Category Archives: Writers

Guidance for Reaching Success and Fulfillment in the Arts

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

Run Through the Tape

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

Talk to Yourself: Increase Your Drive

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

Value Failure: Don’t Be Afraid of It

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

Seek Feedback, Not Crticism

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

Get Feedback Addressed to Your Needs

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

Persist, Persist, and Persist

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

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

Have Confidence

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

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

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

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

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

Make Effort a High Value

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

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

Work Harder, Not Less Hard

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

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

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

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

Focus on Perfecting the Most Crucial Skills of Your Art

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

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

Make Sure Your Skills Match Your Goals

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

 

© 2019 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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Filed under Artists, Confidence, Creativity Self-Improvement, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Fear of Failure, Feedback, Goals and Purposes, High Achievement, Inner Skills, Persistence, Writers

Why Artists and Writers Are So Self-Absorbed

The Self-Absorbed Artist and Writer

Blue sky with clouds above mountains and trees

A Break in the Clouds by Kendall Kessler

In his Confessions Saint Augustine wrote, “People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long course of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.” But Saint Augustine’s observation, true of most people, is not true of artists and writers. Artists and writers may be guilty of being so totally absorbed in their work that they neglect their health and their families, but are rarely guilty of passing by themselves without wondering.

They wonder insatiably about themselves, and explore themselves continually because they are their own laboratories from which, like alchemist’s mixtures, their art is formed. They must know their strengths (and exploit them) and their weaknesses (and avoid them), and they must be able to estimate accurately the level of their talents relative to what they wish to create, and to foresee the effects of their moods on their work. (If the mood plummets too low or soars too high, will they be able to work today?)

Green mountains with pink and orange sunrise

Morning Color Dance by Kendall Kessler

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

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

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

Distant View of the Peaks of Otter by Kendall Kessler

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

 

Nature Cooperates With Gifted People

bare trees leaning over river with mountains in the background

Fall on the New River by Kendall Kessler

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

A moment comes early in your life or later—an experience occurs—and if you are to be an artist or writer you become aware that this craft is the direction that fits you as no other direction will. You feel that it will lead to satisfactions that you probably would not enjoy were you to follow another route. You’ve had a crystalizing experience in a critical moment when you were first focused and organized toward an artistic purpose you knew was right for you and which you wished to pursue further. It was a sudden attachment to an artistic field that brought with it a motivation–and urge to create—and a sense of knowing what you wanted to do in life.

Wooden walkway over water with greens, pinks and blues

Pawleys Island Atmosphere by Kendall Kessler

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

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

 

To Artists Their Art Is All-Engulfing.

Three boats on blue and purple water

Boats on the Chesapeake Bay by Kendall Kessler

If you are an artist or writer you are the embodiment of your art. There can be no separating one from the other–art/artist, the work/the producer of the work.  You are a daughter or son, citizen of a country, land-owner, athlete, lover, and teacher, true, but you’re also an artist and that art may be your center of gravity. Your belief in and enthusiasm for your art is always somewhere in your life. Your art is being processed even in your sleep–being worked up into a properly embellished work–and it is impossible to extract your personality from the work. You cannot be hidden even if you wished to hide.

Creative works are the products of the whole person: your intelligence and courage, (who is more timid and less bold than an artist or writer who lacks courage?), and products of your talents, training, and commitments, your energy, and your memories. Your painting, writing, acting, dancing voice is the end result of all the experiences of the life you’ve lived, and it comes through your work–every painting, each manuscript– loud and clear. The most distinguishing quality of the work–the feature the audience is affected by first–is the always-unique (never a duplicate of anybody else)–style of its creator, the artist’s unmistakable “touch.”

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

Breakers at Pawleys Island by Kendall Kessler

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

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

 

The Inner World of Artists and Writers

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

Two figures wading in green water with orange and blue sky

Morning Stroll at Isle of Palms by Kendall Kessler

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

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

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

 

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

 

© 2019 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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

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How Innovators Transform Art

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

Example of painting by Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock, Bluepoles

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

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

Photo portrait of Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway

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

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

Painting by Manet of a woman with a parasol

Jeanne_(Spring) by Édouard Manet

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

 

 

 

Great Innovators May Shake the Art at Its Foundations.

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

Cezanne Still Life with Apples

Still life with Apples by Cezanne

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

 

The Innovator’s Need for Confidence

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

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

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

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

 

The Art’s Absorption of the Innovation

Girl With a Watering Can by Renoir

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

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

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

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

Painting of a woman and child by Mary Cassatt

Painting by Mary Cassatt

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

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

 

© 2019 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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

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Drive and Motivation: The Creative’s Urge to Produce Works of Art

If it is your goal is to do creative work it is important to be able to understand your motivation, your drive–is it strong or weak–and to know what drives you personally through difficulties and setbacks to creative fulfillment and joy. Without drive to sustain you, your creative career will fizzle out before you reach your peak. That’s so because drive is not a luxury, but a creative’s necessity.

Drive is that ingredient igniting the human spirit and pushing creative people forward to explore the scope of their talents. It is an irresistible urge to produce-and continue producing–works of your imagination and skill. Strong drive is the reason many successful creatives work so intensely and never give up when so many of their fellow creatives have cried “Enough” and simply quit.

Many people reading this post have been writing, painting, acting, composing–creating–for twenty, thirty, or forty years. How different are they from Vincent van Gogh who said, “That which fills my head and my heart must be expressed in drawings or pictures…Drawing becomes more and more a passion with me, and it is a passion just like that of a sailor for the sea.”

Psychologist Teresa M. Amabile wondered what motivated creative people. Was creativity merely a means by which the creator could reach other goals, or was creativity for the creative an end in itself?  She staked her reputation on proving that creativity increases when you engage in the activity as an end in itself for the sheer pleasure it offers, and that if you do things to earn rewards other than the enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge of performing the activity you become less creative. She tested subjects ranging from grade school children to undergraduate women, rewarding some of them for performing creative tasks. Their work was then graded by professional creatives–established painters grading the paintings, writers the writing, etc.

No matter what the reward was or when it was given, if the subjects thought they were working for external rewards they became less creative.  But when they were playing and having fun and no reward was involved, they were more creative. The conclusion was:  a playful approach to the task increases the likelihood of producing creative results and external rewards have the opposite effect on creativity.

Another experiment showed that even the hint that an external reward was riding on performance was enough to make the subject lose interest. The same happens to chimpanzees. Given paint and canvas chimpanzees become so absorbed in painting that they show little interest in sex or food. But if the chimps are tangibly rewarded for their painting, the quantity and quality of their painting declines. They do only well enough to get the reward. Chimps, like many humans, are more likely to be creative when no external rewards are contingent on their performance. Even thinking about extrinsic rewards reduces creativity among many people, possibly you. Playwright Oscar Wilde said, “Genius is born, not paid.”

