Category Archives: Writers

The Self-Concept: Freeing Up Your Creator’s Mind and Personality

In those happy days when I was starting out and writing books during the night while my wife and children slept, I was a business consultant during the day. One client was an anal-type organization–lots of rules, very little freedom, business workers in office cubiclesdictatorial–and many disgruntled employees. You might have worked in an organization like that. You may be working in one now.

One rule was that no one from one unit was to visit another unit during working hours. They were serious. Wherever you went you heard people saying, “Don’t get caught out of your unit.”

Your creator’s self-concept–self-image, self-estimate–is your internal, private opinion of the kind of creator you are and of the actions you are or are not capable of performing as a creator. It directly controls how successful you are in your creative endeavors and how full and satisfying your creative life will be. Like that nutty rule, your creator’s self-concept says, “Whatever you do, don’t get caught out of your self-concept.”

Your behavior has absolute trust in your creator’s self-concept and believes it and obeys it. You may have decided after five years writing that you’re a pretty average poet, so you work only hard enough to write average poems, never expecting to do any better. Your self-concept is perfectly content with mediocrity although you may have the potential for greatness. It is continually telling you to stay inside its definition of the kind of person you are: “You’re a decent painter but let’s face it, you’ll will never be much more than that.”

Many people I’ve met and you’ve met tell themselves they’re not creative. They realize that creativity could make them happier, but they claim they just don’t have it. Many people think, “Oh, a painter is creative, or a novelist or an architect. But I’m not a bit creative.” Yet researchers have demonstrated that the self-concept is so powerful and yet so malleable and so easy to change that the moment–the moment–people start thinking “I am creative” instead of “I’m not creative,” creativity increases. They can write and paint and perform dramatic roles passably well.  Now they have a creator’s self-concept.

Disappointments lead some creators to think, “I can’t produce really superb art work. . .sell my stories to magazines…make a lot of money…place my paintings in the best galleries…get in a good show… compete with young creators…” and so on.

Many creators have such narrow self-concepts they’re living in a unit that’s only a fraction of the size of their true creative ability. They possess the capacity to accomplish high creative goals but they don’t realize they do. Other creators have wide and expansive self-concepts. Their actions are bolder. They are self-confident. They expect to excel and often do.

What’s holding narrow self-concept creators back? Don’t look at me. I’m not holding them back. You’re not holding them back. They are holding themselves back. Some creators—maybe you know a few of them—have self-concepts so narrow and confining that they have made themselves incapable of doing anything significant. Often they don’t even try.

Many of you reading this are fiction writers. But we are all fiction writers. ALL SELF-CONCEPTS ARE FICTIONS; THEY ARE ALL MADE UP.  They are not real in the way a flower pot is real or a desk is. They are merely ways you have chosen to view yourself. From this insight it’s a short, leaping step to the next: “Hey, since I made up this damned self-concept and I’m not happy with it, and it’s holding me back, all I have to do to increase my possibilities and free up my creator’s mind and personality is to create another one and act accordingly,” or “Do I need a self-concept at all?” If your self-concept is right for you—if you’re happy with it—by all means keep it. But if it’s bringing you creative disappointment after disappointment and discouragement and you’re dissatisfied with it, you’d better, I think: (1) change it, or (2) operate without it.

I want to tell you two stories:

Story One: “The Storekeeper and the Thief”

In Japan in the nineteenth century, storekeepers were considered lily-livered weaklings. One storekeeper became sick and tired of this reputation. To prove that it was totally false he took lessons at a martial arts dojo. He devoted himself religiously and after some years he became an expert. After closing his shop late one night, the storekeeper and his wife started home down the dark streets carrying the day’s receipts. They had just turned the corner when a man holding a knife stepped out of the shadows and ordered the storekeeper to hand over his money.

At first he refused, but when the thief charged him, growling, “You miserable merchant, I’ll cut you to pieces,” the storekeeper lost his courage, fell to his knees, and began to tremble with fear. Suddenly his wife cried out, “You’re not a storekeeper, you’re a master of the martial arts.”

The storekeeper turned his head and looked at his wife. “Yes,” he said, “I am.” He stood, a warrior now, totally fearless, completely calm. He let out a powerful katzu, “battle shout,” and leaped at the thief. He defeated him easily.

Story Two: “The Teaman and the Ronin

In feudal Japan, a servant, a poor practitioner of chado, the Way of tea, unwittingly insulted a ronin, a masterless samurai. Outraged, the ronin challenged the servant to a duel. “I’m not a warrior,” the teaman said, “and I’m very sorry if I offended you. I certainly didn’t mean to. Please accept my apology. ”But the ronin would have none of it. “We meet at dawn tomorrow,” he said, and as was customary, he handed the terrified teaman a sword. “Go practice,” said the ronin.

The servant ran to the home of a famous sword master and told him the terrible thing that had happened. “A unique situation,” the sword master said. “For you will surely die. The thing I might be able to help you with is isagi-yoku, the art of dying well.”

While they talked, the teaman prepared and poured tea. The masterful way he did it caught the eye of the sword master. He slapped his knee and said, “Forget what I just told you. Put yourself into the state of mind you were in as you prepared the tea and you can win this fight.” The teaman was shocked. The sword the ronin had given him was the first he had ever held. “What state of mind?”

“Were you thinking ‘I’m a teaman?’ ” asked the master.

“No. I wasn’t thinking at all.”

“That’s it!” The sword master laughed. “Tomorrow draw your sword and hold it high over your head, ready to cut your opponent down. Don’t think you’re a teaman or that you’re a swordsman. Just listen. When you hear him shout, strike him down.”

Image of kendo {{PD-1923}} The next morning the ronin appeared on the field and the teaman immediately raised his sword overhead, his eyes on the ronin, his ears waiting for the battle cry. For long moments the ronin stared at the raised sword, and the determination in his opponent’s eyes. Finally the ronin said, “I cannot beat you.” He bowed and left the field.

The problem of these two men should seem familiar. Their predicament is one we all encounter every day. Our opponents aren’t usually thieves and they certainly aren’t wandering samurai ronin, but that’s not important. Those weren’t the main opponents anyway. The primary battle, the main event, was going on inside the storekeeper and the teaman. To win on the outside, each had to deal with a faulty, inadequate, self-defeating self-concept.

Option One: “I’m a Warrior, Not a Storekeeper.” Changing Your Self-Concept

Many creators are overlooking their creative abilities. They persist in thinking they’re storekeepers when if they just thought differently about themselves they would see what warriors they have the potential to be. Listen to the things you say about yourself and think about yourself that begin with “I am,” “I’m not,” and “I can’t.” They are your self-concept in action. And they directly control what is possible for you.

 

Robin tells herself, “I’ve been working on the thing I call ‘My Novel’ for years and can’t seem to finish it. It’s embarrassing. I have no will power.”  And because of it she has real problems getting the damn thing off to a publisher. Ariel tells herself she’s not intelligent enough to write a Hollywood screen play. She doesn’t realize that intelligence is not fixed and final in a person, but can increase with use and with it her concept of herself as an intelligent woman.

