Category Archives: Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement

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

What could be more discouraging to a writer, painter, ballet dancer, actor, or composer who is striving to survive and wishes to excel in their craft than to realize that she’s not nearly as successful as she would like and may never be more successful than she has been in the past?  This post looks at the situation of a writer. But the ideas and approaches are just as useful for people in other arts.

Face of woman thhinkingAndrea, a friend—“Andy”–seemed to reach her peak when she had two short stories published in prestigious literary journals at twenty-four and a novel that sold moderately well at twenty-eight. She didn’t think then it would be her peak, but assumed it was a preview of other successes soon to come. But they haven’t come and she’s been wondering what’s wrong with her.

She’s frustrated and anxious because she knows—she can feel—that she has potentials in her that are waiting to be expressed. But there she is, at a standstill at the age of thirty-three  She asks herself privately what she won’t ask in public: “Is this as good as I’ll ever be, experiencing only those three successes?”

But she is not beaten. She hasn’t quit writing as she’s seen so many other once-hopeful writers do. She’ll try to find out what’s wrong and correct the problems she identifies. She’s already on the Car stuck in the snowpath to solving the problem by admitting she’s found herself on a performance plateau—in a performance rut.

She realizes that what she needs now are new ideas, new approaches. Being an intelligent woman, she begins problem-solving by trying to understand the problem. She’s a believer in cause-and-effect and starts with the effect: she’s stuck in the mud. She is not giving up trying to improve and achieve greater success as many writers would in her position. But she is not as successful as she would like to be.

She noodles the problem and takes a frank look at herself. She asks:

  1. Do I have the skills I’ll need to be the writer I want to be? If not, what specific skills should I develop and refine, and how can I acquire them? In each art there is a finite number of basic skills that the person MUST possess if they are to excel.
  2. Do I have sufficient knowledge of my art–making it, sustaining it, and marketing it? Over the long run, superior achievement depends on superior knowledge.
  3. Do I have enough talent, that recognizable flair that underlies a good creatives’ life and their every quality work?
  4. Am I working hard enough? If you study successful people in the arts you will almost always find that they were prodigious workers from the beginning of their careers to the end. Or am I working too hard and burning out (not getting enough sleep and relaxation)?
  5. What are the main goals I’m trying to reach? Are they the right goals and are they difficult as goals are supposed to be, or are they too difficult for me? Goals should be “moderately” difficult–not too easy and not impossibly hard. What exactly are my goals? Andy decides her main goal is not necessarily to “excel” and it is not to be “successful,” but to write as well as she’s able. She feels that if she does that, success will follow. A basic question she asks is: am I pursuing goals at all or am I feeling nervous and drifting?
  6. Am I powerfully motivated to succeed as an artist? Or have I lost my zest? If so, how can I get it back?
  7. Am I able to focus my attention on my work like a narrow beam of bright light or do I have too many irons in the fire? What can I eliminate?
  8. Am I one of the 15% action-oriented, decisive creatives who make up their mind, take the initiative, and make things happen, or one of the other 85% who delay, postpone, and wait for things to happen?
  9. How confident an artist am I, ranging from “not very confident” to ‘”exceptionally confident?” These are the indicators of success in the arts: a desire to succeed, skill, resilience, and confidence. Artists fail more because they lack confidence than because they lack skill.
  10. Am I getting specific, helpful, and honest feedback regularly? Have I made arrangements to do that?
  11. When I meet setbacks and disappointments, am I discouraged, or do I persevere? Do I sink my teeth into my objectives and never let go?
  12. Do I know how to overcome creative obstacles–am I good at analyzing problem and impediments in my way and finding solutions?
  13. Everyone needs encouragement, particularly when their career is dead in the water. Andy asks, whom will I turn to when I need encouragement?

Answering those questions helps Andy dig out of creative ruts she finds herself in from time to time. First thing, she sits down and compares her successful works with her current work and Pink shovel in grey dirtdecides they are different. The earlier work was simpler and more heart-felt and sincere. She  realizes that she has fallen into a trap of “showing off”–of trying to impress readers with what a good writer she is and how brilliant she is rather than in telling a story in a simple, direct, “Here’s my work, take it or leave it”  style.

Andy decides that a big problem usually in recent years has been poor motivation and a lack of confidence because she is so discouraged. She feels that she hasn’t lost her talent and that she is still a good writer and realizes that one or more successes will increase her confidence immensely.  Also, she’s not good at concentrating on work. She wastes a lot of time, including moping. She remembers reading a post I wrote about “programming” to increase productivity. She liked it and plans to re-read it and take steps to become a more efficient writer.

Andy feels that if her concentration improves and she absorbs herself in her work, she will become more excited about it, her motivation will climb, and she will complete more works. Her mother is Andy’s biggest supporter in times of disappointment and discouragement.  Her mother inspires her. Andy plans to talk to her more often.

Woman in aqua sweater writing in a bookShe also plans to read biographies and autobiographies of writers living and dead who will inspire her.

She is aware that one reason she hasn’t had successes recently is that she doesn’t submit enough of her work to magazines and publishers. She has become afraid of failure. Overcoming her fear and submitting more will increase her chances of being published, so she will do that too.

Thinking carefully about the answers to these 13 questions sets Andy on a path out of her rut and on to future successes. Perhaps these questions can be useful to you as well.

 

© 2020 David J. Rogers

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

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The Misery of Writer’s Block and Possible Antidotes

This post has three parts:

Part 1 is an introduction which explains that a sizeable number of amateur and professional writers say they are blocked, but other writers say there is no such thing as writer’s block.  Part 2 is a description of what happens to writers snagged by a dreadful writer’s block. Part 3 describes possible antidotes, or ways out of writer’s block that are suggested by accomplished writers.

A writer’s main concern is production of text. That production ebbs and flows. Some days for most writers the words pour out in torrents. You’re in overdrive and every word is perfect. Other days they wouldn’t come out were you to use blasting powder, but that is not writers block, but a temporary pause. When the pause is prolonged beyond the writer’s comfort zone or doesn’t end, that’s writers block.

Part 1: Introduction

Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles, said, “The history of literature is the history of prolific people. I always say to students give me four pages a day, every day. Cat resting next to a computer screenThat’s 3 or 400 thousand words a year.” Novelist Thomas Wolfe produced many millions of words and wrote, “The point is solely and simply to get a piece of work done at the rate of 1,000 or 1,500 words a day. If you do that—then brood, grieve, mourn, curse God, everyone and everything all you please. But get the work done.”

And  writer/writing teacher John Gardner said, “Theoretically there is no reason one should get it (writer’s block) if one understands that writing, after all, is only writing, neither something one ought to feel deeply guilty about nor something one ought to be inordinately proud of.” His approach to combating writers block would be: “Write but don’t get emotionally involved.”

But those optimistic words are disturbing if you’re someone who claims to be a writer and find yourself unable to write even a quarter of an hour or produce even 50 or 25 “good” words because you’re in the grip of an impasse, a writer’s block you dread thinking may continue for days, weeks, months, or years as has been known to happen to even perfectly competent writers.

It’s easy for never-blocked writers to brag to the blocked writers, as they often do, “There’s no such thing as what you’re talking about. I’ve never been blocked.” But blocks are reported by so many writers, artists, inventors, and scientists, that blocks must exist. And it’s easy for the never-blocked writer to say, “Quit griping and snap out of it” just as it’s easy to say to a depressed person, “Cheer up.”

But a depressed person doesn’t want to feel miserable and writers facing a creative impasse are trying their best to get back to work, but just can’t. What are they to do short of resigning themselves to being unable to work or ending their career?

