inner Skills, Life of Creators, Personal Destiny, The Nature of Artists, Writers

Why Do Writers, Painters, and Other Artists Bloom Late?

deep pink proteaAlthough 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.

Gold color rose bloomA 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.

Green and purple flowersNovelist 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

Pink lotus on purple backgroundWhen 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

Pink lotus on dark green backgroundIf 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 Red-orange poppy with little blue flowers and green grasswith 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

Pink and purple anemoneMost 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.

Red chrysanthemumsGoing 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.

Orange DahliaHave 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.

 

© 2021 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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Writing Vivid Descriptions

Good writers should have an “eye” and an excellent memory of people, places, and events that they have experienced in their lives themselves or have heard or read about and can clearly envision as they compose. They should be able to create vivid descriptions full of images–word pictures–that enliven the text and appeal to the reader’s senses, particularly the sense of sight, but the other senses as well. Descriptions are not window dressing or “filler” that a writer need pay little attention to, but a feature of writing fiction, nonfiction, and drama that is indispensable. Poorly written descriptions detract from the quality of the written piece. On the other hand, exceptional descriptions can compensate for weaknesses in other areas. If there is one quality descriptions should possess it is vividness. Vividness gives writing impact and is memorable.

Woman thinking in sunsetWriting vivid descriptions is a skill writers should strive to refine. Yet it is a weakness of many writers. If your ability to write effective descriptions is lacking it should be worked on vigorously and made a strength. Like painters, writers benefit from maintaining some form of “sketch books,” notebooks to which the writer adds descriptions that could be incorporated into a final text later. Anton Chekhov, master of masters of the short story, referred to “images and scenes which are precious to me and which for some reason I carefully saved and put aside.” Whenever a particularly potent and useful description comes to mind, don’t waste it. Write it down in the notebook before you forget it.

Descriptions are an integral part of the written piece, serving a major role of evoking an atmosphere, a mood, a spirit of a person or places, and establishing a tone and a setting. American writer Stephen Crane was influenced by French Impressionism painting and made it a point to include colors in his descriptions whereas Ernest Hemingway often mentioned the weather in his. Chekhov wrote 588 pieces. He was all business when he wrote them, wasting no words. He did not consider descriptions less important than plots, and his descriptions stand out.

Good writers with a talent for language often find pleasure in writing effective descriptions in an appealing style that readers sometimes find the feature of the piece they remember most. Anyone seriously interested in literary description will probably find their way to the writings of Joseph Conrad and be spellbound.

The following are examples of vivid descriptions from my own writing:

 

Sudden Storm

It was summer, and in summer the lake, so much a part of our childhood, was always inviting. That day the two of us –my sister Sharon, eight, and I, ten– inhabited our bodies with inexpressible joy. She was on the shore holding my hand. I was standing in the water. Suddenly a wind Big wavepicked up. Into the air fluttered two hundred gulls with noisy wings. Above us clouds raced each other headlong across the coal black sky. Onto the shore crashed a procession of liquid walls–white-crested, angled slightly off to the south where blocks of limestone twenty feet high lay as if dropped from the heavens by gods. The magnificent waves rose–hills of water that seemed to pause, suspended for a moment at their peak as though they could rise no higher, and then crumbled and broke on the shore like a multitude of shattered stars. The spume spread and undertows slid back like shears below the breakers. Wave upon wave upon wave upon wave rose, lunged, and plunged like a field of gray-green wheat bowing under the wind. Just a moment before there had been not a breeze, not a breath of wind. But now all the wind in the world seemed to be concentrated on that strip of earth. It was a lion of a wind unleashed, untamed, cool, cold, with a sparkle, bite, and sting–many winds in fact, one gust coming, ending, another coming, another waiting–bringing pouring in to us the odors of water, of fish, and of the wind itself. The hoarse roar of the foaming waves filled all the air with the sounds of artillery.  Trees on the shore bent as though made of rubber and our drenched bodies glistened.