Creators are what they are because they keep telling themselves they are. If they stop telling themselves they are, they change. If creators say to you, “I just can’t talk in front of large groups,” or “I’m not the sales type,” or “I’m not a really clever person,” and then ask you if there is anything they can do about it, you might suggest that they never, never say that again. Then suggest they counter every “I’m not” or “I just can’t” with a firm “I am” or “I can.”

Saying it isn’t enough.  What is in your head doesn’t count for anything unless you translate it into action, “body knowledge.” It’s not enough to think, “Hey, I’m not just a storekeeper, I’m really a warrior after all.” To defeat the thief you have to fight, and you can because:

 All behavior is nothing more than an act, a performance.  Acting is easy. Everyone can act. We are all performers.  As soon as a public speaker realizes that she is not a lecturer but an actor, her presentations get good. To BE confident, ACT confidently.

Find a model, someone who does well what you would like to do. Watch how she does it, then do it the same way yourself. Or borrow from a number of models.

Option Two: Operating Without a Self-Concept

The sword master advised the teaman, “Tomorrow draw your sword and hold it high over your head. Don’t think that you’re a teaman or you’re a swordsman. Just listen. When you hear him shout, strike him down.”

In sales training sessions I gave I often used a simple role-playing exercise that’s designed to demonstrate the teaman alternative. The teaman alternative is not replacing your old, limiting self-concept with a new and improved one. It’s not thinking you’re a cowardly storekeeper or a poor teaman, but it’s not thinking you’re a warrior either. It’s not holding any self-concept in mind, but just taking action, doing something.

After everyone in the training group had played the part of a sales person making a presentation to a potential customer, I asked them to list the things that they did well during the role-play and the things they would like to improve upon. Then we discussed the “like-to-improve-upons.” Sam said he was no good at thinking on his feet. He went blank. A real salesman, Sam said, is able to handle himself smoothly.

Gerri said her problem was talking too fast. Her words came shooting out so fast she often said the wrong thing. She got flustered. She blew sales.

One by one, they all had to tell me about their “improve-upons.” Midway through every description of a problem I stopped the speaker and said something like “I’m not sure I understand what you mean. I’ll tell you what: show me how you would like to be able to do it.” Then I just sat back and watched the amazing thing that almost always happened. Virtually every time, they were all able to do what they said they had trouble doing or could not do at all. Now they were acting.

Sam, for example, actually did think on his feet, and responded smoothly and quickly to the prospect’s objections. Gerri actually became a more composed, together, non-flustered and relaxed saleswoman. Shy people who wished to act more boldly and self- confidently actually did. Those who wished to improve their body language did so. And tough, defensive people who “always” argued and who wanted to be more friendly and warm succeed in acting that way.

I had prompted each of the role-players to act directly without letting their self-concept affect their performance at all. They were doing before their self-concepts had time to inform them, “You just got through saying you couldn’t do that, so it doesn’t make any sense for this guy to ask you to.”

What the role-players learned is precisely what the sword master taught the teaman: You can do what even you believed you couldn’t if you forget about your self-concept totally.

Seeing how easy and effortless it was to forget about a previous self-concept and just act, just be, just perform was exciting for everyone. It was an unforgettable life learning experience.

Man painting a pictureDo whatever you’re doing  creatively without any thought about your “I ams,” “I can’ts” and “I’m nots,” or any concern about “what bad thing will happen if I fail” or “what great thing will happen if I succeed.” You’ll be unhappy whenever your internal opinion of yourself makes you concerned with yourself instead of the creative action at hand.

The creative action at hand–the story or the painting to be crafted, the role to be played, the dance to be danced–they are all that matters, they are the main thing.  Forget about everything else. Watch what happens. Watch your creative life change.

 

Parts of this post appeared in different form in my book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques For Your Work And Life

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

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

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

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

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The Warrior Creator

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

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

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

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

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

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

Japanese Character for Warrior

Japanese Character for Warrior

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

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

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

She said, “I never finished it.”

I said, “You were afraid.”

She said, “I was terrified of it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

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

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

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

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Order Waging Business Warfare: Lessons From the Military Masters in Achieving Competitive Superiority

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Fiction and Truth

I was in a writer’s group some years ago, an extraordinary group because except for me it was composed entirely of women–and they were elderly, seventy, eighty, ninety years old. At first I thought, “What am I doing with this bunch of old ladies?” But I quickly changed my tune.

They were tremendously talented and clever, sharp, and knowledgeable, and taken all together had hundreds of years of Typewriter, paper, glasses, pen, book on a wooden surfaceprofessional or amateur experience. It was a great, exciting group, the most pleasant and worthwhile I’ve known. The atmosphere every time was warm, radiant, cordial, and safe–a most productive creative environment. I often think of them fondly. At a session I read aloud a short story I’d written.  When I was reading I heard one woman–an award-winning journalist–say to her friend with a tone of discovery, “This really happened. You can tell.”

Well it had really happened. I hadn’t changed a single thing from the actual events and the actual setting and mood and people, except the names.  Even then I used their correct initials–“Wayne Collins” became “William Carruthers,” etc. In writing it I had to make everything accurate. If I wrote, “She had grey eyes,” I wouldn’t let myself get away with it. I just had to change it back to the real color, blue. Then the group turned to the question everyone seemed interested in that my reading had raised: “Can obviously autobiographical material–meaning it had really happened, the detail told you that–qualify as fiction?”

The eight people in the group were evenly divided. Four said, “Fiction is fiction and non-fiction is non-fiction. There’s a big difference.” I once asked my wife, an excellent writing teacher, “What is a short story these days,” and she replied “Currently, a short story is anything you want it to be.” That liberal view was basically the attitude of the other four members of the group, including me, so in our minds my strictly and admittedly autobiographical story more than held its own as fiction.

It goes without saying that when they are creating, all writers–all people in the arts–depend heavily on their own past experiences. But while most writers create characters and plots using their imagination as the dominant shaper of the work, some writers–such as those cited in this post–adhere slavishly to their own experiences and knowledge.

Truth is what the writer, painter, actor sincerely believes in his/her own heart. Everything in the work of art must be convincing for the artist and for the audience. The artist is often not striving for literal truth, but is inventing too, saying to the reader, “I’m trying to convince you that if this were happening, this is how it would be. If characters were people, this is how they would feel, talk, and behave.” But some writers invent far less than remember.

In college and in graduate school I was trained in “The New Criticism” that says all that matters when studying a literary work is the work itself: the author’s personality should not enter into it. I had a knack for sticking to the text and ferreting out patterns of images and symbols.

But I am a writer of fiction and poetry and I know from my own long experience and that of many other writers that the author’s personality and experiences are everywhere present in the creative process and permeate the content of everything the writer commits to the page, every feature, major or minor. Critics may not know that or may act as though they don’t, but every writer does. A writer can look at a passage in her work and say, “That character sounds so bitter because I had a bad tooth ache that day and so I was in the perfect mood to write that dialogue.”

Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov

There is a long precedence for obviously autobiographical content being put into fictional form and being accepted as fiction even though it really happened. Short story master/playwright, Russian Anton Chekhov, said “Art has this one great specification: it simply does not tolerate falsehood…There is absolutely no lying in art,” and in a letter to his brother, “Don’t write about anything you haven’t experienced yourself.”

That’s much easier to do when you are writing about yourself because you know yourself better than you know any character you can imagine and you know better than anyone else what happened to you if you have a clear and accurate memory. Autobiographical fiction writers obviously need exceptional memories–and most have one. Their most important creative routine is to stimulate their memory. I may look at photo albums as a way of doing this.  I’ve said about myself–hopefully not bragging–that I can remember every blade of grass on the street I lived on when I was eight.

English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge advised to “write from recollection; [but} trust more to your imagination than to your memory.” Most writers are liars–they invent. But some writers write their best fiction, poetry, drama, and screenplays when they are writing the literal truth–or almost the literal truth–and not lying.

American Nobel Prize winning playwright Eugene O’Neill, for example, said,  “I have never written anything which did not come directly or indirectly from some event or impression of my own,” and “I shall never be influenced by any consideration but one; Is it the truth as I know it, or better still, feel it,” and “I am a dramatist. What I see everywhere in life is drama. I just set down what I feel in terms of life and let the facts speak whatever language they may to an audience,” and “Writing plays was the easiest thing in the world for me. I wasn’t making anything up.”

Some famous autobiographical authors who could be obsessive about not lying or writing about things they hadn’t experienced themselves include:

Katherine Anne Porter

Saul Bellow

Ernest Hemingway

Sherwood Anderson

Marcel Proust

Thomas Wolfe

Eugene O’ Neill

Henry Miller

Anton Chekhov

James Joyce

D.H. Lawrence

Sylvia Plath

Malcolm Lowry

Scott Fitzgerald

Raymond Carver

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway, another Nobel Prize winner, could invent with the best of imaginative writers, but was obsessed with telling the truth, the importance of telling the truth, in his words, “the straight statement without moralizing or elaborating or decoration”–what “is not messed with.” He was asked what the job of the artist is, and he said it is to put down what you see and what you feel in the best and simplest way you can. What he had personally done and knew most about was what he was interested in telling about. “His standard of truth-telling remained…so high and so rigorous that he was ordinarily unwilling to admit secondary evidence…picked up from other sources than his own experience” (Carlos Baker.) Whenever I read the wonderful Hemingway short story “Indian Camp” I know that boy sitting in the rowboat was once the real Hemingway and the man with him was his real father just as in the boy in the story I read to the group was my best recollection of how I was as a boy.

Thomas Wolfe had an enormously retentive memory, as autobiographical writers generally do, and engaged in exhausting, sustained, many-hours-long periods of writing. (Research shows that the most productive writers and painters usually work in long, protracted bouts of creation and not in brief, choppy spurts. For maximum effectiveness you would preferably have or develop the ability to concentrate your attention for long periods, and if possible, find long uninterrupted, unimpeded periods of time for work.)  The artist’s highest goal is to make conflict-free, habitual use of the urge to create that dominates him or her, with no one and nothing interfering. It is not just interference that so aggravates the creator, but even the threat of interference.

Wolfe’s aspiration was to put into his writing precise descriptions of every experience and every impression and every sight and sound he had ever known. He wanted to put all the experiences in his life into written language, and had every confidence that was possible. His life had to be “looted clean.” “Everything had to be used; nothing could be implied” (The Norton Anthology of American Literature).

Thomas Wolfe

Thomas Wolfe, Van Vechten Collection at Library of Congress

Like many creatives whether in the arts or the sciences, Wolfe was governed almost wholly by the compulsion to work, to be as productive as he could possibly be. Words came out of him straight from his memory as water comes from a spigot–hundreds of thousands of words, thousands every night, manuscripts of a million words, his never having any concept of the requirements of a publishable book. Whenever he was deterred from working, this tall, handsome, tremendously gifted man from North Carolina would fall into a black mood. Then he would brood, drink, and pace the streets all night until he was able to work again, starting in the evening and working past the break of dawn.

Malcolm Lowry was the English author of the wonderful virtuoso-performance novel Under the Volcano. It’s generally considered one of the great works of the twentieth century. It is possibly the most accurate description of a man’s alcoholism ever written. (He wrote, “One dreaded the arrival of anyone unless they were bringing alcohol.”). Lowry almost never tried to invent characters or events because he didn’t know enough about any other person to be able to do that. His subject was himself and he could not focus on anybody outside himself. When he tried to, the writing went flat. He didn’t know anything about world events or anything else either. Everything revolved around his thoughts.

James Joyce

James Joyce

James Joyce had such a need for authenticity and accuracy that he believed he didn’t possess an imagination at all: he couldn’t make things up. When writing Ulysses he sent a letter home to Dublin asking a friend to go see if it was possible for a man in average physical condition to jump from this place to another at a specific address, or was it impossible. He had to know or he couldn’t finish the book. He was depressed when after the book was published a retired sea captain wrote him telling there was a mistake in the book in that with wind blowing the way he described, the boat wouldn’t have behaved in the way he had it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, along with Hemingway, is arguably the most dramatic example in American literary history of an author whose private life is reflected consciously or otherwise in virtually everything he wrote. Fitzgerald’s language, his prose, his voice, tell us what he was going through at any given moment in his career, from his early extraordinary successes through his crack-up. Saul Bellow’s fiction is strongly biographical fiction. Its focus on the workings of a brilliant mind help explain why his writings are in essence long monologues. Sylvia Plath’s novel The Bell Jar is also strongly autobiographical.

T.S. Eliot said, “We all have to choose whatever subject matter allows us the most powerful and most secret release; and that is a personal affair.” Literary critic Gilbert Murray wrote, “It seems to me that the writers who have the power of revelation are just those who, in some particular part of life, have seen or felt considerably more than the average run of intelligent beings.” It is not a random choice, but a discriminating, highly selective instinct, a particular order of things that has an outstanding appeal to that particular writer. Painter Julian Levi said, “It seems to me that almost every artist finds some subdivision of nature or experience more congenial to his temperament than any other.” The subject matter, the subdivision of experience that all these writers mentioned here found, and that autobiographical writers today find, is not what they can imagine, but themselves and the recollection of the lives they’ve lived.

It’s generally thought among critics that Joyce’s Ulysses and Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past were the two greatest novels of the twentieth century. The subject of Proust’s book was Proust as much as the subject of Lowry’s works was Lowry. Wolfe’s subject was Wolfe, Fitzgerald’s was Fitzgerald, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, Henry Miller, Plath’s was Plath, Hemingway’s was Hemingway, etc.

The answer to the question, “Can a true story be communicated as fiction?” is “Of course.”