Enjoying the work itself is reward enough for people who are strongly intrinsically motivated like those chimps. Virginia Woolf was writing about her intrinsic motivation when she referred to her “rapture”: “Perhaps this is the strongest pleasure known to me. It is the rapture I get when in writing I seem to be discovering what belongs to what, making a scene coming right, making a character come together.” Literary critic Alfred Kazin thought writers were intrinsically motivated. He said the writer writes in order to teach himself to understand himself, to satisfy himself. The publishing of his ideas, though it brings gratifications, is a “curious anticlimax.”

Intrinsically motivated creatives enjoying their work don’t have to wait for money or praise or any other kind of external reward to be satisfied. They don’t need anything else but their “rapture.” Intrinsically motivated writers are caught and captivated by the writing itself and compelled to be immersed in it and in making it into something they feel is worthwhile.  The intrinsically motivated creative will often say, “What I do isn’t work. It’s joy. You can say in a real sense I’ve never worked a day in my life.”

But some creatives are driven by a need for extrinsic, not intrinsic, rewards.

Blaise Pascal who wrote that “anything that is written to please the author is worthless” was obviously not intrinsically motivated. Samuel Johnson wrote that no one but a blockhead writes except for money. And Anthony Trollope wrote in his wonderful An Autobiography that all “material progress has come from man’s desire to do the best he can for himself and those about him.” He said that what motivated him was what motivates lawyers and bakers—“to make an income on which I and those belonging to me might live in comfort.” Stronger even than that after a troubled childhood was his drive to make something of himself, “to be more than a clerk in the Post Office…to be Anthony Trollope.”

Pablo Picasso loved being rich, and said he wanted to work without material worries “like a pauper,” “but with a lot of money.” George Orwell thought that a writer’s main motivation was also extrinsic: to seem clever and be talked about, and be remembered after death.

There are other kinds of extrinsic motivating factors than money alone—recognition, praise, encouragement, popularity, acclaim, fame, feedback, and other forms of positive reinforcement that can be far, far more powerful motivators than money. While writers often don’t consider themselves competitive, they are.  When you’re told you’re the best there is, your motivation rises. When a writer’s work isn’t intrinsically interesting, as during those times it’s boring and tedious, an extrinsic reward such as a sumptuous dinner or a compliment might supply the right motivation to continue working.

The best way to recognize extrinsic motivation is to ask if you’d continue doing the work if no reward was to follow. If you’d answer “No way” your motivation at that time is extrinsic. But if you would answer, “Of course I would” it is intrinsic.

The majority of creatives pursue both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

Working skillfully makes writers feel fulfilled intrinsically. But they usually also want to see the work published somewhere—an extrinsic goal. American poet Anne Sexton wrote to her agent: “I’m in love with money, so don’t be mistaken, but first I want to write good poems. After that I am anxious as hell to make money and fame and bring the stars all down.” I suppose it’s possible to imagine anything, but it stretches the imagination considerably to imagine a pure intrinsically motivated writer who cares nothing about receiving some kind of external reward, or to imagine s pure extrinsic motivated writer who works only for rewards.

Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation aren’t two different types of motivation. They are on a continuum from most intrinsic to most extrinsic.

Whatever else we can say, we know one thing for sure: most human beings don’t do anything without anticipating a payoff. The payoff needn’t of course be monetary. It may be to be paid off for your efforts in other ways: through recognition or acclaim; through feedback and praise.

James Jones, author of From Here to Eternity, said “I do think that the quality which makes men want to write and be read is essentially a desire for self-exposure.” Some people create to produce great art that aficionados will admire. Playwright/short story master Anton Chekhov wrote, “I take pleasure in anticipating that these same passages will be understood and appreciated by two or three literary connoisseurs and that is enough for me.” Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead said, “A man really writes for an audience of about ten persons. Of course if others like it, that is a clear gain. But if those ten are satisfied, he is content.”

I think most creatives are driven to express beauty, the beauty they perceive in the world–the trees, the grass, a human smile, kindness, and the beauty in their souls that cries out to be shared–even if the subject of the work is not beautiful. Some are driven because they’re obsessed and can’t help themselves.

For some creatives performing their art is therapy. D.H. Lawrence, who should know, wrote: “One sheds one’s sicknesses in books.” Some are driven to have revenge. Mary Higgins Clark said that rejection slips only produced a “wait and see” attitude. She’d show people who doubted her. Perennial best-seller John Grisham said, The good thing about writing is that you can get back at people.”

Other painters, writers, actors, composers, etc., are driven by the desire to have the self-respect they don’t get on their jobs or in social or family life. That desire sparks their creativity, drive, and hard work to succeed and gain respect they haven’t found in any other area of their lives.  Some are driven by the pleasure of doing creative work.

Others are driven by their need for praise, and many others for tangible rewards like wealth that motivates almost everyone to a lesser or greater degree. There are many other reasons why creatives are driven.  Many artists’ main drive is to improve their abilities so they might improve their workmanship to an exceptionally high level just to see how excellent they can become.

Ask yourself, “Where on the Intrinsic Motivation—Extrinsic Motivation continuum would I put myself?  Most of the time I’m:

Rate yourself on a scale from intrinsic to extrinsic motivation. Where do you fall on the scale?

 

 

What motivates you most?

“The particular thing that motivates me more than anything else is:”

1.

 

“Also important to me are:”

2.

3.

4.

5.

 

It’s worth assessing how intense your creative drive is by choosing one of the following statements to describe yourself:

  • “My drive to survive, improve, and find fulfillment in the arts is very strong.”
  • “My drive is so-so.”
  • “I need more drive because right now I don’t have much.”

 

Assessing your motivation on the Intrinsic/Extrinsic motivation continuum and the current intensity of your creative drive can help you make changes in your creative practices that will make your work more fulfilling.

 

© 2019 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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Reward Yourself: A Secret of Self-Motivation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

© 2019 David J. Rogers

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

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

 

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The Lives of Talented Creatives

Painting of cherry pink blossom tree

Cherry Blossom Tree in Shinjuku Garden by Richard Claremont

Creatives do exceptionally well what others find difficult, and that is the definition of a talent. Talent is the distinguishing quality of creatives, usually talent in one field.  Although a creative can be very talented in more than one area, as many bloggers are, as Vincent van Gogh, a wonderfully expressive writer of letters as well as painter was, the creative’s talent in one area dominates. My seven year old grandson is a much better painter than I am because he is gifted in art, and I certainly am not. (It doesn’t take long for the buds of talent to burst into bloom in a child). My talents are linguistic, and of all the arts I, who grew up in home where music filled the house, I’ve always wished I could write beautiful music–but I can’t.

I have a composer friend whose music is performed by major orchestras. He’s received many prestigious awards. But he can’t paint as well as my grandson. I can’t touch my friend in any aspect of music. He is much too talented musically for me. But he can’t write poetry or prose as well as I can. Nature specializes creatives and points them in a direction.  Whether they will choose to follow that direction in the course of their life or will not is their choice. How serious they will become about developing their talent–whether refining it to a high level or ignoring it–is up to them.

landscape of gold fields with white clouds

Golden Harvest by Richard Claremnt

When you’re making use of your main talent you’re as effective as you will ever be in any area of your life because your talent is what psychologists call your “dominant faculty.” Putting it to use habitually, day after day, to be free without being interfered with in any way, is a wish, a hope, a goal, of all serious creatives.