Part 2: Writers Block Can Be Dreadful

There are writers on every continent on earth who, whatever their native language and rules of composition, will not be able to write creatively today and have not been able to write for months or crumpled papers on a desk and also making up the head of a person typingyears. They worry and doubt themselves. They are discouraged and anxious. The act of writing does not excite or enchant them as it usually does. They have suffered agonies and are growing hopeless because of the dreadful misery called writers block that has taken hold of their mind, imagination,  and spirit and will not let go.

To a person who considers himself or herself a writer and hopes to make a living out of the substance of their life, who has an urge to do good work, whose foremost virtue is persistence, whose very being and every ambition is to be a professional literary person for whom written expression is the light and reason of their existence, those few words–“I can’t write”– which may seem ludicrous and pretentious to anyone who is not a writer, are tragic.

When you’re engaged in creative work and have announced to the world that is what you’re doing and eyes are upon you and judging your merit, you’re up against it. You’re a pregnant woman and you’ve gotten yourself in a fix and now it’s time to deliver. No one can do what has to be done for you. There’s no going back and no possible compromise and no way out but straight through.

Your strength, courage, and endurance must come out of yourself. You try to work because work is a writer’s religion. Work gives a man or woman a chance to find their authentic voice, their authentic self, their place in society that is separate from anyone else’s and which no one looking at them can begin to imagine.

Your work room is full of the utensils a writer needs: a computer and references books and such. You’re trained to write, not in sporadic flashes of casual inspiration, but consistently, with exhausting concentration. But you can’t write a word. You fight, sweat, nearly kill yourself and perhaps do kill yourself trying to accomplish something, but you can’t. You aren’t to blame; it’s not your fault. There is simply nothing you can do, nothing great, nothing small, nothing at all. You’re knotted up. Your faith in yourself is battered and then disappears and is replaced by a dejected resignation.

You live in terror and dread of the absence of words, of needing them so desperately but no longer having access to them as you once had, of groping without effect for a good sentence, a decent paragraph, a finished text. You wait to get unknotted, but nothing happens.

Every aspect of your life suffers if this goes on long enough: your professional life, your personal life and social life and; then lastly, your love life.

Part 3: Some Possible Antidotes: What Professional Writers Have To Say

Professional writers have theories about the causes of blocks. The blocked writer may be too impatient: “I think that when you’re trying to do something prematurely it just won’t come. Certain Hands typing at a keyboardsubjects just need time, as I’ve learned over and over again” (Joyce Carol Oates). This opinion says that there are “half hour” writing problems— problems that need a half hour to be solved—and “six month” writing problems that won’t be solved in less than half a year. These writers believe that you can’t solve the problem until it has reached its allotted time.

The never-ending repetition of regular writing (going over a text seventy or eighty times, for example) may cause a block because you’ve become saturated with the piece or with the routine of writing itself. Your mind is bored sick and tells you, “I am damned tired of this” and refuses to write.  I’ve had that happen many times.  Get away from the work and come back to it rejuvenated.

Poet and essayist William Stafford believed that “writing block” was caused by having standards that are too high for your abilities. The answer, he said, is to lower your standards until they are no longer too high. He adds, “It’s easy to write. You shouldn’t have standards that inhibit you from writing.” It’s well-known that it is senseless to pursue goals that you lack the abilities to reach. Lower your sights until you develop the abilities. Work on something else.

The writer may be blocked because he or she has nothing worth writing about: “I question the assumption behind writer’s block, which is that one should be writing all the time, that at any given time there is something worthwhile to be made into a poem” (Louise Gluck).The solution if this were the reason for the block would be to find something worth saying. Then the block would disappear.

Historian Barbara Tuchman thought that blocks are caused by organizational difficulties; that the material was “resistant” or that she didn’t adequately understand it, and it needed rethinking, additional research, and a new approach.

Annie Dillard, author of The Writing Life agrees with Tuchman: “When you are stuck in a book; when you are well into writing it, and know what comes next, and yet cannot go on; when every morning for a week or a month you enter its room and turn your back on it; then the trouble is either of two things:

Either the structure has forked, so the narrative, or the logic, has developed a hairline fracture that will shortly split in the middle—or you are approaching a fatal mistake. What you had planned will not do. If you pursue your present course, the book will explode or collapse and you do not know about it yet.” Try an entirely different plan.

I have found too after decades of serious writing that when I am about to make a mistake a subliminal alarm goes off and my mind and motivation to continue on that course shut down and will not let me continue until I go in another, more fruitful direction.

One of my blogs describes a technique for overcoming writers block that makes use of the person’s mental imagery that may be useful. A second post describes an atypical block.

Curiously, two opposite strategies each may be effective antidotes to writer’s block. Man on a pier jumping for joy One is to simply persist. Sit down at the computer every day and hack away without any self-judgment. Don’t worry or get anxious or depressed. Do this until your block cures itself. Another way is to completely cut off your involvement with writing. Don’t allow yourself to think about it. Forbid yourself from sitting down and writing at the computer or by hand. Don’t talk about writing. Do that for a specified period of time you set for yourself–ten days or two weeks. At the end of that period you may feel so deprived that you will develop a new enthusiasm and energy that may help you get on track again.

 

© 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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Imagery in the Arts

Painting of boats in water with mountains and clouds behind

Fjord, Norway by Pamela Jones

Some creatives have an ability to perceive images in their environment or deep in their memories and to elaborate them in works with astonishing dexterity. Simple images that are ready for practical artistic use in poems, novels, essays, short stories, and paintings and such pour in unabated rivers from their minds. Skill in image-making comes so effortlessly to superb image-makers that although their ability is exceptional, it seems routine and unexceptional to them. If one image would do the trick, they can easily think of three, four, or five others that would suffice as well.

Skill with images is so necessary to the professional or professional-caliber amateur that if it is a weakness, it must be practiced and made a strength. That is possible to do.

Painting of harbour with buildings behind in pink, blue, yellow, green pastels

Tenby Harbour Pembrokeshire West Wales by Pamela Jones

Creatives differ in the vividness of the imagery in their minds and in their ability to transform imagery. Compared with low imagers, vivid imagers experience large mental images of greater clarity, remember pictures better, and read text more slowly, presumably because they are visualizing as they read. Skill with imagery is a collection of identifiable abilities such as moving and rotating mages and inspecting them. Vivid imagers are able to hold in mind many features of an image at the same time.  People can be good at one or more of these abilities, but poor at others.

 

POETRY OF IMAGISTS

William Carlos Williams
(Excerpt from “Nantucket”)

Flowers through the window
lavender and yellow
changed by white curtains–
Smell of cleanliness–

Sunshine of late afternoon–
On the glass tray
a glass pitcher, the tumbler
turned down

Painting of a couple looking over the water at the moon all in shades of blue

Stroll in the Moonlight Mumbles by Pamela Jones

For image-makers, remembering images and turning them into artistic products is a necessary part of their everyday approach to their work and a gift granted to many artists that surpasses the abilities of the overwhelming majority of people. In a single glance artists with a facility with images encounter a world of pictures, sounds, sensations, and odors that are their raw material.

An Imagist Poet:

“Evening” by Richard Aldington:

The chimneys, rank on rank,
Cut the clear sky;
The moon
With a rag of gauze about her loins
Poses among them, an awkward Venus–
And here am I looking wantonly
Over the kitchen sink.

Poems written in a strict imagist style are spare, elegant, and vivid. They are different from most poetry in that the reader isn’t expected to analyze them or search for symbols in them or explicate them. The imagist poem must be rooted in the ground of reality–must grow from the local and particular, and raise those to the universal, so when looking at some apparently small object one feels the swirl of significant events.