 

© 2017 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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Filed under creativity, Ernest Hemingway, Fiction, Literature, Malcom Lowry, Memory, Thomas Wolfe, Work Production, Writers, writing

More Inspiration and Information for Creative People

Part 4 in a Series

See also Part 1 and Part 2 & 3

Drawing of hand holdng a pen

CREATORS WELCOME ALONENESS, LONELINESS

  • “Aloneness…is not merely the effect of the circumstances in the life of creators: it is often also part of their personality–for the creator is frequently apart and withdrawn even in the presence of others, and makes a deliberate attempt to seek solitude… Research shows that people are likely to come up with better ideas when they work alone.” (R. Ochse)
  • “Nothing will change the fact that I cannot produce the least thing without absolute loneliness. Once again I had the experience that I can work only in absolute solitude, and that not only conversation, but even the very presence in my house of loved and esteemed persons at once diverts my poetic nature.” (Goethe)
  • “What one bestows on private life—in conversations, however refined it may be…is the product of a quite superficial self, not of the innermost self which one can only recover by putting aside the world and the self that frequents the world.” (V.S Naipaul)
  • “Everything that matters in our intellectual and moral life begins with an individual confronting his own mind and conscience in a room by himself.” (Arthur Schlesinger)
  • “The most remarkable piece of research apparatus is the human brain. Some people want to buy every price of equipment known to science. They believe that with a beautiful building filled with modern equipment they have a first rate research institute. That is superstition. The greatest discoveries have been made by men working alone.” (Bernado Houssay)
  • “Originality is a form of solitude.” (Waldo Frank)
  • “Society is harmful to any achievement of the heart.” (Lord Byron)
  • “Conversation enriches the mind, but solitude is the school of genius.” (Edward Gibbon)
  • “Isolation and complete loneliness are my only consolation and my salvation.” (Richard Wagner)

 

INTERRUPTIONS, OBSTRUCTIONS, AND TROUBLE ARE A SCOURGE TO CREATORS

  • “interruption …is one of the major enemies of creative thinking.” (R. Ochse)–“interruption or the feeling that there may be an interruption at any time.” (Walter Bradford Cannon)
  • “Dreadful indeed are such interruptions. Sometimes they break the thread of inspiration for a considerable time, so that I have to seek it again, often in vain.” (Tchaikovsky)
  • Everything I have had to do has been interfered with or cast aside. I have never in my life had so many insuperable obstacles crowded into the way of my pursuits.” (Charles Dickens)
  • “I avoided writers very carefully because they can perpetuate trouble as no one else can.” (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

 

CREATORS ARE COMPLICATED

  • “It is at bottom fairly true that a painter as a man is too much absorbed by what his eyes see, and is not sufficiently master of the rest of his life.” (Vincent van Gogh)
  • Creative people are those who are more willing to redefine the ways in which they look at problems, to take risks, to seek to overcome daunting obstacles, and to tolerate ambiguity even when its existence becomes psychologically painful.” (Scott Barry Kaufman and James Kaufman)
  • “The creative artist seems to be almost the only kind of man that you could never meet on neutral ground. You can only meet him as an artist. He sees nothing objectively because his own ego is always in the foreground.” (Raymond Chandler)
  • “What distinguishes a great artist from a weak one is first their sensibility and tenderness; second their imagination, and third their industry.” (John Ruskin)
  • “The challenge of screen writing is to say much in little and then take half of the little out and still preserve an effect of leisure and natural movement.” (Raymond Chandler) and Chandler: “If my books had been any worse, I should not have been invited to Hollywood, and if they had been any better, I should not have gone.” (He was nominate twice for the best screen play Academy Awards.)
  • “To create, you must have a slightly hard heart.” (Albert Camus)
  • “All art constantly aspires to the condition of music.” (Walter Pater)
  • “The actor appears only to practice and to perfect himself.” (Actress Maria Casares)
  • “You have to remember that nobody ever wants a new writer. You have to create your own demand.” (Doris Lessing)
  • “The moment a man sets his thoughts down on paper, however secretly, he is in a sense writing for publication.” (Raymond Chandler)

 

CREATORS BETTER ACQUIRE CONSIDERABLE KNOWLEDGE

  • “People who gain a wide range of knowledge have a relatively good chance of being creative. They will have acquired a large universe of items from which possible new combinations could be drawn.” (R. Ochse)
  • “To creators knowledge isn’t everything. But it is almost everything.” (David J. Rogers)
  • “Creativity: a type of learning process where the teacher and the pupil are located in the same individual.” (Arthur Koestler)
  • “The literary artist is of necessity a scholar.” (Walter Pater)
  • Over the long run, superior performance depends on superior learning.” (Peter Senge)
  • “The most eminent creators are consistently those who have immersed themselves utterly in their chosen field, have devoted their lives to it (and) amassed tremendous knowledge of it” (Geoff Colvin)
  • “Learning is necessary to the development of creativity of the highest order, although attendance at an academic institution is not essential.” (R. Ochse)

 

CREATORS MUST FIND THEIR AUTHENTIC STYLE, TECHNIQUE, AND VOICE

  • “In the long run, however little you talk or even think about it, the most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It plays off slowly, your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you never heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who puts his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off.” (Raymond Chandler)
  • “If you’re a creator the first thing you notice about the work of an accomplished writer, painter, actor, dancer, composer, etc., is a distinctive style, It cannot be hidden.” (David J. Rogers)
  • “No matter what elevated state of inspiration you might find for yourself, you can’t write the book until you find the voice for it. As it happens there is just one voice and one voice only for a given book and you must ventriloquize until you find it.” (E.L. Doctorow)
  • “Technique is the ability to do what you want to do…You must have a certain intention, and the ability to do that is the index of your technique.” (Pianist Leon Fleisher)
  • “Don’t get alarmed if you dislike what you write. It takes years to find your real voice, your tone and the truth in your heart.” (Albert Camus)
  • “It was at this point that I really began to write. I began from scratch, throwing everything overboard, even those I most loved. Immediately I heard my own voice. I was enchanted: the fact that it was a separate, distinct, unique voice sustained me. It didn’t matter to me if what I wrote should be considered bad. Good and bad had dropped out of my vocabulary…My life itself became a work of art. I had found a voice. I was whole again.” (Henry Miller)
  • “The writer’s work consists in writing with as much effort as possible; and at the end of this labor it sometimes happens that he finds what he sought for so long inside himself.” (Albert Camus)

 

THE WORK OF CREATORS IS SUBJECT TO CRITICISM, SOME FAIR, SOME UNFAIR.