Everything in our field of vision was in motion–beach umbrellas pulled out of the sand and hurled west, end over end into the high grass where frightened field mice must have cowered in terror. Unattended blankets were lifted up like magic carpets and whipped skyward. Trees shook. Grass was flattened as though pressed by an iron. The canopies of the concession stands snapped. Bathers to our left and right and further up the beach gathered their blankets and loose clothes, and children sprinted with their parents for the shelter of the beach house. Sharon and I lay flat on the ground clutching the earth with our hands and raised our heads and watched men dragging row boats higher up onto the beach away from the waves, leaving behind ruts in the sand: such things making this one day permanent in our minds. Thirty years later when Sharon was dying, that was the childhood day she remembered best.

 

Where I Live

It is a very nice little Midwestern American town, clean and peaceful. To the east, on the shores of Lake Michigan, the houses are very grand, elegant, and old, and the streets are lined with magnificent trees.  The library is in the middle of town next to the town sculpture and City Hall and a rose garden and a facsimile of the log cabin of the first resident.

When you ride the commuter trains up from downtown Chicago, thirty miles south, the uniformed conductors, assembled like partridges in little talkative groups beside their waiting trains, tell each other one last lie, sometimes involving women who come alive only at midnight on Saturdays. Then the train leaps from the dark, oil-reeking station and you, a passenger,  look out the window and see the lines of office and factory workers on the streets and an urban panorama of gray back porches cluttered with terracotta flower-pots and bicycles and broken washing machines. Leaning over the railings of the porches are people–not all of them poor–with the great mournful eyes of cats. The light of day falls dramatically on them, particularly at the moment the sunlight fades and becomes evening, and you find yourself wondering if it is possible these people you can see with your own eyes but will never meet are happy. Disappearing behind you, the wilderness of massive structures towers into the sky as if put there to hold up the clouds.

 

Youth’s Nights of Happiness: Night Of The College Dance

(Reprinted from my short story “The Kiss,” DuPage Valley Review.)

college town“Young couples sitting on benches held each other, kissed, and heard the melancholy saxophone through the open windows of the gymnasium. Past a grove of gray trees, out on the lagoon, among mallards drifting on the water like leaves and bull frogs hidden in the shadows like thieves, students in row boats whose oars dangled free and made little splashing sounds, lay back, their bodies warm and glowing under light blankets. Contented, they were looked down upon by a pageantry of stars that seemed so close together that a finger wouldn’t fit between them. And while laughter floated like smoke through the night, they spoke of the incredible deeds they would one day perform.”

 

The College Town Where I Lived

The night of the dance, I remember, was perfect too–that crispness of Midwest autumn, a small drowsy college set in a little town of narrow, winding cobblestone streets crowded with lovely old gnarled oaks, maples, and sycamores and wild, untrimmed hedges. Pinnacles, domes, and spires of church towers, like the great cathedrals of Europe, rose gradually and wonderfully and were visible everywhere. In the yards, along crumbling stone fences sprouting moss, lichens, and ferns, were an abundance of rose gardens that were sadly withered at that time of year. The town was surrounded on all sides by tractors and threshers left overnight in wheat fields, and the campus was split in two by a river with an Indian name.

 

Riding Freight Trains

(The day after we graduated from high school my friend Nick and I–he eighteen, I seventeen–talked it over in a corner drug store and decided to ride freight trains for a while: college could wait. We took a bus to the Chicago city limit and walked behind a billboard and across an empty lot to a little train yard. A freight train came by and we hopped it, heading due west where we hoped adventures we couldn’t tell our parents about waited.)

 

At The Welcome Inn, Wyoming

Down the wide main street and prominently visible from our freight train, the alluring green neon sign of the Welcome Inn burned brightly. It was a small, squat, one-story square log building that night and day hummed and trembled with pulsing music and in which who knew what went on. But we were curious to find out. This was our second visit. The first time through we had entered that tumult of sweat and whiskey, amidst the glow of the red bar light and clouds of floating smoke, and stood at the bar next to a tattooed woman snapping a bull whip and wearing a black satin cape with shining red lining and had seen a man with a chin scar and an eye-patch get angry and pull a pistol on another man. The second man took the gun away from the first and slugged him over the head with it. He turned to us disgusted with his friend, who lay dazed and prone on the floor, people stepping over him, and said, “He’s always doing that,” and that was the end of that.