Painting of a white cottage with blue roof on a pale green field with poppies in the foreground

Cottage, Carmarthenshire, with Poppies by Pamela Jones

There is a juxtaposition of accumulated fragments. The poems require alertness enough mainly to “see” in your mind and don’t require explanation. One can’t explain a bead of water on a leaf, but it can be described, its beauty or mystery captured in words just as a painter captures them in pigment or the composer in notes and chords. Readers will enjoy them better if the poet or writer shuts up and just describes. The poems are complete as they are and need no interpretation. The physical and tangible qualities of the object–colors, shapes, odors, sensations–are identified one by one simply and precisely.

In the poetry of images the reader should not expect lofty sentiments. The poems do not have a regular beat and usually lack end-rhymes. Their language is vivid–plain, and direct.  They calmly describe the scene and the object. They describe them precisely and exactly. Their imagery is compelling. Readers run their eyes along the scene. The poems focus on a short, specific period of time, are free verse, and often have a short poetic line such as my “Morning Glories:”

Sitting on a window sill
Watching people
Exchanging stories
Over white and purple
Morning glories
On the flanks of the hill

The poetry and prose of images emphasize verbs, not adjectives. The writing is clear, not obscure, and it is colloquial.  Images are juxtaposed, one after another. They purposely stay on the surface of things, presenting details with no comments. If there are any ideas, they are left alone to take care of themselves.  The writer or poet doesn’t reflect on them. The writing is not lofty or pretentious. The poet or writer takes obvious pleasure in words like the painter’s pleasure in using a brush.

 

THE VALUE OF MEMORY AND DETAIL

Painting of white cottage with blue roof with white sheep in a valley

Hillside Cottage, Snowdonia, Snowdon, North Wales by Pamela Jones

There is an art underlying all the arts, and that is the art of memory and detail. The writing of the best writers and paintings of the best painters is full of details they recall–detailed images, detailed descriptions.  They needn’t be long, but there must be memorable details if the work is to be convincing. The goal of a writer is to generate in the audience the sense that what the audiece is reading or hearing really happened, or is happening now, or might have happened in “real life.”

Content that is general and not vivid has little real-life effect on audiences or readers. Content like that isn’t convincing and is a misuse of words. But content that is not general, but specific, detailed, clear, unambiguous, truthful, and potent animates the readers’ minds and lets them know that a real person with an active mind and good memory of real things is talking to them.

I think if it were possible to analyze the brains of imagistic artists, poets, and writers, it would be found that the ability to recall the smallest and sometimes the most insignificant detail of lived experience–however long ago it occurred–is a major strength of a fine artist of any kind. A multiplicity of details must be put into the creative performance when art is to be done beautifully. A preciseness of vision is a necessity.

Details must be strategically placed in a written text so that they have maximum dramatic impact.

 

KEEP A NOTEBOOK OF IMAGES

A good practice if you want to animate your writing with images is to keep notebooks of images that  come to mind and that you might one day put to use in writing or art. Here is a sample from one of my notebooks that contain thousands of images:

SUMMER: The warm summer rain pours through the sunlight. At night a fog floats in from the lake and slithers along the ground (like a snake.)… The report of fire crackers and booms of exploding rockets begin at nine: Independence Day… The orange and blues of the sunset were so beautiful at night that it was hard to believe they weren‘t painted…With every gust of wind the butterfly I’m watching is blown to another flower. ..It was morning. Here comes (came) the sun, warming every tree, every leaf, every pebble in the street… …waves scattering like broken glass,

Painting of farmhouse with blue roofs on pale green field

Farmhouse in the Brecon Beacons Wales by Pamela Jones

SPRING: A band of squirrels climbs the trees …Whiter than snow and clearer than daylight was the night when the lightning flashed… Sparrows, blue jays, warblers and humming birds enjoyed themselves on the bushes, in the trees, in the sky. It had been a long day for them, but they seemed contented leading birds’ busy lives. Flowers seemed happy being flowers too. Two chipmunks sat aloof in the grass…The gutter leaked and a small waterfall poured from it… Squirrels shoot up the trees like gray rockets, hop across the branches, come back and bound across the grass where hungry robins stretch worms out of the ground…

SOUNDS Birds calling and playing, winds wafting in trees, lawn mowers humming–commuter trains rumbling, car horns and truck horns, fire engines, dogs barking, people laughing, shouting and talking, footsteps sounding, church bells playing songs.

T.S. Eliot was not an Imagist, but was influenced by Imagism.

From Eliot’s “Preludes:”

The winter evening settles down
With smell of stakes in passageways.
Six o’clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days,
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots

Painting of pale green pasture, dark sky and clounds, with white flowering plants in foreground

Farm in the Brecon Beacons with Cow Parsley by Pamela Jones

Some poems of poetry of images are about stillness and some are about motion. The language is colloquial and vivid. The images are fresh and the reader is intended to see and listen freshly. Poetry and prose of images are written by people with vivid sensibilities and are intended for readers with similar sensibilities.

These skilled writers are describing what is occurring during specific moments of life, and pay close attention to the surfaces of physical things, as does  my poem “Waitress in a Café in Kayenta Arizona.”

Fingers like sausage links,
Face round as a tire,
Hips the breadth of a moving van,
Elaborate, beauty-shop hair,

 

HAIKU AND IMAGERY

Haiku are made up almost always and almost completely of visual images. The three greatest haikuists were Basho, Buson, and Issa.  The meaning of a haiku, like that of an imagist poem, is direct, clear, and perfect without interpretation or reference to other things.  The meaning of haiku, like that of the imagist, is unmistakable and complete,

A few stars
Are now to be seen–
And frogs are croaking. (Basho)

Ah, how glorious
The young leaves, the green leaves,
Glittering in the sunshine. (Basho)

Paintng of a river running into a bay with three cliffs on the left

Three Cliffs Bay, Gower South Wales by Pamela Jones

Haikuists keep their eyes steadily on the objects. There is great art in the selection of the facts presented, but no “coloring.” The incidents, situations, and details are chosen from common life. Haikus describe things in themselves, not as symbols of other things.  Haikus show modesty, simplicity, lack of affectation, no striving for effect, no trying to impress, no showing off.  The haikuist just writes the story or sketch as plainl and as true to the haikuist’s vision and to life as he or she can. There is gentleness, and using the eye in particular, distinctness of the individual thing. Directness is in everything, snow, sky, clouds, sun. Each thing is simple and true:

The harvest moon–
Mist from the mountain foot
Clouded patties” (Basho)

The haiku must express a new or newly perceived sensation, a sudden awareness of  the meaning of some common human experience of nature or man. Importantly, it must above all things, not be explanatory, or contain a cause and effect. There are nothing beyond phenomena. They are not symbols of something beyond themselves.

Flowers and birds
There among them, my wild
Peach blossoms. (Buson)

 

PROSE AND IMAGISTIC WRITING

Imagistic, highly descriptive prose augments writing that might otherwise be bland and lifeless. No material is dull in the hands of an imagist.  Such prose is not just added on to the text like a pretty trimming, but is crucial to the meaning, the “feel” of the writing, and its impact on the reader.

Ernest Hemingway from The Sun Also Rises:

“Before the waiter brought the sherry the rocket that announced the fiesta went up in the square. It burst and there was a gray ball of smoke high up above the Theatre Gayarre, across on the other side of the plaza. The ball of smoke hung in the sky like a shrapnel burst, and as I watched, another rocket came up to it, trickling smoke in the bright sunlight, I saw the bright flash as it burst and another little cloud of smoke appeared. By the time the second rocket had burst there were so many people in the arcade, that had been empty a minute before, that the waiter, holding the bottle high up over his head, could hardly get through the crowd to our table.”