  • “Good critical writing is measured by the perception and evaluation of the subject; bad critical writing by the necessity of maintaining the professional standing of the critic.” (Raymond Chandler)
  • “Most critical writing is drivel and half of it is dishonest.” (Raymond Chandler)

 

CREATORS FOCUS AND WORK HARD

  • “The inventor, whether artist or thinker, creates the structure of his psychic life by means of his work…It is only as the work is done that the meaning of the creative effort can appear and that the development of the artist brought about by it is attained.” (Brewster Ghiselin)
  • “Creation is not a joy in the vulgar sense of the term. It is a servitude, a terrible voluntary slavery.” (Albert Camus)
  • “With the piano, there’s no way of getting around hours at the piano if you practice to play correctly. It is what it does for your control of sound…The more time you spend at the piano, the more control you have.” (Pianist Andre-Michel Schub)
  • “Genius is nothing but a great aptitude for patience.” (French biologist Boffer)
  • ”For the artist work is the main thing and always comes first.” (Saul Bellow)
  • “I have had to work hard; anyone who works just as hard will get just as far.” (Johann Sebastian Bach)
  • “Everybody has the same energy potential. The average person wastes his in a dozen little ways. I bring more to bear in one thing only: my painting, and everything else is sacrificed to it…myself included.” (Pablo Picasso)

© 2017 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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Something Has Gone Out of Publishing

In my oh-so-very-pleasant work room upstairs, where I spend so much time hacking away at this machine whose letters on keys are disappearing fast from overuse, and my wife Diana leaves me alone to bleed and brood when the thinking and writing aren’t going well and to be stricken with ecstasy when they are, I am surrounded by books–many volumes about the arts and the immensely gifted people in them.

This morning I had a busy schedule of things to do that I’ve wanted to do for weeks but haven’t. I’m Chicago born and bred, Spartan tough, so I told myself that today was “time to get serious, buster. Enough of this uncharacteristic self-indulgence.” Today would be different; I’d “dig in,” “put a dent in things,” “make progress,” “do my thing.” I checked over my list of current projects, every single one of which oddly is “top priority.”

Old booksI was eager to start, but then I made the mistake of looking over my left shoulder and having my eye caught by an old “Advance Uncorrected Proofs–Not for Sale” copy of a biography of William Golding. “Who?” you say. Golding was a prolific English novelist, essayist, and playwright, author of Lord of the Flies, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature who was knighted for his achievements.

I ask literate people, “Who was William Golding?” and they don’t know. I ask, “Have you read Lord of the Flies, and they say, “Three times.” Far, far more people have read or heard about Lord of the Flies than remember the name of its author.  I see Golding as representative of a breed of artists and writers who were once acclaimed and now are forgotten.

The biography I’m looking at has an attractive, cheap light green paper cover, and I like the print. So I think of what I know about Golding, and the impression I come up with is that he was an odd bird, though I don’t know where I got that impression, and that his Nobel Prize was controversial.

Obviously, I had no choice but to ditch everything else immediately and start reading the book to try to understand Golding’s story as told in John Carey’s William Golding: A Life.

Golding was a strange, shy, private, reclusive depressive who didn’t want publicity or a biography written in his lifetime, and a virtuoso pianist in his early years. He was a victim of many fears and phobias, a World War II Royal Navy officer who participated in the D-Day invasion and other famous battles. During the war he discovered that the only way he could control his fear was by grinning. The men who served with him misinterpreted that as a love of violence. For many years he was a bored school teacher who was so inept and uninterested that he had no business teaching. He said he never knew what education was about.

He had trouble getting published. He wrote three books during his lunch hours, breaks, and holidays. No publisher was interested in them. Then he started the one that would change his life and enter the lives of millions of us: Lord of the Flies. The books he and his wife Ann read to their little son and daughter, such as Treasure Island and Swiss Family Robinson, were often about islands. One night when Golding and Ann were resting after putting the children to bed, he had a brainchild. He said, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea if I wrote a book about children who behave in the way children really would behave?” Ann was a formidable person, strong-willed, forceful, tough, and determined. So it made sense that she said, “Get on with it.” Golding said once he began working on the book, “It came very easily.”

He felt as if his three unsuccessful books that were circulating in the English publishing world and regularly being returned to him with rejection letters were “written by other people.” But he saw right away that the book about boys on an island was his book.

The manuscript of the book that eventually was given the title Lord of the Flies by an editor was originally panned by publisher Faber and Faber, Britain’s leading publisher, a reader calling it “absurd and uninteresting.” But it was rescued by a Faber editor who had been with the publisher for less than a month–Charles Monteith. Golding was Monteith’s first catch. Monteith would have many more. He was handsome, refined, polished, and sophisticated–qualities that were not true of Golding. That was the start of a lifelong association, with Monteith his editor, adviser, confidant, and friend.

The manuscript had made the rounds and been submitted to many publishers unsuccessfully. It was dog-eared, shop worn, and had pages yellowed at their edges, showing that it had been read and rejected countless times.

The book started out strangely, but Monteith was gripped as he continued reading. He took it home to finish. He couldn’t get it out of his mind. It had many flaws, some of them serious, but at the next meeting of the Faber Book Committee he said he thought the book was “odd and imperfect, but potentially very powerful,” and that he would like to discuss it with the author.” But the Sales Director, W.J. Crawley, whose judgment about if a book would sell was considered infallible, said the book was unpublishable. An argument ensued. When things calmed down, it was decided that since Monteith was very junior, others in the firm should read the manuscript before anything was decided.

Monteith then wrote to Golding, apologizing for keeping the manuscript for “rather a long time,” explaining that while they were interested, they had not made a decision. That was the most encouraging letter Golding had ever received from a publisher. He wrote back, saying he was glad they were interested and hoped they would publish the book.  Other Faber editors read the book, agreed with Monteith, and shared his enthusiasm.

The Faber chairman Geoffrey Faber read the book and liked it, but had doubts. But he didn’t wish to dampen a new young editor’s enthusiasm, and it was decided that Monteith would meet Golding and discuss possible changes but make no promises about publishing the book. At the meeting over lunch at a restaurant, both men were nervous. Because of the book’s religious content Monteith thought the author would be a clergyman, but then thought, “a teacher of children! Of course!” Changes were discussed. Golding would go home and consider them.

The changes Golding made quickly and sent to Monteith were even better than Monteith had hoped for. What Monteith had wanted shortened, Golding had completely eliminated, improving the book. The two men worked hand in hand on the book. On January 10, 1954, Golding submitted a complete draft. He had pieced together all the separate sections the now-friends had sweated over. Golding said now that the book was finished, he could hardly bear to look at it mainly because of the effort of “patching, so much more wearing than bashing straight ahead at a story.”

On February 11 Faber announced that it was prepared to publish the novel. The book went into production in March. Golding read the proofs and could see that Monteith’s “patching” had improved the book considerably.  Golding wrote to Monteith, “I think you have done a very clever and helpful piece of work…The novel is swift now, with a measure of subtlety and tautness. If it achieves any measure of success now it will be due to your severe but healthy pruning.”

On the 17h of September, 1954, Lord of the Flies was published, one year and three days after Golding had sent it to Faber. The tone of reviews that would follow was set by the first review that appeared that same day in the Daily Mail: “Most compelling–I fell under the spell of this book and so will many others,” The following day was even better. The Evening News called it “vivid and enthralling.” To the Times it was “most absorbing.” Time and Tide said, “A work of universal significance;” its author was “a truly imaginative writer who is also a deep thinker.” In the Observer poet Stevie Smith wrote, “This beautiful and desperate book, something quite out of the ordinary.”