Old cars with dented fenders and gaudy garters dangling on their rear-view mirrors and pick-up trucks with rifle racks cradling ominous shotguns and carbines were parked four deep in the lot. When the door of the Inn swung open, muscular men, their shirt sleeves rolled up above the bicep, sauntered out arrogantly, their arms tight around the waists of conspicuously made-up women, their heads thrown back in exaltation and abandon, and the chime of laughter spilled into the night like water.

 

 

My Childhood: Rag Man

(Adapted from “Edgewater” that appeared in East on Central magazine)

Keeping to no particular schedule other than it be daylight nearing early evening, the old gray nameless Rag Man came down our alley. He appeared to be a rag himself–sitting high atop a large, heavy-laden, horse-drawn, creaking wagon stacked with old lamps, washboards,  card tables, vacuum cleaners, newspapers,  pots and pans, and such. His loud gruff voice preceded him by half a block as he bellowed “Rags, old iron” as though we were all asleep in bed and needed to be woken. As the wagon approached, you heard, faintly at first, and then more purely, the rhythmic clomp, clomp, clomp, clomp of the shod hooves of the old gray horse. Its head hung low and swayed to the rhythm of its plodding gait. Passive, not straining or wrenching at the reins, it would lift its head with majesty and shake its harness chains vigorously and musically. But uncomfortably. Then you heard its snorts as it struggled futilely with its bit. You noticed its huge bulbous brown eyes, glazed with an expression of weariness and pitiful sorrow. You noticed too the sunlight shimmering off the sweat coating its flanks and the twitching muscles of its legs and rump shaking flies away. How can I forget–how could you forget were you there too–that elegant parade of a rattling wagon, Rag Man, and Rag Man’s horse?

 

My Dear Father and Me

Man and boy walking along water's edgeThere was a tenderness and manly sweetness in my father’s manner, and too, the restraint of a gentlemanly politeness and natural shyness about speaking of things that moved him most profoundly, and which I knew indisputably he felt toward me, as I did toward him.

 

The Silent Coal-Shoveler

(Appeared in Muses Gallery)

Sometime before the cruel, cold Chicago winter days came each year, the coal-shoveler would appear in the alley. I would walk past him and his pile of coal on the way to school. When I returned home, the coal was gone and the coal-shoveler–his work done–was gone too,

Behind the apartment buildings, beside a pile of coal a story high, toils the always silent, always alone, never-speaking, never-grunting, never-complaining, muscular black coal-shoveler. From chilly dawn, all day long while I am at school or at the playground, in the alley behind my house, that cadenced scrape of his shovel between coal and pavement can be heard, and the coal thumping, tumbling, like pieces of thunder down the wooden chute into a dark, cool cellar.

 

These are some of the descriptions that I first wrote in a notebook and later incorporated in longer pieces. Among other pleasures, descriptions give the writer a chance to play–to play with similes and metaphors and other expressive words.

 

© 2021 David J. Rogers

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

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Filed under Descriptive Writing, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Imagery in the Arts, Memory, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing improvement

A Style Is About All There Is to Art

Style is everywhere in art and everywhere in everyday life. There would be no art without style. Picasso’s Guernica has a style, and Pride and Prejudice does too, and the building you are in has a style. Whenever you speak or send a text or dress or brush your hair, you have a style. You’re reading a style right now. It is mine, and just as, whether you know it or not, you have spent probably Interior livingroom with stylethousands of hours developing yours (so that I’d recognize anywhere that it is yours), I have consciously spent many hours developing mine.

A core reason you are attracted to one painter over others or one writer over others, or why you like Sinatra, or Chopin or Debussy or The Simpsons is their style.  Speaking of style, short story specialist Irishman Frank O’ Connor said, “One sees that the way a thing is made controls and is inseparable from the whole meaning of it.” In the same vein but more emphatically American Nobel Prize writer Toni Morrison said, “Getting a style is about all there is to writing.”

The total effect of what a writer says will depend to a considerable extent on how the writer says it. Style is the manner of saying what is said.  Some styles are appealing, but many are unappealing. The writer should always want to write with an appealing style. It needn’t be beautiful, but it should be appealing.