From my “Wolves in the Rocky Mountains:”

“We sat at a table in the inn and ordered coffee.  The utensils were gold. From the windows we watched through the falling snow eight stalking wolves winding down the mountain in single file, slowly, like liquid through the spruces and evergreens. It was getting late. We had stayed too long. We didn’t want to stay around until dark when at that elevation it would be really cold, and the wolves were on our mind. We paid and left on foot.

“Looking over our shoulders we saw the wolves streaking among the trees and circling and wheeling around and teasing and tormenting a young deer they had separated from a herd. We could hear the wolves and the deer breathing and see the wolves when they weren’t attacking the deer playfully burrowing their snouts in the snow. There was nothing we could do to save the deer. We didn’t want to watch.”

Blue water with purple cliffs in the background and dark sky full of stars

Starry Sky, Three Cliffs Bay, Gower by Pamela Jones

The prose and poems of images depend on the power of a clear perception of concrete–not abstract–things seen, heard, smelled, or touched by the creative to capture and hold readers’ attention and convey meaning. An imagistic writer’s, poet’s, and painter’s “eye” and “ear” in particular are capable of reproducing a sensual world they have experienced at some time in their lives and have not forgotten.

The artist whose work is featured in this post is Pamela Jones, a superb landscape artist who ives in West Cross Mumbles in Swansea, Wales. In her enchanting paintings, she is influenced  by the beautiful scenery in Wales and the UK. She says, “I have a slightly impressionistic style, staying away from the photographic copying of a scene. I simplify what I see. I feel the artist must balance skill and imagination for there to be feeling in the painting. Colour harmony is most important. I give the impression of the place. I hope the viewer sees this when they look at my paintings.” She says that she just has to paint; it is a sort of obsession, and she paints every day.

 

© 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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July 23, 2020 · 12:50 pm

2 Psycho-Techniques for People in the Arts

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Use Think Aloud Strategies to Inspire Yourself

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

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

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

 

Use Brief Performance Cues

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

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

 

“Relaxed and confident”

“Good work today”

“Stay focused”

“Organized and sharp.”

Patience!”

“Persevere!”

“I’m in the groove

“Grit and guts!”

“Take risks.”

Boldness

 

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

 

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

 

© 2020 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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Raymond Carver: Teaching and Mentoring a Writer Whose Goal Was Greatness

More than any other writer, Raymond Carver (1938-1988) revitalized the American short story when in the last third of the twentieth century that genre had grown stale. Carver’s subject matter had never been a part of American literature before and his writing techniques were also unique. In the 1980s when he was most active he was referred to by a British literary critic as “the image of Raymond Carver From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repositoryAmerican Chekhov.” Another critic considered Carver “one of the greatest modern short story writers.” Poet Hayden Carruth wrote, “Among the great American writers of the 20th century, no question, Carver is the most endearing. He carries our humanity into the 21st.”

From the age of sixteen until his death, Carver’s goal was to be a great writer, and if need be, to sacrifice everything else to reach that goal.  He married young and had two children before he was twenty. According to biographer Carol Sklenicka’ s Raymond Carver: a Life, Carver and his  first wife Mary shared that goal “not to sell out Ray’s writing, to not have him get involved in some other career that would make him forget what he really was here on earth to do.”

“Mary had had a big dream that her husband was going to be not just a good writer, but a great one, and she was willing to waitress and sell encyclopedias, and do all this while he was back home drinking, dickering with his short stories…Whether you say her motives were religious or altruistic, she was completely devoted to having Ray become a great writer. She worked tirelessly to that vision and gave the best she had to give.” It was Mary Ann’s role to earn the money Carver needed to start as a writer’s tenuous career and to support him and see that “he got things done.” We will never know if Carver would have reached the success he did without her support.

Few writers have had such an impact on a genre of writing in America as Carver had on the short story in that era. He was not a novelist. Although he is best remembered for his eight books of short stories including What We Talk About When We Talk About Love and Cathedral, he also wrote essays, plays, reviews, a screen play, and seven book of poetry, including A New Path To The Waterfall. Ten films have been made from his stories. About his poetry, the Times Literary Supplement found it “infused with a largesse of spirit that adds a new dimension to the impression the man left by the cool perfection of his stories.”

You cannot talk about Carver without mentioning his many troubles. Throughout his adult life Carver struggled with alcoholism, marital problems, divorce, and bankruptcies.  Drinking calmed his anxieties and resentments and allowed him to have fun, but his need for booze became more powerful as it helped him to medicate his feelings.  His private life was difficult and the strains destroyed his first marriage. As many artists are able to he had the ability to find literary material in the suffering he lived through. A stylist, he was able to relate his life’s conflicts to readers in direct, carefully-crafted stories and poems.

 

The Approach and Impact of John Gardner

A major turning point in Carver’s life and writing career was discovering the short stories of Ernest Hemingway and Anton Chekhov; another was his being taught and mentored in 1958 in a John Gardner From Wikimedia Commons, the free media repositorycollege class at Chico State University by John Gardner (1933-1982). In years to come Gardner, then twenty-six, would become an important and influential person in American literature. Carver said that a good writing teacher is something like a literary conscience, a friendly critical voice in your ear, and that after being taught by Gardner, all his writing career he sensed him looking over his shoulder when he wrote, showing approval or disapproval over words, phrases, and strategies.

Gardner would write philosophical fiction best sellers Grendel and The Sunlight Dialogues and esteemed books for writers The Art of Fiction and On Becoming a Novelist and appeared on the cover of the New York Times magazine. When Carver met him, Gardner was an advanced thinker who worked day and night to refine his aesthetics and to communicate his sophisticated, yet practical knowledge to students.  He believed that “Only a talent that doesn’t exist at all can’t be improved.”

In a relationship such as Gardner and Carver had “a master transfers the knowledge, expectations, and experiences of a science, art, skill, or philosophy to a protégé who may eventually establish a new frontier in the field, break existing records, and create new traditions” (Donna Rae Clausen). The process of matching a promising novice with an expert challenges the novice and provides encouragement in the development of his or her talent.

Gardner’s teaching, personality, and work routines affected Carver profoundly. Gardner believed that to be successful writers had to possess something on the order of what I call “inner skills of the artist:” certain psychological traits such as a sensitivity to language, accuracy of observation, the special intelligence of the story-teller, and a writer’s intuition.

He said, “Art depends heavily on feelings, intuition, taste. It is feeling, not some rules, that tells the abstract painter to put his yellow here and there, not there, and may later tell him that it should have been brown or purple or pea-green. It is feeling that makes the composer break surprisingly from his key, feeling that gives the writer the rhythms of his sentences, the pattern of rise and fall in his episodes, the proportion of alternating elements, so that dialogue goes on only so long before a shift to description or narrative summary or some physical action. The great writer has an instinct for these things” He believed he could help students develop those traits through his teaching.

Gardner would begin the school year by assembling his students on the lawn, ask them a few questions, and tell them he didn’t think that any of them had what it took to be a writer, that as far as he could see none of the students had the necessary fire. He said he would do what he could for them, that they were about to set out on a trip and they would do well to hold onto their hats.  Starting the class that way was meant to intimidate students who weren’t serious.

Cartoon of man watering can as head watering man with plant as headGardner thought that a novelist needed “an almost daemonic compulsiveness.” He was energetic and charismatic and his students responded. One student said “he was born with a quicker ratio to the passage of time than the rest of us.” Carver said that Gardner’s teaching “went right into my blood stream and changed the way I looked at things…He took my stories more seriously…I was completely unprepared for the kind of criticism I received from him.”  He considered Gardner the teacher who first inspired him and intimidated him, teaching him to be tough on himself.