Biographer Carey writes, “Faber and Faber were to remain Golding’s agent as well as his publisher for the rest of his life, an arrangement” of great profit to both of them, “and the achievement of this goal was entirely the result of Monteith’s understanding, patience and literary judgment. He spotted Golding’s potential when no one else did, and his faith in his extraordinary gifts did not waver.”

Books on shelvesMany Golding books followed. The Golding-Monteith symbiotic relationship between author and editor, the author with the genius and the editor with the judgment, cannot help but remind one of that same special and rare type of association between American novelist Thomas Wolfe, a physically immense man with an equally immense talent from which a torrent of gorgeous language flowed, and the editor who discovered him, Maxwell Perkins of Scribner’s. (Perkins was also the editor of greats Ernest Hemingway, author of The Sun Also Rises, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby.) The Wolfe-Perkins combination is considered the greatest author-editor relationship in the history of literature.

No writer, painter, or performer in any age was ever given a blank check. They all had to accept certain conditions imposed from the powerful gatekeepers in the field.  But the conditions imposed on the creative center of everything in the arts–the artist himself–are harsher and more brutal today than they once were, and something has gone out of publishing, enough that it’s legitimate to ask if the publisher is the author’s friend–as the theory goes.  The author now has to supply all the this-and-thats that once were the responsibility of the publisher. That was the deal. When did the changes start and how did they happen? Were they justified and in any way equitable?

Given publishing as it is today, such a relationship is now unheard of: two supremely talented people as Golding and Monteith, experts in their own specialties, but one on the payroll of the publisher, working together with one goal of textual perfection.  Most all publisher’s editors today are acquisition “editors,” not textual editors. Authors must find their own editors, and that is an expense that authors did not have when publishers were expected to provide editors.

Most writers with one ear tuned to the stories they’ve heard of the-once-upon-a–time legendary author-editor combinations consider the loss of publisher’s textual editors and that kind of relationship unfortunate. When I was writing Waging Business Warfare for Scribner’s thirty years ago, not one, not two, but three editors at the same time in the employ of the publisher were editing my work for different things.

Red pen editing writing

Where are today’s writers to go to find someone good and capable, trustworthy and encouraging, who will give them valuable feedback and expert guidance that will refine, hone, and perfect the finished, remarkable products–the novels, the plays, the poems people will stop to admire and will never forget? Where are the Charles Monteiths to find the most talented writers to share their expertise with?

Many new gifted authors with tremendous talents are waiting to be discovered and set on the right track by someone with the solid, unwavering faith in them, the expertise, and the vision of a Charles Monteith, without whom, quite possibly, we never would have heard of William Golding.

 

© 2017 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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How Creators Benefit from Teachers

Colorful abstract paintingIn college I had a brilliant professor of creative writing–he was dazzling. After class one day I said to him, “You know everything about literature and writing. Your analysis of works is something to behold, and you’re able to tell students how specifically to improve their work. But as far as I can tell you’ve never produced any creative writing yourself. Have you?

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Because I have no talent.”

He didn’t have the talent his students did have, but his students didn’t have the knowledge he had, and that’s what we were there to acquire so we would have both talent and knowledge.

A painter will not automatically improve her performance by painting more. A writer’s performance won’t improve simply by further writing. To ratchet up their performance they will have to make changes designed specifically to develop it to a higher level. One major change is to acquire more knowledge.

In the arts and every other pursuit knowledge isn’t everything, but it’s almost everything.  Most often the reason a creator isn’t yet accomplished isn’t because he’s unintelligent or not gifted but because he isn’t knowledgeable enough. You need a big data base to be an accomplished creator.

Knowledge translates into new techniques and skills. New techniques and skills translate into new creative accomplishments–roles for the actor, publications for the writer, commissions for the painter and composer, greater satisfaction with your craftsmanship, and so on.

Flute lessonParticularly important in the acquisition of knowledge about your art is the instruction you receive. It may come from yourself if you are a self-taught autodidact who acquires knowledge by reading and studying the author’s ideas as many creators do, and instruction from direct in-person exposure to expert, skilled teachers. Most creators are to some extent studious and have the ability to apply themselves and to learn quickly. They are teachable.

Everyone who has reached the highest level of excellence in their chosen field will be found to have spent much of their lives immersed in that field pushing themselves to improve their performance, and have amassed tremendous knowledge of it. Experts have a higher number of patterns–“chunks” of knowledge–in their memories to draw on and apply to solving the problems at hand. Most experts consider about 50,000 different chunks to be the foundation of their expertise. When you are learning, you are adding chunks. It is no secret to you when you are talking with masters of a domain. Knowledge seems to come out of their every pore.

If you are interested in reaching your upper limits of performance and the most effective training in reaching them, you should study experts in your field–read about them, listen to the stories about them. They have probably spent their entire creative life maximizing their performance. Lengthy, on-going, never-ending training is nearly always the reason for superior performance. All the known routes to high performance require extended training. There are no shortcuts.

Research on what enabled many people to reach high expertise reveals that very often elite performers attach themselves to teachers who give them quality feedback, and with their help engage in specifically-designed training tasks. Training tasks force the creators to solve specific problems and stretch their performance, break bad habits, acquire new skills, and often experience career-changing insights.

Often creators we’ve heard most about received a more ancient style of education rather than modern large classes and many teachers. They received at least some one-on-one personalized education, spending time with a teacher with a good reputation known for their work with students on an individual basis, engaging in give and take dialogue and questioning.

Pottery lessonWhen a student in an art studies with a role model, a master, sparks fly. The two of them immerse themselves in the world of their art. Together, they analyze the piece of work, the skills that went into producing it, and the additional skills that will be needed if the student is to go further. The student learns the importance of concentration and sheer effort, and the need to overcome self-doubt. The student is gaining independence and confidence, and learning to solve problems on her own. Then in time, she may become a master in her art.

Troubled and immensely talented American short story specialist/poet RAYMOND CARVER was called “The American Chekhov.” A turning point in his life was being taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop by author John Gardner and being affected profoundly. Carver said that whatever Gardner had to say “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.”

American MARY CASSATT’S emergence midway in her painting career was the result of a sequence of happy events: living in Paris, mingling with the French  Impressionists, especially mentor/teacher Edgar Degas, becoming an Impressionist herself, and finding her subject–her voice: mothers with their children. Degas was a generally unpleasant, abrasive, hard to deal with man who most other painters couldn’t stomach. But he was a good teacher, the right teacher for Cassatt.

Ernest Hemingway had a most astounding capacity for absorbing information as soon as he was exposed to it and applying it immediately. He was greedy for knowledge and went to everyone for help—and they gave it freely–Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, and others.  He studied, read, and wrote, sometimes eighteen hours a day.

Expert performers and their teachers identify specific goals for improvement, particularly crucial aspects of performance. The person who is trying to improve his mastery must concentrate full attention on getting rid of shortcomings, focusing on where in his performance there’s the most room for improvement.  Not any old teacher will do; a bad teacher is worse than no teacher. The teacher must be effective and must know how to support and excite the student to go on learning. What could be more unendurable that a dull teacher?