For the creative the quality of curiosity is extraordinary because it is so intense. Also there is a fascination with how everything works, fits together, and is useful that starts of its own accord in childhood and stays with creatives to the last day of their life.  Being curious and having an aptitude for picking up knowledge here and there is important. People who have stored up a wide range of knowledge have a very good chance of being creative.  Once they are serious creatives and are deeply involved in their field, they have a hunger for extensive knowledge of it: “The most eminent creators are consistently those who have immersed themselves utterly in their chosen field, have devoted their lives to it, (and) amassed tremendous knowledge of it” (Geoff Colvin).

Then there is a desire, impossible to satisfy in a single lifetime, to create original things–poems, symphonies, paintings, performances–that are added to the culture, and in doing so to leave behind at career’s end a legacy, the traces of a vital human being who walked this earth, breathed, achieved, and had a personality, a name, and a reputation which will outlive the talented person by a year, or ten, or a hundred.

Green and blue with brown rocks, blue water and sky

Rockpool and Headland by Richard Claremont

At a certain eventful time in creatives’ careers when they are no longer a novice and have matured as a craftsman, the need to paint or write, compose, act, or dance takes over, becomes powerful, and can’t be ignored. This is a turning point in the career of the creative, a new level of involvement with their craft.  The creative may well feel as novelist Henry James did, that “It is art that makes life, makes intensity, makes importance…and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.” The creative becomes willing to give up other rewards for the sole experience of practicing an art because it is both fulfilling and challenging in a way little else is.

To practice the art may be more than adequate compensation for disappointments in other areas of life. Disappointed in love or work, if novelists they may choose to stop thinking of their hurt and turn their active minds to the task of writing a story with many characters and an intricate plot. Rather than grieving a loss, a ballerina turns to the only art she’s known since childhood and begins to warm up.

glass vase with orange blossoms on light blue background

Gum Blossoms by Richard Claremont

There is now something in the movements of the body and mind of creatives as they work, of muscle and thought, of experimenting with ideas, and entering the pleasant elevated mood of losing oneself in the work–some force implicit in the creative act–an urge that is more intuitive than rational, subliminal and subconscious. Those aspects of the processes of creation add up to an experience which may be so blissful that it can be as addictive as abuses of alcohol, drugs, gambling, and sex. But creativity is a positive addiction, not a harmful one.

As a mature creative, your thoughts are continually on how to get better. In an interview Pablo Casals, aged ninety, was asked why he, the best cellist in the world who had been practicing the cello for eighty five years, still practiced every day, and he said, “Because I think am making progress.”

You’re already excellent at your craft–you are far above average–but are not satisfied and talk about getting better. You study, you read, you learn, you discuss. You seek feedback and help because no one in the arts or sciences–no one in life–succeeds in a noteworthy way without someone advising and helping them–a teacher, a mentor, a friend, etc. You work exceptionally hard because if you are an artist you can’t help yourself and there is no other way to work, not always knowing why you do, but feeling strongly you must.

dark grey road receding into cloudy sky with pinks and lavenders

The Road Home by Richard Claremont

You know, and experience of the creatives who have preceded you bears out, that the more hours you work, the better you get. And your skills improve–you can see that–and your work does get recognizably better–either slowly, or moderately fast, or by leaps that may astound you. Your satisfactions, ambitions, optimism, and hopes rise as your work improves.

Creative people are models of focused human effort.  Few people seem to recognize that. In my many speeches to businessmen and women I had an unusual point of view. I referred to my life-long love–artists–as the best examples of highly motivated people. I’d say, “Strive to have the soul of an artist. Learn what it’s like to create something and the value of persistence from artists. Study artists. Read biographies of artists. Let their habits filter into your behavior.”

The commitment to write (or sculpt, perform on stage, etc.) can be extreme and may surpass other of your commitments. Nobel laureate writer Saul Bellow said writing had always been more important to him than his wife and children. There are other creatives such as painter Paul Gauguin and short story master Sherwood Anderson who felt the same and abandoned their wives and children for art.

The overriding aim of creatives is very practical. It is production: to produce polished works that must be completely finished because “It is only as the work is done that the meaning of the creative act” can be understood (Brewster Ghiselin). “The only certainty about writing and trying to be a writer is that it has to be done, not dreamed of or planned and never written, or talked about … but simply written” (Janet Frame). Psychologist Howard Gardner writes about high-excelling creative people. He says, “Individuals whose stock in trade is to do things which are novel, are people who’ve got to have a pretty good command of how they work.”

night scene with curved road in Montmartre

Midnight at Montmartre by Richard Claremont

The creative sets out to answer the production question, “How can I produce the quality and quantity of work I want?” A perfect work place and good production routines and rituals are to be treasured. Simply by being at your work place ready to work repetitively the same time day after day, the power of good habits goes into effect.

If creatives are unable to work or the work doesn’t go well, they suffer. A creative must always have goals and begin every day’s work with those goals in mind: “Today I will buckle down and…” Many tremendously talented creatives aren’t nearly as successful as they have the talent to be. They are frustrated because they haven’t figured out for themselves the best work/production program that will achieve a desired level of high-quality output.

If you are a creative, if you could you would create night and day because for you there is never enough time and your talent finds resting very hard. Long before you finish one work, you’re contemplating the next. When artists work, they are seeking freedom of expression through perfect technique. Many of them are willing to sacrifice material rewards just to be able to exercise their talents and do their work without being interfered with or restrained–to make creative things free of conflicts. Many creatives choose lower paying jobs that will allow them time to do their creative work over higher paying jobs that don’t allow them to.

You may be working on 3, 5, or more projects simultaneously, moving from one to another as the mood strikes, putting one aside and picking up another.  A creative’s lively, but unsettled production-oriented mind is a cornucopia spilling over with  concepts, words, techniques, methods, facts, recollections, hopes, fears, needs, problems, solutions, texts, authors, disappointments, successes, plans, possibilities, family, projects, and if a professional, finances. It rests only at bedtime. And often, not even then.

White flowers iin vase on table with teapot and cup

Still Life at 4pm by Richard Claremont

The logical end of the Creatives’ Way is to have the identity of a capital C  Creative, a Real Creative–to become known by your family, friends, teachers, editors, agents, other creatives and lovers of the arts, and to define yourself as “someone who is very serious about producing creative work, and is very good at it.”

The trappings of your chosen discipline appeal to you. Great writers “loved the range of materials they used. The works’ possibilities excited them; the field’s complexities fired their imaginations. The caring suggested the tasks; the tasks suggested the schedules. They learned their fields and they loved them….They produced complex bodies of work that endured” (Annie Dillard, The Writing Life).