Painting of field by Claude Monet

Claude Monet

The writer’s style expresses his or her temperament and his or hers alone, and reveals verbal abilities, methods of writing, enthusiasms, and even self-doubts. By analyzing a writing style you can analyze the writer. Painters leave their print everywhere in their paintings. Style is the whole artist that is made recognizable in the work. You can see from a work that a Cezanne temperament is not a Monet temperament.

There are good styles and bad styles. .  People do not generally like weird, eccentric styles. When artists discover the style that best expresses them (which may take years to happen) they experience a breakthrough and feel a new sense of power and confidence over their work.

A sign for writers that they are on the right track is the emergence in the work at hand of their characteristic style.  When they see their style taking shape in the work, they feel secure. I’ve always felt that when I get the first paragraph under control (in my style), the piece is basically written.

Simplicity

Artists who are interested in styles today are almost automatically interested in SIMPLICITY, claiming that works of art should not be unnecessarily complicated. Speaking of simplicity, writer Willa Cather said that the higher processes of art are all processes of simplification.

portrait of Anton Checkhov

Anton Checkhov

Anton Chekhov is considered the master of the short story–the greatest, the best to learn from. He wrote to his brother, also a writer, “A strange thing has happened to me: I have developed a mania for brevity–everything strikes me as too long.” He practiced “maximal conciseness.” His phrases are simple, such as, “The sun set,” “It got dark,” and “It started to rain.”  Novelist Somerset Maugham thought that writing simply was more difficult than it might seem. He said: To write simply is as difficult as to be good.”

Chekhov believed that not only should a short story’s style be simple, but the plot should be simple too. He said, “The more elaborate the plot of a given story is, the less effective it tends to be as a work of art.” In many of his stories precious little happens.   He said, “You should take something ordinary, something from everyday life without a plot or ending.” He said a story should have a man and a woman, and a little action. Some of his most admired stories are mood-pieces in which plot is barely present.

Frank Lloyd Wright building

Frank Lloyd Wright

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright, designer of New York’s Guggenheim Museum, was interested in simplicity not only in architecture, but in all arts. He believed that there could be but one best way for the artist to express anything, and that the way could include only what was absolutely necessary to express the essential meaning of the thing. That requires stringent simplification. By eliminating the inessentials, the artist arrives at the nature of the object—its pure form. But the artist must know when to stop simplifying. Wright said, “Less would ruin the work as surely as would ‘more.’”  So, simplify but don’t go too far.

Accessibility and Artworks

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy

Artists who are interested in style and interested in simplicity are also interested in ACCESSIBILITY of their works. In any of the arts, the artist has to decide–as do you–if it is important to appeal to an audience, to be understood by an audience. Should the work be accessible? How accessible? Leo Tolstoy, whose novels are sometime considered the greatest ever written, said, “Great works of art are only great because they are accessible and comprehensible to everyone.” Sculptor Jacques Lipchitz thought what many people think: that so-called great works are too pompous, too stiff, and are not accessible. Ford Maddox Ford was all for accessibility and said, “You must have your eyes forever on your Reader. That alone constitutes Technique”

William Faulkner felt differently. He said, “I don’t care about John Doe’s opinion on mine or anyone else’s work. Mine is the standard which has to be met.” (And he won a Nobel Prize.) But his work is accessible only with difficulty–long, convoluted sentences and rhetorical style. But Francois Mauriac disagreed with Faulkner and said, “An author who assures you that he writes for himself alone and that he does not care whether he is heard or not is a boaster and is deceiving himself or you.”  (And he won a Nobel Prize too.) Delacroix wanted accessibility. He said. “A picture is but the bridge between the soul of the artist and that of the spectator.”  How accessible will your work be?

The Author’s Intensity and the Production of Literature

The artist’s INTENSITY is reflected in style.  Some artists’ style is laid back, but others’ style is red hot. Raymond Chandler turned hard-boiled detective writing into critically-accepted literature and had a lot to say about the writer’s craft.  He wrote: “When a book, any sort of book, reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance it becomes literature. That intensity may be a matter of style, situation, character, emotional tone, or idea, or half a dozen other things. It may also be perfection over the movement of a story similar to the control a great pitcher has over a ball.” Painter George Innes said, “The greatness of art is not in the display of knowledge…but in the distinctness with which it conveys the impression of a personal vital force that acts spontaneously, without fear or hesitation.”