The most important quality that leads a creator to success is his motivation. A good teacher stokes the creator’s motivation through positive reinforcement and encouragement.

If a writer is weak on imagery she must write out a hundred, two hundred, three hundred effective images in practice. If she’s already a master of imagery she needn’t practice making images as much and can concentrate on what she’s not strong on.

Seal: Knowledge is PowerAdmitting shortcomings is hard for some people, but not hard at all for others. It wasn’t hard for Vincent van Gogh. His brother Theo asked if he should stop criticizing Vincent’s work in his letters. Vincent replied: “Continue writing me about my work. Do not fear to hurt me…I will take such criticism as proofs of sympathy worth a thousand times more than flattery.”

Generally speaking, writers, painters, ballet dancers, actors, and composers are quite probably the toughest-on-themselves, most self-critical creatures on this globe. Only the poorer and most naive of them are seduced by undeserved praise. If there are flaws in their work, they almost always recognize them before anyone else. Tell a prima ballerina her performance was breathtaking and she will shake her head and say, “I missed a beat and my right foot wasn’t arched properly.” And if the criticism of their work is unfair and not justified, they recognize that too.

The whole reason for being of the creator is to produce fully realized, polished works that as closely as possible approximate the ideal of “The best I can do at this time. In a year I should have more knowledge and should be able to do better if I keep working and learning, and in five years, better still. But right now this is the best I am capable of.”

Until you can say that, the work isn’t finished and needs more attention. That attitude should be yours as long as you paint, as long as you write, as long as you dance, as long as you act, as long as you compose.

 

© 2017 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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Inspiration and Information for People in the Arts: Parts 2 and 3

PART TWO

Monet painting of man and woman in a boat

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SMALL ART AND GREAT ART

  • “The great art includes much that the small art excludes: humor, pain, and evil.” (Oscar W. Firkins)
  • “Great art is either easy or impossible.” (George Bernard Shaw)
  • Indifference to the response of an audience “is a necessary trait of all artists who have something new to say.” (Art critic Roger Fry)
  • “When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign: that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.” (Jonathan Swift)
  • “Every great and original writer…must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished.” (Samuel Taylor Coleridge)

 

UNDERSTAND THAT IT IS NOT POSSIBE TO DESCRIBE THE COMPLETE, COMPLEX STRUCTURE OF KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS AN EXPERT ARTIST HAS ACQUIRED;

  • “Mastering accumulated knowledge, gathering new facts, observing, exploring, experimenting, developing technique and skill, sensibility, and discrimination…The sheer labor of preparing technically for creative work, consciously acquiring the requisite knowledge of a medium and skills in its use, is extensive and enough to repel many from achievement.” (Brewster Ghiselin)
  • “Every artist was first an amateur.” (R.W. Emerson)
  • “When a painting is finished, it is like a new-born child. The artist himself must have time for understanding it.” (Henri Matisse)

 

THE VALUE IN ALL ARTS OF SUCCINCTNESS, INCLUDING ONLY WHAT IS ESSENTIAL

  • “In art economy is always beauty.” (Henry James)
  • “The first and most important thing of all, at least for writers today, is to strip language clean, to lay it bare down to the bone.” (Ernest Hemingway)
  • “A sentence should read as if its author, had he held a plough, could have drawn a furrow deep and straight to the end.” (Henry David Thoreau)

 

ARTISTS ARE BY NATURE INDEPENDENT, RESTLESS, AND CONFIDENT OF THEIR TALENT

  • “The artist must do the launching of his own career. He has to prove what he can do for himself.” (Vladimir Horowitz)
  • “I have never known a poet who did not think himself super-excellent.” (Cicero)
  • “How few writers can prostitute their powers. They are always implying, ‘I am capable of higher things”.” (Edward Morgan Forster)
  • The process of creativity is “characterized…by restlessness, and creative people often move on to other projects just when the world is beginning to catch on to what they have done.” (Jane Piirto)
  • “The experience of most artists is that the quality of their production is in keeping with the intensity of their wish.” (Abbe Dimnet)
  • “Writing is a compulsive and delectable thing.” (Henry Miller)

 

MOST ARTISTS HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR

  • When a young man approached him and said, “May I kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses?” James Joyce said, “No, it’s done a lot of other things too.” (James Sutherland)

 

HOW ART WORKS: THE ROLE OF THE ARTIST

  • “Art is the imposing of a pattern on experience, and our aesthetic enjoyment in recognition of the pattern.” (Alfred North Whitehead)
  • “Without charm there can be no fine literature, as there can be no perfect flower without fragrance.” (Arthur Symons)
  • “In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts.” (R.W. Emerson)
  • “The artist, like the God of the creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.” (James Joyce)
  • “The work of art is complete only as it works in the experience of others than the one who created it.” (John Dewey)
  • “The chief stimulus of good style is to possess a full, rich complex matter to deal with.” (Walter Pater)
  • “A man’s (writer’s) works often describe his longings or temptations and almost never his own true story.” (Albert Camus)

 

PART THREE


Van Gogh Cedar trees

ART WHOLLY TAKES OVER THE DEVOTED ARTIST

  • The painter’s brush consumes his dreams.” (W.B. Yeats)
  • “What artists call posterity is the posterity of the work of art.” (Marcel Proust)
  • “Many excellent writers, very many painters, and most musicians are so tedious on any subject but their own.” (Arthur Symons)
  • “I do not believe there lives the Southern writer who can say without lying that writing is any fun to him.” (William Faulkner)
  • “When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.” (John Ruskin)

 

OFTEN ARTISTS DON’T THINK HIGHLY OF THEIR CRITICS

  • “You know who the critics are? The men who have failed in literature and art.” (Benjamin Disraeli) But when T.S. Eliot, an editor himself for a time, was asked if he agreed that most editors are failed writers he said, “Perhaps, but so are most writers.” (I.A. Richards)
  • “Some critics haven’t had a new idea since they were undergraduates.”(Saul Bellow)
  • “I am convinced that the spontaneous judgment of the public is always more authentic than the opinion of those who set themselves up to be judges of works of art.” (Igor Stravinsky)
  • “A true critic ought to dwell rather upon excellencies than imperfections, to discover the concealed beauties of a writer, and communicate it to the world.” (Joseph Addison)

 

THE ARTIST WORKS HARD, BUT COULD WORK HARDER

  • “Genius has been defined as a supreme capacity for taking trouble.” (Samuel Butler)
  • “If you wish to be a writer, write.” (Epictetus)
  • “Nine out of ten writers, I am sure, could write more. I think they should and, if they did, they would find their work improving even beyond their own, their agent’s, and their editor’s highest hopes.” (John Creasey)

 

ARTISTS ARE SENSITIVE ABOUT EVEN THE SMALLEST THINGS

  • “A poet can survive everything but a misprint.” (Oscar Wilde)
  • At tea once, novelist Ronald Firbank said to poet Siegfried Sassoon, “I adore italics, don’t you?”