When you’re away from your art you miss it. If you’re away too long you become edgy. Away from it longer, you become irritable and hard to live with. If you don’t do your art for 48 hours, your skills begin to decline. The only relief is to get back to your work as quickly as possible. You try to work at least one hour every twenty-four.  If you work for four hours you are more satisfied with yourself than if you work for two hours.

Creatives are subject to the heights and depths of moods. The act of working makes you happy, makes you confident, and empowers you. However badly you might feel when you begin a day’s work, you feel better when you are working and when you finish you almost always feel good–but you need to work at least a little. Gertrude Stein said that even though she had never been able to write more than a half hour a day, all day and every day she had been waiting for that half hour.

Pink Hydrangeas in vase on white tablecloth with white cup and blue bowl

Still Life With Pink Hydrangeas by Richard Claremont

When you’re producing your art, you’re searching for something: authenticity. You’re trying to cut through the fakery, the tricks, the games, the insincerity, the deceit and phoniness, and the lack of conviction so that you might tell the whole truth as you see it–accurately–withholding nothing.  You are modest and try to do nothing merely to make a splash because you believe that it’s only through producing work that is sincere and deeply felt that the truths you’ve discovered and now believe in and feel strongly about will be expressed.

For many serious artists, the art’s process itself is more rewarding than the product that ends the process.  In this world there are many competent writers who have almost no interest in having their work published. That doesn’t excite them, but the process does.  There are pianists who prefer practice to performing in public.

Patience is a necessity for creatives. Eventually after a long period of impatience you learn patience. “It’s so hard for people to be patient. It took me a very long time to get better, and a very, very long time to begin to publish. I wasn’t very patient. It’s painful….Young people are pushed so hard right out of school to get the first novel done. It takes time to write well. You have to sit with it. You have to be patient with it. You have to trust your intuition and your own material and stay with it as long as it takes” (Andrea Barrett). It’s been said that genius is nothing but an aptitude for patience.

Pink sand dunes with cloudy sky

Sand Dunes by Richard Claremont

Creatives must have a stomach for loneliness and must be able to adjust to it when it strikes. They have no choice. Pleasure increases the more you work on your art, partially because you work alone, independent, isolated, on your own, self-sufficient, and that is how most creatives enjoy working. Since creative achievers typically engaged in solitary activities as children, they are no stranger to working alone. “Aloneness…is not merely the effect of the circumstances in the life of creators: it is often also part of their personality–for the creator is frequently apart and withdrawn even in the presence of others, and makes a deliberate attempt to seek solitude” (R. Ochse). Creatives solve many problems every day. Creatives are problem-solvers. Research on problem-solving shows that people are likely to come up with better solutions when they work alone.  Poet Lord Byron said, “Society is harmful to any achievement of the heart.”

Two white gardenias and leaves in rectangular glass vase

The Last Gardenias

At times you live in uncertainties, doubts, tension, anxiety, and fear. But over the years you develop the strength to resist them. You acquire confidence and faith in your abilities and judgment. You fear fewer things. You grow less anxious and have a much fuller and more accurate understanding of yourself. The hardships, worries, disappointments, and stresses you encounter play a necessary part in making you stronger. Your strong faith in yourself helps you persist through obstacles, psychological blocks, and setbacks. Poet Stephen Spender said, “It is evident that faith in their work, mystical in intensity, sustains poets.”

Through your art you’re drawing out of yourself the end result of the entirety of your being–100 percent of yourself from your toes to the top of your head. That includes all the knowledge you’ve acquired, all the experiences you’ve lived through, good and bad, happy or painful, what your emotions are and the breadth and depths of feeling they are capable of because art depends so heavily on feelings,  how courageous you are, what skills you bring, and what you aspire to become. Then, self-aware, you have a clearer understanding of who you truly are, and how high the talent you possess that is growing stronger and more apparent might take you, and what new pleasures your talent may open for you.

Path in Central Park with lampost and trees

 

The beautiful paintings featured on this post are by Australian artist Richard Claremont. He says, “A successful artist knows that we do art because we have to. We would do it even if no one ever got to see it. What really matters is our commitment to our own vision, painting from our heart, creating work that matters.”

 

 

© 2019 David J. Rogers

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

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

 

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

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How Creatives Should Present Themselves When Speaking to Groups and to The Media

PART ONE

Creative artists in general welcome aloneness and are often apart, by themselves, and deliberately seek heavenly solitude.  To be able to work with no one to bother them and boss them around and divert them from their creative goals may be the main reasons they go into the arts to find fulfillment nothing else brings. Some creatives cannot produce a single thing unless no one is near. However, they cannot work alone forever.

The day inevitably dawns for artists–particularly if they have any hope of making money from their art or of establishing any kind of favorable reputation–when they must come out of hiding and leave their easel or keyboard. They must go somewhere, telephone someone, meet people, sometimes in groups, and talk. In that world of person to person conversation and group dynamics, rules other than sentence structure and perspective apply.  The artists leave their expertise and often become fledglings in a world they don’t quite feel secure in. The artist wishing to survive in that give and take and take again competitive marketplace of the arts today will have to learn new skills related to how they present themselves to groups and the media.

Nowadays authors usually do their own promotions, but in the past the deal was that that was the publisher’s job. I was surprised back then to learn that not all writers were sent on promotional tours to tout their book–in a way shocked–that some authors make a poor impression in the media. The publishers’ thinking was, “The book looks good, but if the author is not able to inspire audiences to purchase it and may even be a disincentive, why send them out of the road at the cost of…?”

You might think that having a facility with language, authors in particular would be articulate and persuasive and make good guests. But that is not always–maybe not usually–the case.  That has been confirmed a number of times at various author’s readings, author’s speeches, and at book signings, etc., I’ve attended, the uncomfortable authors obviously as aware as everyone else that they had lost the audience. At times I have been embarrassed for the author and wondered why in the world they didn’t take the time to learn how to speak effectively.

I participated in an arts center poetry reading, and I noticed that many of the poets that day were rather diffident and shy in front of the audience.  Although many were fine poets, they lacked confidence. Speakers wishing to connect with their listeners must be sure of themselves, their skills, and the positive effect they will have on audiences.

The objective when a writer, artist, or most any other person in the arts appears on radio, television, and cable, discusses their work in face to face contact with people in groups, gives a formal speech, talks with journalists, or is involved in any other public forum is usually ultimately to behave in such a way that results in the sale of their work. Oh, a desire to inform and educate may be there too, but creative artists are always aware of their desire to have their work published or put in a show or gallery, or produced in a theatre, etc. I’ve had considerable experience with media appearances and making speeches.  I was a graduate school teacher, and taught classes of about twenty or thirty students.

After my book Fighting to Win (FTW) was successful and I became nationally known–and because of it–I quickly found myself speaking to audiences of thousands in cavernous auditoriums in America, Canada, and Europe.  With that kind of responsibility I was very conscious of the obligation on me to satisfy through my words, skills, and personality those who had sometimes traveled far to hear me talk about my ideas.