Carver said, “I was simply electrified…(Gardner) was out of a different cloth from anyone I’d ever met…He was very helpful…and I was at that particular point in my life when nothing was lost on me. And changed the way I looked at things…my life was pretty boxed in, but I learned things from him and even if I couldn’t put these things into practice immediately, the things I learned were longstanding and abiding.”

Gardner taught Carver that the best writers discover what they want to say in the process of “seeing” what their writing is saying, that writing was more than self-expression, and that the best writing had always come from a serious attempt to write in a particular form. Gardner believed in traditional plots and drew plot diagrams.

Gardner believed that art could have a moral impact (in 1978 writing the book On Moral Fiction), and was a believer in the importance to the would-be writer of what could be learned by a serious study of the best writers literature had to offer. Carver said that Gardner “was here to tell us which authors to read (such as Hemingway, Faulkner, and Henry James and Camus and Proust) as well as teach us to write.” He taught Carver to prefer plain words over pseudo-poetic words–(“ground”, not “earth.”)

Carver was sensitive to criticism, but Gardner always found something to praise to balance the criticism. He wrote “nice” or “good” in the margins from time to time. When Carver saw those comments his heart would lift. The single principle that Gardner applied to all the stories was “If the words and sentiments were dishonest, the author was faking it, writing about things he didn’t care about or couldn’t believe in. then nobody could ever care anything about it.” Gardner believed that writers should be aware of the battle that goes on in the writer between “those age-old enemies, the real and the fake.”

Possibly the lesson Carver learned from Gardner was that a serious and passionate writer might also be an unpublished writer. Carver was desperate to publish but the stacks of manuscripts in Gardner’s office gave Carver reason to hope and have patience in the years to come,

Gardner recognized that Carver had an exceptional talent, but was “desperately poor” and needed a place to work. He invited Carver to use his college office and typewriter on weekends.  Carver and Gardner did not become personal friends. There was a five year difference in age and other differences between them. Gardner with a Master’s degree and Ph.D was far better educated.

Gardner, who was to die at forty-nine, was supportive of Carver’s writing, and applied pressure on him to excel.  He deleted some of Carver’s words, phrases and sentences, and made it clear to him that the changes were not negotiable. Carver said, “We’d discuss commas in my stories as if nothing else mattered at that moment.” Carver became more and more committed to writing excellence. He said “conversation was fine, camaraderie was fine, making love was fine, raising a family was okay, but it interfered with his writing.” Through his perseverance he was eventually published prolifically.

Carver was to teach writing at universities when he became established and more widely known and his stores were being regularly published.  Like Gardner Carver believed that to be successful writers must come to the role with certain traits. He said, “No teacher or any amount of education can make a writer out of someone who is constitutionally incapable of becoming a writer in the first place. “

Jay McInerney, one of Carver’s students, said of Carver, “He mumbled. I think now it was a function of a deep humility and a respect for the language bordering on awe, a reflection of his sense that words should be handled very, very gingerly.” Carver taught that literature could be fashioned out of “real life, whatever and however it was lived, even if it was lived with a bottle of Heinz ketchup.”

Carver didn’t believe that the work of a student should be negatively criticized. He was not there to discourage anyone. His harshest criticism was “it is good you got that story behind you.” Another of Carver’s students said, “He taught me passion and anger and focus.” Just as Carver received invaluable help and feedback from john Gardner, Carver, in turn, provided that type of assistance to his students.

In the spring of 1982 a student happened to stop by Carver’s house a few minutes after Carver had heard that Gardner had died in a motorcycle crash. Carver was distraught and couldn’t sit still and he talked about Gardner. He said that before he met Gardner he didn’t even know what a writer looked like, but “John looked like a writer.”

Every writer will benefit from feedback and active help. A writer of any level of ability should ask, “Am I getting honest feedback regularly from someone whose judgment I trust? Have I made arrangements to do that?  If not, I must. Am I receptive to constructive criticism?  If my mind is closed I won’t benefit.”

No one on earth has achieved anything significant without help.

 

 

© 2020 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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Pursuit of Perfection in the Arts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

© 2019 David J. Rogers

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

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Guidance for Reaching Success and Fulfillment in the Arts

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know a primary interest of mine is in the inner skills needed to achieve success, especially for those in the arts. Even the most superb techniques of craft will take you only so far without additional skills. I’m talking about inner skills of the heart and spirit, including persistence, confidence, durability, patience, courage, vitality, intensity, flexibility, and so on. What follows are some insights into those inner skills.

Run Through the Tape

Why what I’m going to say now is true, no one has been able to figure out, but almost all people relax their efforts when they get close to achieving even their most important goals. They struggle and struggle and then seem to get lazy and disinterested. They are like a sprinter who runs fast to the tape and slows down or stops. But good coaches advise runners to “run through the tape.” Whatever you do, don’t relax just when you’re getting close to success, but persist in applying your utmost energy

Talk to Yourself: Increase Your Drive

When you’re facing difficulties or your motivation is faltering and you’re losing interest, talk to yourself about your need to work on and reach the goal. Whether you are an amateur or professional, a novice or expert, tell yourself that it’s important that you complete the tasks and get to the goals: “I’m feeling a little tired and want to quit for the day, but it’s important to me that I finish writing this article, so I will just continue working.”

Value Failure: Don’t Be Afraid of It

Why are you and I so afraid of failure? Many people live in terror of it and feel they must never fail, but always succeed, trailing clouds of glory. Yet failure can be a blessed life-changing event. If you experience only successes, you come to expect quick and easy results, and your sense of confidence is easily undermined if you suffer a setback. Setbacks and failures serve two useful purposes: Not only do they show us that we need to make changes and adjustments in order to gain the success we are seeking, but also they teach us that success usually requires confident, persistent, skilled, focused effort sustained over time. Once you set failures aside and become convinced that you have what it takes to succeed, you quickly rebound from failures. By having courage and sticking it out through tough times, you come out on the far side of failures with even greater confidence and commitment.

Seek Feedback, Not Crticism

The effect of feedback depends both on its source and on the way the creative person interprets it. If an expert judges the value of a beginner’s work based on the expert’s standards or tells the beginner what he or she should be doing, the feedback may be seen as controlling. That kind of feedback negatively affects creative performance. Useful feedback is empowering rather than controlling and doesn’t have a negative effect because it is viewed as useful information–not criticism. Feedback designed to evaluate reduces creativity and motivation, but informative feedback increases them. Both the person giving the feedback and the person receiving and interpreting it play a role in making it informative, and thus useful.

Get Feedback Addressed to Your Needs

Tell the person whose feedback you are seeking what you’re trying to accomplish and what kind of help you need from them. For example, an artist might ask what she can do to make a figure look more three-dimensional; a writer might ask for advice on making a dialog more natural. Feedback should always focus on the work–never on the artist.

Persist, Persist, and Persist

Persist until you finish your novel, sculpture or symphony. The work that matters to creative people is finished work. Persistence is an extraordinary attribute that the majority of people do not possess. It separates writers, painters, actors, ballerinas, composers, and performers who have long, successful careers from those who disappear. Potential combined with a focused and tenacious pursuit of important goals is the hallmark of high achievement in the arts.

What it takes to persist is simply to persist, “staying with it longer than you might.” If you persist, most other success factors will automatically fall into place. Persistence is that important.

Have Confidence

Confidence is needed if you are to be successful as an artist. Make it a point to never lose confidence. If you find yourself losing it, use affirming statements, such as “I can do this; I believe in myself.’