 

ARTISTS ARE INDEBTED TO THE WORK OF OTHER ARTISTS

  • “Every novel which is truly written contributes to the total of knowledge which is there at the disposal of the next writer who comes, but the next writer must pay, always, a certain nominal percentage in experience to be able to understand and assimilate what is available to his birthright and what he must, in turn, take his departure from.” (Ernest Hemingway)
  • “Creativity is contagious, pass it on.” (Albert Einstein)

 

AMONG THE INSPIRATION AND INFORMATION FOR PEOPLE IN THE ARTS IS THE UNVERSAL TRUTH THAT CRAFT SHOULD BE SUBTLE AND NEVER DRAW ATTENTION TO ITSELF IN A WORK

  • “Art lies in concealing art.” (Ovid)

 

ARTISTS MUST SACRIFICE

  • “To follow an art you’ve got to give something up.” (Katherine Anne Porter)
  • “Tolerate nothing around you which is not useful to you or which you do not find beautiful.” (John Ruskin)

 

ARTISTIC LICENSE

  • “Poets have a license to lie.” (Pliny the Younger)

 

ART BENEFITS FROM PATIENCE:  DON’T BE IN SUCH A HURRY

  • “Art done least rapidly, art most cherishes.” (Robert Browning)

 

WRITING IS NO GOOD WITHOUT KNOWLEDGE

  • “The reason that so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know anything.” (Walter Bagehot)
  • “The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is unread.” (Oscar Wilde)
  • “All our words from loose using have lost theirs edge.” (Ernest Hemingway)
  • “The literary artist is of necessity a scholar.” (Walter Pater)

 

STAY AN ARTIST AS LONG AS YOU LIVE

  • “Every child is an artist. The problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” (Pablo Picasso)

© 2017 David J. Rogers

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

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part One of this two-part post began…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

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Total Concentration: The Heart and Soul of Creative Work

Part One of Two Parts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This was the champion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

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

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

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Achieving Mastery in Creative Work

david-youngWhen I was a little boy about eight or nine, I was playing in front of the TV in our Chicago apartment when an old black and white English movie came on.  I knew nothing about acting, though I had once played a tree in a skit. But there was one actor on the screen who I could see was remarkable. He was just different, unlike any of the other actors, though I couldn’t say how. But I could see that something special right there on the screen.

What he was doing, how he was acting, the impression he was making made me feel a sensation which I now know was awe. I realized I was watching an extraordinary accomplishment I had never seen in movies before, in my life before. I pointed at the man and said, “Who is that, Mom?” She was a movie buff, so she knew. She said, “That’s Laurence Olivier. He’s the greatest actor in the world.” Even so young I had recognized supreme mastery, the highest attainment of any art.

As I grew older I began to notice examples of supreme mastery all around me: athletes, singers (In my family were many fine singers), pianists, violinists, and auto mechanics. And then, when I went into business and became a management consultant, executives, workers in offices, factories, and plants. And then when I became a professional speaker, spell-binding orators with supreme mastery who could inform you and teach you and move you in a way other speakers didn’t dare dream of.

About the people who perform best, whether actors, dancers,  accountants, ballerina-534356_640_copy2physicians, executives, sales people, mothers and fathers, chefs, carpenters, athletes, novelists, poets, and playwrights, etc., there’s  an ease, an effortlessness. They stand out. You notice them. You don’t forget them. They just do what they do so well and naturally, so charismatically, beautifully, confidently, and with what seems so little effort, that if you stand back and watch them, you have to marvel. You have no choice but to think, “What I am now watching is almost unreal. It is almost super-human.” They do it better and have more ability than just about anyone else you’ve ever seen—better than other actors, painters, or writers, etc.

It’s called yugen in Japanese. Yugen is the “highest principle” in Japanese art—in any country’s art, I think—and the most difficult term in Japanese flower-653710_640aesthetics to define. It’s the creation of grace and beauty–the mark of great ability of men and women who have reached highest attainment in their art, their craft, their occupation. There is “Grace of music,” “Grace of performance,” and “Grace of the dance.” There is the grace of any of the arts.

 Yugen is “the something behind the gesture” of a great craftsman.  It’s described poetically as the emotion you feel watching a bird slowly crossing the moon at night, or the ease with which a flower grows, or one of my favorite sensations which you might have experienced, that of wandering on and on in a deep forest with no fear and no worry and no thought of turning back.

No element of the yugen performance is wasted or done without purpose, and it’s something to behold. You can think right now of people you’ve seen, of people you might know, possibly you yourself, and be able to say something like, “If ever a person possessed yugen mastery it was Ms. Cartwright, my fourth grade teacher,” or Jessica Lange in Nobel Prize winner Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, or yourself, thinking, “When I directed that play,” “When I wrote that novel”   “When I danced Swan Lake,” “I had it.”

Everyone is—you are, I am, my wife is, my children and grandchildren are—potentially a yugen person. Aren’t we all more extraordinary than we realize?

If you ask yugen people, they won’t be able to explain exactly what it is they do that makes them different from others in their field because after long periods of practice and development they now do it intuitively, and what is done intuitively cannot completely be communicated to another person rationally. Oh, they have an idea, but can’t quite put their finger on what makes them able to leap up consistently in performance.

theatre-96714_640Olivier once finished a stage performance which he knew was perfect. Everyone in the company knew it was perfect and when he came off stage they asked, “Larry, how did you do that?”  He replied, “I wish I knew so I could do it again.”

If you have that special touch in the work you do, you would be hard put to tell someone who comes to you to be trained exactly what you put into your performance. You say, “I do the best I can.”  You’re not being modest. Just honest.

What’s known for sure is that mastery doesn’t happen overnight but is the result of long practice and absorption in the craft. Every person who reaches high achievement in a field will have spent much of his time trying to get better, and better still, and will have reached highest ability via a long process of learning and application while pushing himself upward to competence, then to expertise, then excellence, then greatness.

When you’re coming into your own artistically you are discovering in all its detail your most creative self of all the selves you might have been. Sometimes a person who one day will become a writer, artist, actor, or dancer doesn’t know himself what he might do. But he feels instinctively that he’s good for something and has some reason for existing. He has a hunch that there is something important in him that’s worth pursuing further. He finds that something in art. He makes himself into a writer, for example–an expert in expressing himself via written language.

Coming into your own, you are developing your skills and yourself to their peak. You are increasing the depth and breadth of your knowledge of your chosen field.  You are developing deep-felt, deeply-woven identity that everyone recognizes as the real you. You are on a creator’s Life Path.  Just imagine the fulfillments the Path will lead you to.

Mastery is revealed in everything the person does, down to the smallest detail. Dancer and choreographer Twyla Tharp said she could decide if a dancer was right for her company even by the way he came through the door of the studio and put down his bag. The opening scenes of a really skillfully-written play or the first leap of the dancer tell you right away if this artist has yugen.  If so, settle back, you’re in store for something marvelous.

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

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

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

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

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