PART TWO

The goal of your planning your comments and delivering them is to get the listener’s ATTENTION, to hold the listener’s attention, and induce interest in what you have to say. You must hold the listener in the highest regard whether it be a single listener or an audience of thousands. Whatever the size, you have to get the listeners’ attention right away because, as in writing a story or novel, the very beginning of your talk, whatever your art,  will often determine who stays with you and who tunes out, never to return. To the listener the start of your talk is a preview or dress rehearsal of the whole talk. If it’s no good, the listener will assume the whole talk will be no good, so why bother listening?

The beginning must be lively and have verve (Verve, what a magnificent word.) Never take listeners’ interest for granted. You have to earn their interest through your skills and personality, including the aura your body, mind, and spirit communicate. You might want to start, as I do, with a brief, colorful, story that shows that your mind is sharp and you are down to earth, a regular person. Your job during the first few minutes is to convince your listeners that you have something interesting to say, that you are competent to develop your ideas, and that you should be listened to to the end.

My career made a leap up in quality and success when, riding home on a plane from a talk, I had an insight I want to share with you. That insight is that in contact with an audience you are not just a speaker, you are a PERFORMER, and to come across in the best possible way, you need some of the skills of an actor. That will make your presentations better. You must, like an actor, be at least slightly “larger than life,” more alive and animated than you may usually be. Gesture with your hands, arms, and face. Be energetic, have a sharp mind, be quick, alert, mindful and dynamic, and visibly happy to be there with those listeners who want to hear you. Energy is contagious. It is generated from you in waves or a steady stream out into the audience.

You must always be SINCERE and MODEST. Fakery and big egos will not do. Audiences can see right through a phony–and it doesn’t take more than a couple of minutes. No tricks–just actual sincerity and modesty. Even if a speaker is not overly brilliant, polished, or a spellbinding wordsmith, if he or she is truly sincere, the listener will like the speaker, and will listen, and liking and listening are necessary if listeners are to be pleased with you and stay with you every second, every word, till you take a bow and thank them for their attention.

My second main insight was that you must appeal to listener’s FUNDAMENTAL INTERESTS such as health, wealth, family, home, and personal success. Once a publicity tour took me to St. Louis, Missouri to appear on a radio show hosted by one of the country’s leading radio personalities. He began by interviewing me for a while, and then turned it over to call-ins.  I was there mainly to talk about the book and why the audience would like it and should buy it.  The callers were interested in solving their problems such as unemployment which was rampant in the community. So I talked about how the book might help them handle that problem in a positive way.

I felt great sympathy for the callers, and felt that helping them in any way I could was the main thing and selling my book was a secondary thing. I think it was apparent in everything I said that I identified with them, having gone through tough periods in my life too, as everyone has, wishing them the best, trying very hard to help them. I became totally absorbed in their problems and tried to draw out anything in my mind and experiences that could be of aid to them. I happened to have written articles I had been asked to write about techniques for finding jobs. That fitted into the conversation well. The hour and a half went unbelievably fast, and when it ended I felt I had been of help to the callers.

As the host walked me to the car he said, “Most authors who come here are full of their own egos and don’t connect with my listeners who are important to me.  They don’t care about them. But you did connect in a powerful way because you are a caring person and have a lot of valuable things to say. I’ll tell you this right now: if you ever have anything you want to talk to my listeners about just call and I’ll put you on immediately. Thank you, friend.”

The third major insight came easily to me because I always devote a lot of time and effort to being well-prepared whenever I write or speak. It is that PREPARATION for the talk and KNOWLEDGE of the topic are king. You must know your material backwards and forwards. You must love your material and feel a strong urge to share it.  Ideally there should be no question you could possibly be asked by a listener on your material that you would not have an intelligent answer for.

With that kind of preparation comes an extremely important and irreplaceable result: CONFIDENCE and POISE. You will not experience stage fright or timidity if you are confident that you know and can present the material, perhaps like no one else. Fear will disappear.

The major ingredient of self-confidence and poise is PAST SUCCESS. If you’ve succeeded doing something in the past, you will likely believe you can succeed with it again: why not? The important thing is to make sure you succeed the first time so that subsequent success will occur. As you begin a speech, having fully prepared and being fully confident of your material and your speaking skills, you should have in your mind, as I always do, the sentence, “They’re going to love what I have to say. Let me at them.”

You will hold listeners’ interest by arousing their CURIOSITY. Keep them looking forward to what is coming next and to what your development of the talk is leading to. Always be specific and concrete; do not be abstract.

Use IMAGERY and COLORFUL PHRASES when you speak. The death of my sister at a young age was instrumental in my beginning to write seriously–her daily courage during her long illness inspired me–and I shared that with my listeners in my Fighting to Win speech, saying, “Goodness shined down on Sharon like light from a private sun.” That very personal image which was important to me connected with my listeners. Often after the talk people would come up to the podium and ask me to repeat that sentence because it had moved them.

Use many EXAMPLES. The easiest and quickest way to get people to listen, and the surest way to hold their attention is to use ILLUSTRATIONS. Talk about PEOPLE. People are interested in other people’s habits, peculiarities, and their stories in general.

Let your PERSONALITY liven up your talk. Early in my career I was hired to give a number of presentations to an organization. After a few of them the director said to me, “The presentations are great. We couldn’t be happier. But there is one thing: people want to know about you. Who you are, what you believe in, are you married, do you have children, what are you like? Are you just a smart man, or are you human too?” You needn’t be a solemn sourpuss. When you prepare the talk weave in personal information that will create an I-and-Thou relationship with the listeners.

I was in a grocery store pushing my cart, on the way to the scale in the produce department to have my vegetables weighed. I could see that a woman to my left with her cart was going to reach the scale at the same time, so, feeling playful, I speeded up and got to the scale first, and said, “Beat you.” I thought possibly I had made the woman feel badly, and so I said, “You can go first,” and she said, “No, no, you go. It’s just so refreshing to find a person who has such a lively spirit.”  Audiences too love some PLAYFULNESS and LIVELY SPIRITS in speakers, again showing you’re a blood and bone human being.

LOOK at the audience. You need to read the faces of the listeners to judge whether they are giving full attention. If you give your full attention to what you are saying and the dynamics of the audience, you will not have time to worry or be unsure of yourself. If the audience is bored or uninterested, their faces will let you know.  You must always accept full responsibility for holding their attention. Only a naïve speaker thinks it is the responsibility of the audience to listen. The listener has no obligation to a speaker who cannot gain and hold its attention.

From your first word to the last be ENTHUSIASTIC, conveying “What I am telling you I think is important and valuable to you. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t be talking to you. I’m excited to be here telling you about it. My hope is that when I am finished you will feel excited about it too.”

People are generally interested in life, action, energy, and movement.  They want to be around exciting people, not dull people. Excited people excite them. That’s what charismatic people do. A speaker should never appear feeble or weak, or talk feebly and weakly, nor should he or she rant and shout or be melodramatic. The Greeks believed that enthusiasm is a gift from the gods. Wherever it comes from, speakers are often good or bad based on whether they possess it or do not possess it.