The higher your confidence, the higher you’ll set your goals, and the stronger your commitment to achieving them will be. And it is high, challenging goals–not easy ones–that lead to worthwhile creative achievements. You’ll feel serene, for now you can make full, free use of all your talents. You won’t be tentative because you’ll have faith in your problem-solving abilities. You’ll rework problems or you’ll be decisive in abandoning what isn’t working.

Confidence touches every aspect of your being—whether you think about your prospects positively or in a self-defeating way, how strongly you motivate yourself, and whether you persist in the face of adversity and setbacks. It also reduces your susceptibility to discouragement, and enables you to make positive changes in your life.

Gertrude Stein was a writer with supreme confidence. She said to cubist sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, “Jacques, of course you don’t know too much about English literature, but beside Shakespeare and me, who do you think there is?” She said to her friend Pablo Picasso, “There are two geniuses in art today, you in painting and I in literature.

You’ll be very reluctant to give up if you are confident. You’ll make better use of your time because confidence and energy go together: one feeds the other. You will be electric with that rarest of human qualities—INTENSITY. When you face difficult tasks, if you are confident, the challenges will excite you rather than intimidate you. You’ll be more likely to seek help and assistance to improve your performance than the less confident artists or writers who are afraid that asking for help will expose their limitations.

Make Effort a High Value

The most successful people have high career aspirations, are confident, and generally attribute their success to high effort and failure to lack of effort.

They believe that creative success comes mainly from ability combined with hard work, probably over a long period of time. If they fail, the goal becomes even more attractive to them. They get hungrier to succeed. If things don’t turn out well, they don’t believe it’s because they aren’t capable, intelligent, or gifted. It is because they didn’t work hard enough. That brings them hope. Optimism is kept high because effort is a virtually limitless resource. You can always work harder.

Work Harder, Not Less Hard

How expertise is developed in a field is a hot subject these days, including expertise in the various arts. A number of scientific studies comparing novices with experts in most fields support the common sense notion that because of their great knowledge and skill, experts are able to accomplish with almost no effort what non-experts can accomplish only with difficulty or can’t accomplish at all. But don’t be deceived: experts work harder, not less hard than non-experts.

Think the World of Yourself, but Don’t Be Above Asking for Help

Creative people who are the most likely to ask for help are those with a high opinion of themselves, while those with a low opinion of themselves are the least likely, although they may be the most in need of it and would profit from it. Asking for help shows that you’re serious about reaching your goals. Useful feedback can help you evolve and reach high levels of satisfaction and achievement.

The helper may encourage and inspire you, and that may be what you need to push you toward the goal, or they may provide material support. T.S Eliot’s friends subsidized him till he established himself.  Vincent van Gogh’s brother Theo bankrolled him. So without reluctance say, “I would appreciate your help…” I have no problems asking for help, and all my life, I have almost always received the help I asked for and have tried never to deny it to someone who asked me for it.

Focus on Perfecting the Most Crucial Skills of Your Art

It is not possible to describe the complete, complex structure of knowledge and skills the experienced artist has acquired. It is a mistake to think that success in a creative field is attributable to one blessed aptitude such as awesome natural talent, or to three or four aptitudes. Success in the arts is attributable to a combination of many capabilities.  The most prominent creatives focus harder on developing to a high level the most needed skills of their field.  The best predictor of creative success isn’t just time spent working, but the kind of time–the amount of time devoted specifically to improving writing , painting, acting, etc. skills. And not just this skill or that skill, but the five or six specific skills which are the most essential if a person is to become excellent in that field.

For some artists the development time is short–almost immediate. Poets in particular, such as Dylan Thomas at nineteen, may reach high excellence with blinding speed.  For others success occurs only after years of perfecting their craft. Like athletes, artists develop at different rates.

Make Sure Your Skills Match Your Goals

Of special importance to writing, painting, composing and performing success is the state in which your skills perfectly match the goals you’re aiming to achieve. The skills are exactly what’s needed to reach the goals. That’s what you should aim for—a perfect match. It’s foolish to ask yourself to try accomplish objectives you don’t have the skills to achieve, and there’s no thrill accomplishing goals that don’t challenge you. So you must focus on identifying and developing the specific skills you need to accomplish the ends and the fulfillment you aspire to.

 

© 2019 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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Why Artists and Writers Are So Self-Absorbed

The Self-Absorbed Artist and Writer

Blue sky with clouds above mountains and trees

A Break in the Clouds by Kendall Kessler

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.” But Saint Augustine’s observation, true of most people, is not true of artists and writers. Artists and writers 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 because they are their own laboratories from which, like alchemist’s mixtures, their art is formed. They must know their strengths (and exploit them) and their weaknesses (and avoid them), and they must be able to estimate accurately the level of their talents relative to what they wish to create, and to foresee the effects of their moods on their work. (If the mood plummets too low or soars too high, will they be able to work today?)

Green mountains with pink and orange sunrise

Morning Color Dance by Kendall Kessler

They don’t usually understand how it happened that they are more gifted than others but find themselves from their earliest days in a state of creative grace that has been given to them gratis and they haven’t earned any more than a pretty or handsome face has been earned, but brings benefits throughout life. They are fascinated by what capabilities they discover in themselves that make their art possible.

Many people consider self-absorption like that of people in the arts a negative and unpleasant characteristic. And, in fact, the self-absorption of painters, writers, actors, and ballet dancers among other artists can make them overly emotional, temperamental, and difficult to get along with. But for people engaged seriously in an art being self-absorbed is a necessary element of their creative disposition.

Green trees in front of blue mountains snd pink and white clouds in sky

Distant View of the Peaks of Otter by Kendall Kessler

Artists of all kinds are self-absorbed and smitten by their craft for many practical reasons: first of all because the job of being creative is not like any other job. It all comes from the mind of the one person you are, and your duty is to probe that mind’s depths and breadths and pull out what is there every time you create. You must plumb from it patterns of words, or music, or colors that will be shaped into a finished work with your signature on it. The work will be passed on to an audience. They will think, “This is the creation of… (your name); no one else’s.” If the work succeeds it is your success. If it fails, the failure is yours. In any case you have tried your hardest and laid yourself bare before strangers .All responsible fans of the arts try very hard to respond in accord with what they take to be the intention of the author or painter and the work. You make an impression: they praise your work, or are indifferent, or dislike it.

 

Nature Cooperates With Gifted People

bare trees leaning over river with mountains in the background

Fall on the New River by Kendall Kessler

Nature does artists of all kinds a favor. It equips them for the creative pursuit that most suits them, making available to them what often will be their most highly developed and most valued skill, their core capability, and with an aptitude, a “feel,” for a particular art. Noted composers and performing artists in musical fields–so sensitive to sound and tone—possess what the Germans call Horlust–“hearing passion.” Writers–particularly poets and lyrical writers–have a word passion (they adore words), painters find bliss in colors and shapes, often from the cradle, actors and dancers in  physical gestures.

A moment comes early in your life or later—an experience occurs—and if you are to be an artist or writer you become aware that this craft is the direction that fits you as no other direction will. You feel that it will lead to satisfactions 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. It was a sudden attachment to an artistic field that brought with it a motivation–and urge to create—and a sense of knowing what you wanted to do in life.

Wooden walkway over water with greens, pinks and blues

Pawleys Island Atmosphere by Kendall Kessler

Your artistic purpose became a permanent part of your mind, your body, your spirit, your entire being—an idea, a theme, a scene from a memory, or perhaps an image that became meaningful.  You may not be conscious of it, but it could be a major turning point that starts you out in a creative direction, and gives you a sense of moving steadily in that direction, of moving headlong straight toward a future that is concrete and specific.