Advice Regarding Emotions, Plot, and Understatement

Van Gogh self portrait

Van Gogh

A style conveys EMOTIONS. Chekhov wrote, “The more emotionally charged a situation, the more emotional restraint one must show in writing, and then the result will be emotionally powerful. There is no need to lay it on thick.” Other Chekhov quotes: “Avoid describing the mental state of your protagonist.” “Avoid describing emotional states…one should make these apparent from action.“ “To get strong emotions from the reader, try to be somewhat colder.” Thinking the same thing as Russian Chekhov, Frenchman Gustave Flaubert said, “The less one (the writer) feels a thing, the more likely one is to express it as it really is.”

The two other greatest writers of short stories–Guy de Maupassant and Ernest Hemingway–also advocated emotional understatement. Hemingway wrote “Dispassionate prose,” prose always less emotional than the events seem to demand. Understatement elicits strong emotional responses from the reader.

Emotional states in writing are amplified by brevity.  American writer Flannery O’ Connor said that the fiction writer has to realize that compassion or emotions cannot be created with emotion. The style itself must be emotion-free.

Artists Can’t Help It: They Repeat Themselves

F. Scott Fitzgerald was a highly successful writer by the age of twenty-four. He said, “Mostly, we authors repeat ourselves—that’s the truth. We have two or three great moving experiences in our lives—experiences so great and moving that it doesn’t seem at the time that anyone else has been caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before”

Claude Monet painted the same subject over and over. As an Impressionist he was interested in conveying the effect of light on objects, and would often  set his clock to be at  the place where the subject was at intervals so he could catch the light at noon, say, and ten minutes later and ten minutes after that. He might paint seven or ten paintings of the very same thing in different light.

All Artists Need Taste

Picasso painting

Picasso

Obvious in a work of art is the artist’s aesthetic judgment, which  he/she develops over time and experience.  “At the higher levels of creativity it is probable that few besides the creators themselves are able to assess a new creation, and it is necessary that they should learn to adopt an objective critical attitude toward their own work…(the creators’ self-criticism) must be based on  sound insight and aesthetic appreciation–what one would call ‘taste” (R. Ochse).

Some Writers Are in the Wrong Art

“Often while reading a book one feels that the author would have preferred to paint rather than write; one can sense the pleasure he derives from describing a landscape or person, as if he were painting what he is saying because deep in his heart he would have preferred to use brushes and colors” (Pablo Picasso). A good example is Joseph Conrad in his masterpiece Heart of Darkness.

Miscellaneous Insights About Writing

 “Good writing is the hardest form of thinking. It involves the agony of turning profoundly difficult thoughts into lucid form, then forcing them into the tight-fitting uniform of language, making them visible and clear. If the writing is good, then the result seems effortless and inevitable. But when you want to say something life-changing or ineffable in a single sentence, you face both the limitations of the sentence itself and the extent of your own talent” (Pat Conroy).

Flannery O’Connor said, “A good short story should not have less meaning than a novel, nor should the action be less complete. Nothing essential to the main experience can be left out of a short story.”

“Since Stephen Crane’s time [late nineteenth century] all serious writers have concentrated on the effort of rendering individual scenes more vividly” (Caroline Gordon).

“A novelist’s characters must be with him as he lies down to sleep, and as he wakes from his dreams. He must learn to hate them and to love them” (Anthony Trollope.)

“It has been through Flaubert that the novel has at last caught up with poetry” (Allen Tate).

“Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first” (William Faulkner).

“Only when the moral beliefs of the reader tally exactly with those on which a story is based will the reader have the whole of the emotion which it is potentially able to produce in him” (Montgomery Belgion).

A personal style that makes you comfortable and confident helps you accomplish whatever you wish to accomplish in your art. An artist’s style evolves over a lifetime of work. What it was when you were twenty-five is not the same as it is now when you are fifty. This post and the ideas and experiences here of many important artists may help you strengthen and perfect your own style.

 

© 2020 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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

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