The effective speaker should have a steady a focus: the listener: “So long as you are mindful to say nothing unworthy of yourself, nothing untrue, nothing vulgar, you had better forget yourself altogether and think only of the audience, how to get them and how to hold them” (James Bryce). By focusing on your listeners, you will forget yourself, and no longer be unsure of yourself, but will have the confidence you need to be a superb, polished speaker.

 

© 2018 David J. Rogers

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

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

 

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

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The Most Important Step in the Creative Process

I liken the steps of creative insight to an image of a creator and a room. There is a room: at first the creator opens the door to the room a crack. They are very curious about what is in that room. They can see visually very little that is in Door slightlin openit, but they feel “there may be something there.” Then they open the door a little wider and can see more, and then wider, and wider, and many things in the room appear in their field of vision and become clearer.

Then the creator pushes the door open wide. They step boldly into the room , and  sensing there is something significant that will be revealed, explore every nook and cranny–the closet, the ceiling, under the bed, under the chairs, the floor, the light fixtures, the windows,  the window shades and curtains, the molding, the crack in the wall–until even the smallest detail of the room is known.

Excited now, feeling an urge, they get to work and sweat over their project, entering that room at will a hundred times, a thousand, five thousand, and whether they feel up to it or not, are happy or sad, healthy or sick, they go back to that room again and again. Then with a mixture of luck, timing, and skill the novel is acclaimed across the country, the etching is featured in a show, or the play is in a theatre where people applaud it. The creator is fulfilled.

 None of those things would have happened had the person not begun by thinking with an open mind, “Oh, I wonder very much what is in that room.”

I

If you are creative, I think you and I are very much alike because I am creative too, and the mystery I call my mental life is probably not very different from yours.  In my mid-twenties I was hired to work with a think tank of college professors at the University of Michigan–psychologists, economists, and sociologists, and their graduate assistants.  University buildingThey had been conducting research projects having to do with what were then in the sixties called “anti-poverty programs.”

I had written articles and speeches on that subject, and the institute contacted me to “do some writing” for them and to “put myself into the writing.”  I took the hour flight from my home in Chicago to Ann Arbor by way of Detroit to meet the directors. Specifically, they had written books that neither the government funders of the projects nor the target readers could understand because the writing was what they admitted to be a lot of academic mumbo-jumbo.

They wanted me to “clean it up”–something like a Hollywood script doctor–because I had a talent for turning difficult to understand academic textual concepts and badly written prose into clearly-written, understandable, serviceable, every day Anglo Saxon English. Most of my writing could be done at home–always a pleasure for me to be at home with my wife and children.

But I thought that it would be beneficial to start my project by working at the institute–studying their writing, meeting with staff, getting settled in a good work space. So I spent considerable time in Ann Arbor. I like college towns–like the bookstores, the activities, the restaurants, and the comfort of being where learning is occurring. The institute’s chief writer was out of commission with writer’s block, so I would be writing on my own.

The first week I was walking down the street on the way to dinner with a prominent economist and he called out “Congratulations” to a man across the street. Then he said to me,” He just won the Nobel Prize.” I very much like and feel most comfortable working with very intelligent people. With my mind filled with what I had read and gotten from discussions with staff, I began the writing stage by doing no writing at all, not even doodling.

Just sitting in my office at the institute, being imaginative, I let information I had acquired free-float in my brain, holding off committing my fingers to a pad of paper or a keyboard till I was ready and eager to start. I looked out the window at a pond where mallard ducks were floating, a peaceful, lovely little scene. In the background I could hear cricketpeople coming and going, talking, and laughing, and one day couldn’t help but hear the chirping of thousands of leaping crickets that had escaped from their cage where they were being kept for someone’s scientific project. I have no fear of chaos and disorder and thought the crickets were fun. (A major characteristic of creative people is physical and mental messiness, a mind cluttered with ideas, and a disorganized environment which can frustrate to no-end neat freaks they may be working with).

The directors would visit me from time to time and ask how the writing was going, reminding me not to forget the deadline I was working under. I said the writing was going fine. Though I hadn’t written a word, I knew without a doubt I would meet the deadline because I always meet deadlines. I like deadlines. I knew that time pressure, though it can be an impediment to creativity at times, usually facilitates it. For example, I have a writer friend named Stu who is able to produce what he has been procrastinating over when he knows that friends are coming over in an hour,

When I did not turn in a word of copy, the directors got nervous. They had had enough experience working with people in the act of creation (most of the people involved in the projects) to know that creative people are lousy with details and pay little attention to them. But I said everything was under control, and they gave me leeway because they were used to the eccentricities of creative people.

II

My mind then began the vital and intriguing process of what I have named “Pre-Compositional Lilt,” which I believe is the most important step in the creative process. I think you too know it well. It is semi-dreamy aimless state when ideas bubbles floating on colorful backgroundfloat lightly as bubbles through the mind, coming and going,  bursting and dissolving, some more promising and useful than others, a few sticking that will became a permanent part of your thoughts about the thing you are about to create–the painting, the essay, or story, or symphony.

It has been known for a long time that there are two types of thoughts, one of which is creative. The less creative type is under active control of your conscious mind, and the other is involuntary. The involuntary type is called Primary Process Thinking. It is the source of your creative inspirations. It is my Pre-Compositional Lilt: a disorganized drifting and succession of fragments of images and ideas in which a number of ideas fuse themselves with other ideas so that sometimes strange or extraordinary links are made between images and ideas that are not usually linked, but are unrelated. That’s when you have something original, or, in other words, creative–a practical, useful product of a wild ranging of the creative mind. (A creative idea–if it is truly creative–must have a practical use).

Almost all accounts of creativity by scientists, mathematicians, artists, and writers indicate that they feel that unconscious processes are passively revealed to them rather than delivered up to them by conscious thought. For example, novelist William Makepeace Thackeray said, “I don’t control my characters. I am in their hands and they take me where they please.” A common phrase of artists is, “It came to me; I hadn’t planned it.”

It comes at the conclusion of Pre-Compositional Lilt.  Walking alone often seems to spring creative ideas from the splashing water with floating bubblessubconscious. Poet Wallace Stevens composed his poems in his mind on the long walks between his home and his office. For me, a single word I may see in a book or on a sign on a store front, or in my notes, a word that has a special relevance for that text, may pop into mind and straighten out all my thinking about a text. And I know that once I get the first sentence right–and I can always tell l if ii is right–basically the whole thing, however long it will be, is as good as written.

Creative intuition, which works in a non-logical realm, is not simply in-born as it is often thought to be, but is developed and made stronger, beginning with “Lilts” and then enhancing your ability to bring together a wide range of relevant information without even being aware of what items of information you have used or how you have integrated them. Knowledge of your art or discipline is essential. In fact knowledge is not everything in creativity, but it is almost everything.