Playwright Eugene O’Neill’s major turning point was the result of being stricken by a life-threatening illness and having to find something to do to pass the time during recovery. Novelist Raymond Chandler’s was the result of being fired from a job for drunkenness and having to turn to a new career in his forties. Vincent van Gogh’s turning point was seeing that a life for him in art was a real possibility after reading Cassagne’s Guide to the ABC of Drawing.

 

To Artists Their Art Is All-Engulfing.

Three boats on blue and purple water

Boats on the Chesapeake Bay by Kendall Kessler

If you are an artist or writer 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, land-owner, athlete, lover, and teacher, true, but you’re also an artist and that art may be your center of gravity. Your belief in and enthusiasm for your art is always somewhere in your life. Your art is being processed even in your sleep–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, (who is more timid and less bold than an artist or writer who lacks courage?), and products of your talents, training, and commitments, your energy, and your memories. Your painting, writing, acting, dancing voice is the end result of all the experiences of the life you’ve lived, and it comes through your work–every painting, each manuscript– loud and clear. The most distinguishing quality of the work–the feature the audience is affected by first–is the always-unique (never a duplicate of anybody else)–style of its creator, the artist’s unmistakable “touch.”

Wooden pier obove green, blue and white waves with cloudy sky

Breakers at Pawleys Island by Kendall Kessler

Novelist Henry Miller said, “I don’t care who the artist is, if you study him deeply, sincerely, detachedly, you will find that he and his work are one.” Novelist Joseph Conrad said, “The writer of imaginative prose stands confessed in his works.” Pablo Picasso said, It is not what the artist does that counts, but what he is…What interests me is the uneasiness of Cezanne, the real teaching of Cezanne, the torment of van Gogh, that is to say the drama of the man.” Artists may try to eliminate themselves from the work, but they can’t. Henry James said that the artist of a work “stands present on every page of every book from which he sought so assiduously to eliminate himself.”

Poet W.H. Auden wrote, “Speaking for myself, the questions which interest me most when reading a poem are two. The first is technical: ‘Here is the verbal contraption. How does it work?’ The second is, in the broadest sense moral. What kind of guy inhabits this poem? What is his notion of the good life or the good place? His notion of the Evil One. What does he conceal from the reader? What does he conceal even from himself?” William James said it is the amount of life in the act of creation which artists feel that makes you value their minds.

 

The Inner World of Artists and Writers

Creative people are adventurers mapping out their inner creative life. They have a need for creative expression that mustn’t be ignored. They have experiences and values that are unlike those of other people.  In a poem poet Emily Dickinson said that the soul selects her own society and shuts the door. Often what is left outside the artist’s closed door is the world of ordinary life of Wordsworth’s “getting and spending,”

Two figures wading in green water with orange and blue sky

Morning Stroll at Isle of Palms by Kendall Kessler

Even now at this moment you may not be caring very much about many things other people talk about. Those things may have little or no importance for you. They often don’t for people in the arts who value independence, individuality, rebelliousness, and detachment, and are infatuated with their work. They march to the rat-a-tat of a drummer unique to themselves which they hear so clearly but less creative people could not hear even faintly were their life to depend on it. Marcel Proust said succinctly, “Those who have created for themselves an enveloping inner life pay little heed to the importance of current events.”

In the same vein Oscar Wilde wrote: “It is through art and through art only, that we realize our perfection; through art and art only that we can shield ourselves from the sordid perils of actual existence.” American naturalist/ philosopher Henry David Thoreau said that most of what society called good he thought was evil, and that if he could repent anything it would be his “good” conduct.

What is inside the shut door Dickinson spoke of is the artist’s fertile inner life. From it a river of creative products pour–ceaselessly flowing and moving if the artists explore themselves more and more thoroughly. Transformation of what is inside the artist into what is outside is the overriding goal–to produce into the clear light of day a book, a painting, a song or a symphony, a memorable performance –that is completely as the artist wishes, and offering it out to be shared with an appreciative and admiring world.

 

The artist whose beautiful work is featured on this post is Kendall Kessler, award winning professional artist  and former Asst. Professor of Art at Radford University. She primarily creates large impasto oil paintings, but also works in pastels. Kendall has exhibited throughout the USA, and won local, national & international awards in both mediums. Her artwork is in private collections in thirty-two states, Washington D.C., Canada, Germany, Russia, Australia, Switzerland,and England. For more information on Kendall Kessler, see her website KendallKessler

 

© 2019 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 Innovators Transform Art

Major new ideas, styles, or other innovations in the arts are not met with open arms, but with hostility.

Example of painting by Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock, Bluepoles

They are intended to transform an art which the innovator believes needs improvement, but these unprecedented innovations upset the status quo.

When Jackson Pollock splashed paint from cans onto a canvas and called that art, revolutionizing twentieth century fine arts with Action Painting, he was told cruelly, “You haven’t an ounce of talent and that’s not art. Why you’re the man who can’t even paint the human figure.  You were the worst in your class in art school. How can you call yourself an artist?”

Photo portrait of Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

The clipped, adjective and adverb-free, dialogue-rich writing style Ernest Hemingway introduced in the mid-1920s was ridiculed as anti-literary by critics when it first appeared.  Igor Stravinsky’s compositions were written in the “Modern” mode featuring a new style of dissonance and discontinuity rather than neat formal structures and appealing tone qualities. His The Rite of Spring was so unconventional that it provoked a riot in the Paris concert hall when it was premiered.

Innovative artists merely want to be allowed what is (in the free world) a fundamental freedom of all the arts–the liberty to follow their imaginations into whatever nooks and crannies of the human mind and spirit they lead, and to express whatever they find there–which does not in itself seem dangerous or subversive or deserving of punishment. Yet like Pollock, Hemingway, and Stravinsky, artists that break away from the familiar-and widely-accepted are harassed and ridiculed. Poet and commentator on the creative process Brewster Ghiselin observed that “Every creative act overpasses the established order in some way.”

Painting by Manet of a woman with a parasol

Jeanne_(Spring) by Édouard Manet

Edouard Manet was vilified by critics and the public when he introduced Impressionism to the art world in 1863. This art, revolutionary at the time, was eventually to become the most popular and conventional style of all. Author Jonathan Swift whose work too was mocked said, “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign: that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

 

 

 

Great Innovators May Shake the Art at Its Foundations.

In the Italian Renaissance Giotto di Bondone turned the art world inside out by showing that the subject of painting could be realistic and secular life. Figures in paintings could look like real people and not be angels and saints. Art was never the same after Giotto.

Cezanne Still Life with Apples

Still life with Apples by Cezanne

In the nineteenth century Paul Cezanne became the most important name since Giotto by changing the direction art had been following for seven hundred years into abstraction. Abstraction is the essence of Modern Art. Cezanne’s innovations made Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque feel free and led quickly to their innovations in creating Cubism, and also led then to numerous other abstract innovative schools and movements in modern art one after another. Art was never the same after Cezanne.

 

The Innovator’s Need for Confidence

Original, non-traditional artists must have confidence in themselves and their work to bolster themselves against the negativity they will meet.  Confidence touches every aspect of a person’s being–whether artists think about their prospects positively or in a  self-defeating way, how strongly they motivate themselves, whether they will persist in response to adversity and setbacks, their susceptibility to discouragement and other impediments, and whether they will be able to make necessary changes in their lives. They must be steadfast and not let criticism against  them and their work stop up the flow of their creativity which should always, under all Water flowing in a riverconditions, flow freely, river-like,  unstopped, unaffected by any attack.  Innovator’s confidence, like their imaginations, must be supreme.

If you are a creative in the arts, judgments are being made about the quality of your work and your skills at every turn: Do you have what it takes? Are you any good? Should I care about your work, or should I ignore it?  You must be prepared for criticism that makes you uncomfortable and perhaps makes you doubt yourself and your talent.

English writer Rudyard Kipling would go on to establish himself as a master stylist and to win the Nobel Prize in literature. But early in his career a publisher wrote him: “I’m sorry, but you just don’t know how to use the English language.” Vladimir Nabokov, also a dazzling stylist, received this message from a publisher in response to Lolita:  “I recommend that you bury this under a stone for a thousand years.”  But neither Kipling nor Nabokov was deterred.

If there’s one thing famous artists, writers, actors, and other creatives will tell you, it is that you work best and are most powerfully motivated to create and will overcome almost impossible obstacles when you’re not thinking of anyone’s approval but your own. Such a confident attitude gives you backbone and courage. Pugnacious Patti McNair warned editors, “Get your mitts offa my story.” English novelist Graham Greene put a note on the title page of a manuscript, “Please do not change any of Mr. Greene’s punctuation or spelling.” When Greene’s publisher expressed doubt about a book’s title, Greene sent a cable that read: EASIER TO CHANGE PUBLSIHER THAN TITLE. GREENE.”

 

The Art’s Absorption of the Innovation

Girl With a Watering Can by Renoir

The process of the art’s absorption of the innovation begins with experimentation by artists of a new technique. The public and critics don’t like the technique and condemn it. If it has promise there is a period of adjustment and the new technique is then absorbed into the field. The public changes its opinion and finds the technique appealing. The new technique becomes prestigious and is widely imitated.

The most useful and appealing new styles, techniques, and innovations catch on and the once-abused innovator is now celebrated: has genius, has something new to say, is worth looking at.  The popularity of the new style sets the fashion for plays, novels, songs, movies, etc. If a new style or school transforms an art and skill in a major way, it is likely to be incorporated in the field almost immediately.

Pollock’s Action Painting, the works of Stravinsky, “The Hemingway style,” and philosophies of Giotto and Cezanne overwhelmed the art scene because artists could see the value of these new approaches and the public began to appreciate them. The techniques of writing Hemingway invented became the most popular way to write in the world. The citation of the 1950 Nobel Prize Hemingway received singled out his powerful, style-forming mastery of the art of modern narration.” There is hardly a writer even almost one hundred years later who hasn’t studied it and knowingly or unknowingly been influenced by it.

Impressionism is the best loved painting still today. Within a few years the Impressionism Manet started came to enrich not only the painting of artists such as August  Renoir,  Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, and others, but also took shape in other artistic fields–in literature in the impressionism of Stephen Crane and

Painting of a woman and child by Mary Cassatt

Painting by Mary Cassatt

Joseph Conrad, in music by impressionistic composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, in film, acting, and other arts.

Jackson Pollock is considered one of the twentieth century’s luminary painters, Stravinsky one of the greatest composers, and Giotto, Cezanne, Manet, Picasso, and Braque innovative pioneers who are owed a great deal by artists today, many of whom are producing beautiful works of art that would not have been possible had innovators not had the notion of attempting a kind of work that was new and unprecedented that they found alluring and could not resist.

 

© 2019 David J. Rogers

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

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Reward Yourself: A Secret of Self-Motivation

You may not be doing something you should be doing and because of that may not be feeling the creative zest that should fill you while you write, paint, compose, practice, or perform. Let’s begin by asking why some creatives work tirelessly while many of their fellow creatives’ time spent doing the work they should be doing is minimal.

Tulip bouquetA secret is the rewards the former give themselves.  The operating principle is simple and clear–easy to understand: it is human nature to want to do things which you will be rewarded for doing.

Creatives who reward themselves for their efforts work harder and longer, accomplishing more than those who perform the same tasks, but don’t reward themselves. And self-rewarders are much more likely than non-rewarders to solve the problems they face while performing their craft. Rewards strengthen their problem-solving persistence, and persistence is the only way difficult problems of an art will be solved.

Don’t wait until the whole task is finished before rewarding yourself. Reward yourself for finishing components of the task. For example, a poet might reward herself after completing a stanza or a line. An actor, known for his spellbinding performances, might give himself the task of learning his lines Dog receiving rewardto perfection (as he always does) before he rewards himself with a glass of wine. The reward needn’t be major. Just so it’s something that you find pleasurable.

It is probable that if you increase the rewards you give yourself, you will find yourself putting in more time at your craft (another principle is that the more time you spend developing your abilities, the more successful you will be.) By rewarding yourself you will probably become more adept at solving the creative problems facing you than you have been, and will accomplish more than you are accustomed to. Self-rewards also increase concentration.

Man in front of laptop, holding his head in frustrationRewards are particularly effective when what you’re working on is tedious, as the crafts of art may sometimes be. The person who is under the misconception that the artist’s life is romantic and so exciting that it is free of boredom hasn’t known how dreary making creative things can sometimes be.

You may make the reward of breaking for dinner or going to a movie contingent on putting the finishing touches on the article. Or, as a reward, get away from your work place and do something pleasant and refreshing: go to the zoo, visit a museum, talk to your friends, walk to the store and buy a Reese’s Pieces.

Ernest Hemingway said, “Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it.  I rewrote A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times.” Rewards that are a result of your accomplishments increase your self-confidence and are an antidote to discouragement. Self-confidence is crucial to all artists. Achieving your goal may be all the reward you need, but if there aren’t any rewards along the way to the goal, you may feel little or no gift box wrapped in gold papermotivation to continue working and may be susceptible to the scourge of discouragement.

The greatest danger facing a creative is the possibility of quitting. When you quit, your career ends. The majority of creatives quit–hundreds of thousands every year– from the little boy or girl who, although gifted, doesn’t want to practice anymore, disappointing parents whose hopes were high,  to the writer who for years has never had a work published and thinks, “What’s the use?” Quitting is more likely to occur if the creative receives no rewards from continuing to work and thinks it is hopeless to go on.  A reward brightens your spirits and makes you want to go on.

If rewards you need do not come from the outside, they must come from yourself to sustain you until eventually they come from the outside too. The greatest predictor of future success is past success. If you’ve succeeded once, you can do it again. Have faith. In other words, all that may be necessary to supply the motivation to go on working for years may be a single success. But if you give up, even that single success, as important as it could be, will be unreachable.

Stack of books with coffee and pastry on topDecide how you’ll reward yourself. Custom design your rewards to suit yourself.  Some people devise complex systems of rewards involving charts where they record steps on the way to the goal. Parents sometimes use this rewards of this kind to encourage children to practice. For me, “making paragraphs” that I think are pretty good is a reward in itself. Good, clear, paragraphs bring a strong feeling of satisfaction—a glow of overall contentment that I’ve worked energetically and efficiently and it’s paid off. I look at paragraphs on the screen and they excite me.

Then as a further self-reward, after a substantial workday I get to read the wonderful books I collect that are waiting in stacks downstairs for me. To get that feeling that will last into the next working day, leaving a residue in my mind of language beautifully used–to read those books–l  will work very hard for hours, even when the work is not enjoyable and seems to be going nowhere.  But if I don’t persist, I give myself no reward.

Make self-rewards you’ve designed for yourself a key part of your work schedule and see positive changes in your creative behavior. Don’t forget to reward Rose gardenyourself every day.  Begin now by listing the rewards that will motivate you most strongly: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and so on.

When you do a good job you might walk through a rose garden. Or if you prefer noise, walk down a busy street.

 

© 2019 David J. Rogers

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

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