III

Creators typically have an obsessive side and often have few concerns other than their creative work. Most of their Door opening onto a colorful sceneconscious and subconscious thoughts are directed toward that work. Creators keep the subject of their work consistently before them and wait patiently or impatiently till the work opens slowly, little by little, into full and clear awareness.

The creative artist’s mind (like the inventor’s and mathematician’s) even during a day at the beach, even during a vacation in the mountains or a night at the theatre, is immersed in her art and consciously or subconsciously is always working on it and never takes a break. A sentence or paragraph that will convey exactly the mood she is seeking to communicate may elude a writer for days or months, only to suddenly appear when she is having sex or petting a dog because she is an artist and her mind never rests. Mozart jotted down pages of notes while waiting his turn at billiards. It couldn’t be otherwise.

I wanted my work to be as elegant as highly creative works such as paintings, musical compositions, and literary works. One test of a scientific theorem is: “Is it elegant?” I talked to my wife, who is also my editor, about that, and she was in agreement that having that goal would make the work more fulfilling for both of us and a bigger challenge. Why not always aim for beauty, so you may pause over a sentence or paragraph or musical phrase you’ve written or a painter’s right brush stroke and say, “That’s just beautiful, if I do say so myself.”

 

IV

I finished the books on time. They were published, distributed, and highly regarded. The material was put to use by people fighting poverty in many places in the world, and I was hired to work with the institute again on another project, and then others. I developed strong friendships with the people I met.

 

 

© 2018 David J. Rogers

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

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

 

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

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24 Quotes About Creativity and Creative People

CREATIVE PEOPLE

A writer “takes an anecdote told by another man over a glass of wine; he takes an episode out of a stranger’s life; he takes the thoughts of philosophers; reports from newspapers; feelings out of his own imagination–and then he writes his little name under all this” (August Strindberg).

“The writer’s mind is everything. Nothing fascinates lovers of exceptional poetry or prose more than the intelligence and talent of the minds behind the words of writers they consider worthy of attention. To climb the heights those minds are reaching is the main reason a person goes on reading” (David J. Rogers).

“When I am finishing a picture I hold some God-made object up to it–a rock, a flower, the branch of a tree or my hand. If the painting stands up beside a thing man cannot make, the painting is authentic. If there’s a clash between the two, it’s bad art” (Marc Chagall).

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the  call of creative work, who felt their own creative powers restive and uprising, and gave it neither power nor time” (Mary Oliver).

“Aloneness is not only a major effect of the life of the creator, it is often a part of his/her personality…for the creator is frequently apart and withdrawn even in the presence of others, and makes a deliberate attempt to seek solitude” (R. Ochse).

“Human life itself may be almost pure chaos, but the work of the artist is to take these handfuls of confusion and disparate things, things that seem to be irreconcilable, and put them together in a frame to give them some kind of shape and meaning” (Katherine Anne Porter).

 

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write” (Saul Bellow).

“The more pictures you paint, the better you get” (Rembrandt).

“Gifted children do not necessarily become creators…Something is needed to translate talent into the power to create. That something demands work–work that builds the skills upon which creative productions rest” (R. Ochse).

“A writer has to have some kind of compulsive drive to do his work. If you don’t have it, you’d better find another kind of work, because it’s the only compulsion that will drive you through the psychological nightmares of writing” (John McPhee).

“The composer’s principal problem is that of recapturing in every phase of his work…the energy which keeps it going…of bringing, in other words, the requisite amount of energy to bear on every detail, as well as constantly on his vision of the whole” (Roger Sessions).

“After a thousand  or two thousand hours experience of focused writing, painting, dancing, or acting, you will be able to access your creative centers very quickly” (David J. Rogers).

“If your writing or painting are dull and uninteresting, it is usually because you need a stronger, clearer voice. Liven up your work with a voice that’s more heart-felt” (David J. Rogers).

“Mental imagery comes from within every creator, and must come out of her/ his memory. So it is ultimately memory that is the creator’s workshop. In their mind’s ear composers manipulate tones–auditory images–into sounds as adeptly as in their mind’s eye painters manipulate visual images into paintings and writers manipulate auditory images into dialogue” (David J. Rogers).

The state of many artists after finishing a work:  “Personally, I am not satisfied. It is something–but not the thing I tried for” (Joseph Conrad).

“Most people won’t realize that writing is a craft. You have to take your apprenticeship in it like anything else” (Katherine Anne Porter).

“Draftsmanship is key to who I am and what I create. I feel it is important to introduce the factor of the hand. It gives our images identity, like that of handwriting. Through seeing it we are then able to consider it and then understand it “(Sarah Ball).

“Shape captivates me. I look intensely and wait my judgement upon my piece of paper until I am ready to “expect the unexpected”. The shape of the object makes me determine the line quality. Judgements are passed with the intermingled sense of how I am feeling about what I have created. Sometimes it frustrates me, other times I feel overjoyed. This up and down rush from a few brush-strokes. I feel I am living it. It absorbs me until I am done” (Sarah Ball).

Sarah Ball is the talented  and award-winning artest whose work is featured in this post. I saw her work online and was drawn to her use of color and shape.

 

CREATORS’ WORK LIFE

“Solitude is taking me over: it is absorbing me, I see nothing, I read nothing. It is like being in a tomb which is at the same time a hell where one must write, write, write” (Joseph Conrad).

“But though some great writers may at times write awkwardly, it is nevertheless the case that one sign of the born writer is his gift for finding or (sometimes) inventing authentically interesting language” (John Gardner).

“The more I’m let alone and not worried the better I can function” (Ernest Hemingway)

“Every time I start on a new book, I am a beginner again. I doubt myself, I grow discouraged, all the work accomplished in the past is as though it never was. My first drafts are so shapeless that it seems impossible to go on with the attempt at all, right up until the moment…when it has become impossible not to finish it.” (Simone de Beauvoir)

“As far as I can tell, the decisive factor is what I call endurability: that is, the ability to deal effectively with uncertainty, rejection, and disappointment” (Ted Solotaroff).

“I’m not a must write every day writer, maybe a write four or five out of every seven days writer. And a reader when I’m not writing. But yet at times I do think, ‘Who knows what beautiful thing I might have written today if I hadn’t taken the day off?’ “(David J. Rogers).

 

© 2018 David J. Rogers

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

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

 

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How To Write Mesmerizing Prose

For Writers Wanting To Improve Their Craft

 

Writers can learn many important, specific, things from other writers who are more experienced, skilled, talented, and knowledgeable. The three writers described here, a taste of whose beautiful work is included below, were masterfully gifted, serious craftsmen. The drive to write superbly dominated their lives. They breathed writing. The writing they labored over provides examples of exceptional achievements that writers wishing to cast a similar mesmerizing effect in their prose may benefit from. I hope you do.

Mesmerizing prose makes us feel emotions when we read by activating and feeding our senses of sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste because the reader experiences vicariously what he or she is reading.  In mesmerizing prose, quickly, without delay, the writer sets the tone and mood; sad in the case of the first James Agee piece that’s coming up, wistful and nostalgic in the second, reflective in brilliant John Ruskin’s analysis of the unique abilities of the creative artist.

Charles Dicken’s excerpt has a different mood–satirical and bitter. The writing in all the pieces here is specific and as clear as fine glass. What other quality is as vital to good writing as clarity? No one wants to wade through prose that’s muddled. It shows a writer with a disorganized mind. Or one who has stopped at least one draft too soon.

A skilled mixture of nouns and verbs and a balance of showing and telling strengthens the text. Adjectives and adverbs are used sparingly. The passages are brief. They could have been much longer if the author desired. There is no mistaking the author’s voice. Other than Ruskin’s philosophical piece, the pieces mix description with action. They are not static; they have zip and they move. They point out the effectiveness of an author’s ability to create word pictures, all good writers being creators of images that come out of their mind in dribs and drabs, or torrents, to lodge in the reader’s mind, ideally memorably.

Every kind of writing improves with practice, but none benefits more than descriptive writing–a skill that can be learned.  Rembrandt said, “The more pictures you paint, the better you get,” and the same goes for mesmerizing prose. The main ingredient of these three writers is fluency–the generation of numerous ideas (an ability of smart people with fertile, excitable, complex minds); the ability to “see a lot” in things,” more than lesser writers see. In the same way, a skilled painter, looking at a field of wheat or a human face perceives much more than most people with untrained eyes perceive.

Where does that ability come from? An active mind that is able to explore objects and ideas in impressive detail while always maintaining a consistent tone to express the details, pulling image after image recalled from the writer’s life from the conscious and subconscious mind where they are securely stored and always ready to be put to work in text.

 

Here’s a piece that creates a mood through simple diction and cadences reflecting the mind of the character being described. The excerpt is by James Agee (1909- 1955) from the nonfiction documentary Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. It is set among Southern tenant farmers during the American Depression. Agee–novelist, poet, movie critic, essayist, and screen writer–posthumously was called “the most prodigiously talented American writer of his generation.” About combining the skills of an artist to write a nonfiction documentary, he said, “Isn’t every human being both a scientist and an artist; and in writing of human experience, isn’t there a good deal to be said for recognizing that fact and for using both methods?”

 “I am fond of Emma, and very sorry for her, and I shall probably never see her again after a few hours from now. I want to tell you what I can about her…(W)hen Emma was sixteen she married a man her father’s age, a carpenter… She has been married to him two years; they have no children. Emma loves good times, and towns, and people her own age, and he is jealous and mean to her and suspicious of her. He has given her no pretty dresses nor the money to buy cloth to make them. Every minute he is in the house he keeps his eye right on her as if she was up to something, and when he goes out, which is  as seldom as he can, he locks her up: so that twice already she has left him and come home to stay, and then after a while he has come down begging, and crying, and swearing he will treat her good and give her anything she asks for… and she has gone back…Her husband can no longer get a living in Cherokee City. (H)e has heard of a farm on a plantation over in the red hills of Mississippi and has already gone, and taken it, and he has sent word to Emma that she is to come in a truck… and this truck is leaving tomorrow. She doesn’t want to go at all, and during the past two days she has been withdrawing into rooms with her sister and is crying a good deal, almost tearlessly and almost without voice, as if she knew no more how to cry than to take care of her life….but she is going all the same, without at all understanding why.”

You’ll find it worthwhile to read the section of In Let Us Now Praise Famous Men this excerpt is taken from to see how the writing you just read came out of the feelings of affection that developed between Agee and Emma.

 

Now here is a descriptive excerpt from Agee’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel A Death in the Family. The novel shows the effects of his father’s sudden death on a young boy. This famous passage, set to music by Samuel Barber, is a prelude to the novel.

“We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee… On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts. We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt and I too am lying there. First we were sitting up, then one of us lay down, and then we all lay down, on our stomachs, on our sides, on our backs and they have kept on talking. They are not talking much and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine, quiet, with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth, and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of the night.”

Nothing dramatic happens on that lawn, but Agee communicates the preciousness of everyday life, and the boy’s feeling of calmness and security. But it is yet mixed with a feeling of the fragile nature of this family and the life he cherishes.  The language, almost hypnotic, conveys how every child feels, and how most every adult feels remembering pleasant days of youth.

 

Here is an ideal example of analytical nonfiction. It is John Ruskin’s (1819-1900) writing on the nature of the imaginative mind from his book Modern Painters. Ruskin was the leading art/architecture critic of the English Victorian era and the best writer among all the critics. He explored the creative process. His writing style, based so heavily on a Biblical style, and his ideas, and original insights were widely admired by artists, critics, and the general public. They influenced Marcel Proust who spent six years studying them, translating them into French, and being influenced by them before setting out to write the monumental In Search of Lost Time. Ruskin claims, as I’ve believed as long as I’ve been writing, that once having experienced something, writers don’t forget it, but rather, having memorized their life, remembers its every detail. Writers and artists can remember every blade of grass on the street where they lived when they were ten. What one writes about, the other paints.

Here’s Ruskin writing about the painters he so admired:

“Imagine that all that any of these men had seen or heard in the whole course of their lives, laid up accurately in their memories as in a vast storehouse, extending, with the poets, even to the slightest intonations of syllables heard in the beginning of their lives, and with the painters, down to minute folds of drapery, and shapes of leaves or stones; and over all this unindexed and immeasurable mass of treasure, the imagination brooding and wandering, but dream-gifted, so as to summon at any moment exactly such groups of ideas as justly fit each other; this I conceive  to be the real nature of the imaginative mind, and this, I believe, it would often be explained to us as being, by the men themselves who possess it, but that they have no idea what the state of other peoples’ minds is in comparison; they suppose everyone remembers all that he has seen in the same way, and do not understand how it happens that they alone can produce good drawings or great thoughts.”

 

Here is an extended metaphor drawing a parallel between fog and human behavior from Charles Dickens’ (1812-1879) Bleak House. Immensely gifted and inventive, Charles Dickens is generally considered the greatest Victorian novelist. In this satirical excerpt from Bleak House, fog reminds the narrator of the murky ethics and hypocrisy of the High Court of Chancery, metaphorically the Bleak House of the title.

“Fog everywhere. Fog up the river where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marsh, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs, fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships, fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his little ‘prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of the fog, with fog all around them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds…Never can there come fog too thick, never can there come mud and mire too deep, to assort with the groping and floundering condition which the High Court of Chancery, most pestilent of hoary sinners, holds this day, in the sight of heaven and earth.”

 

James Agee, John Ruskin, and Charles Dickens. If they were a baseball team, or a soccer team, what a powerful team they would be. All writing should be interesting, but why not go further and write mesmerizing prose using them as examples to learn from?

 

© 2018 David J. Rogers

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Filed under Artistic Perfection, Becoming an Artist, Charles Dickens, Creativity Self-Improvement, Descriptive Writing, James Agee, John Ruskin, Voice, Writers