Tag Archives: artists and writers

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/

 

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

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Filed under Achievement, Artists, Becoming an Artist, Creators' Work Life, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Goals and Purposes, Motivation, Rewards, Self-Confidence, Work Production, Writers

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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Filed under Artists, Becoming an Artist, Creativity, Creativity Self-Improvement, Creators' Work Life, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, High Achievement, Life of Creators, talent, The Creative Process, The Nature of Artists, Work Production, Writers

Artists and Their Love of Work

To the Artist Work Is Not an Obstacle, but a Gift

Artists have about fifty qualities that fit perfectly together to make them best suited to be artists rather than engaging in other occupations. One of those qualities is their love of and attachment to work. The majority of people do not like to work, consider work a burden, and would rather not work, but seek leisure and rest.  But most writers, painters, actors, and ballet dancers who will become known vary from that norm.

Creative people do not avoid work, but absorb themselves in it, even though the work of a recognizably accomplished artist is difficult, extremely hard to master, and taxing.  What drives them to the easel or keyboard every possible day is the joy of working and a desire for creative fulfillment, a special state of being that lies at the far end of hard work that evades most people.

Painting of human figures in shades of brown

The Turning of Backs by Janet Weight Reed (Circa 1984)

In The Creative Process Brewster Ghiselin states that artists and thinkers create the structure of their mental lives by means of their works. C. G. Jung said, “The work in process becomes the poet’s fate.” The work–the painting, novel, or musical composition–must be finished [half-finished doesn’t count] if the artist is to be satisfied because “it is only as the creative work is done that the meaning of the creative effort can appear and the development of the artist brought about by it is attained.”

William Faulkner, author of thirteen novels and scores of short stories, said that “the only thing a man can do for eight hours a day is work. He can’t eat for eight hours; he can’t drink for eight hours; he can’t make love for eight hours. The only thing a man can do for eight hours is work. ” To the artist work isn’t an obstacle, but a gift, a challenge not to be avoided, but to be embraced happily.

Faulkner’s secret was to stop looking at the clock. He wrote, “Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.” Staring at the clock never gets the artist’s work done.

Vincent van Gogh talks about the agonies artists feel when they are unable to perform artists’ work, his feelings then of being imprisoned in “an …utterly horrible, horrible cage.” Work is so essential to artists’ sense of wholeness that not being able to work at an artist’s role in van Gogh’s judgment reduces artists to a state of “nothingness” and uselessness.

Oil on canvas with symbolic images

Symbolic Self Portrait by Janet Weight Reed (Circa 1990)

When men and women commit to a serious artist’s life they introduce into their existence the most demanding effort and emotional upheavals generally they will have ever known. They might have been stevedore longshoremen on the docks of New York, but will never know days of exhaustion like this: “Work every day till your [sic] so pooped about all the exercise you can face is reading the papers” (Ernest Hemingway). Poet Emily Dickinson said that if she felt physically as if the top of her head was taken off, she knew that was poetry

Artists begin each day with the goal of working hard. I have been laid up with bad colds for weeks, unable to work, and it has been frustrating and truly painful for me when all I want is to get back to writing my book.

Artists are almost always bent on working hard: “Work is the law. Like iron that lying idle degenerates into a mass of useless rust, like water that in an unruffled pool sickens stagnates into a stagnant and corrupt state, so without action the spirit of men turns to a dead thing, loses its force, ceases prompting us to leave some trace of ourselves on this earth” (Leonardo da Vinci).

Photograph of the installation of three 18ft hanging mobiles

Photographed during the installation of three 18ft hanging mobiles commissioned for an architects building in Pa. USA Janet Weight Reed

Even striving to sew together an artist’s life is daunting: “The sheer labor of preparing technically for creative work, consciously acquiring the requisite knowledge of medium and skill in its use is extensive and arduous enough to repel many from achievement” (Brewster Ghiselin).  “From the hard work of men are born…the fidelity to right practice which makes great craftsmen…[and] the devotion to a calling” (Joseph Conrad).

Every serious writer can identify with Flaubert’s “I have written no more than 25 pages in all in six weeks…I have gone over them so much, recopied them, changed them, handled them, that for the time being I can’t make head or tail of them.”

To persist like that takes drive and commitment that’s extraordinary. While you might be able to do that because you’re a writer and you know what’s needed, almost no one you know, from your brother-in-law to your auto mechanic, can imagine doing it voluntarily because they’re not artists–those individuals who think nothing of it.

 

The “Big Two” of Focus and Energy Lead to Artistic Success

Artists are exceptionally complex thinking and feeling beings who by the grace of nature possess the two main qualities leading to success whatever the field: intense focus and accompanying extraordinary quantities of physical and spiritual energy–Focus and Energy.

Many of the greatest artists and writers have an overpowering urge to produce specific works and have labored astronomically long hours for many years, frequently with no vacations to speak of because there was nothing they would rather do than their work—an unheard of 60 hours, 70 hours, 80 hours every week.

Watercolor of three water birds taking flight

Rapid watercolour capturing movement. Janet Weight Reed (recent work)

Twentieth century inventor and visionary Buckminster Fuller worked in a frenzy, concluding his work days only when overwhelmed by exhaustion. Honore de Balzac wrote fifteen hours a day for twenty years, and to fuel his energy was in the habit of drinking at least fifty cups of strong coffee every day—so much so that coffee poisoning was one of the causes of his death.  Focus and energy are why artists can produce tremendous amounts of work, often four, six, ten times what less focused and energetic people produce.

Poet John Milton said that some people “scorn delights for more laborious lives” and asked, “What hath night to do with sleep?” The tremendous number of hours high achieving writers, sculptors, and ballet dancers are able to work may account for their ability to produce work after work at breakneck speed.

Another reason for such speed is because after a certain number of years of constant practice, producing works becomes automatic for artists. All the skills they need are intact and functioning at extremely high levels, and inspiration comes to them spontaneously and involuntarily immediately and without strain, like wine flowing out of a cask, when they sit down to type at their computer or stand facing an easel with brush in hand,

The pace you work at is as individual as DNA.  John Irving says, “I write all my drafts by hand. It’s the right speed for me—slow.” Erle Stanley Gardner was different. He once worked on seven novels simultaneously, dictating 10,000 words in a day, and was the world’s fastest writer. And he was also a lawyer.

Artist painting a portrait while another artist paints her

Portrait demonstration in Paris. Janet Weight Reed

Why is it that producing a creative work is often so much more painful than the envious non-creator can imagine? French novelist Gustave Flaubert wrote a friend, “You have no notion what it is to sit out an entire day with your head between your hands beating your unfortunate brains for a word.”

At times the novelist, essayist, poet, or dramatist writes night and day, then executes revision upon revision. Kurt Vonnegut said that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent if only they write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little each time. Although writing is sometimes grueling, tedious, boring, and very difficult, few other things matter as much to writers.

The act of producing art–so liberating to the artist–may also involve emotional suffering.  Julian Green wrote, “if only people knew what lies at the heart of my novels. What a tumult of desires these carefully written pages conceal! I sometimes have a loathing for the furious cravings that give me no peace except when I am writing.”

If you are to succeed in a noteworthy way as an artist you must have the ability to focus intensely for extended periods of time.  Creative people often learn at an early age that they will achieve more if they focus their efforts on one area rather than dividing them among a variety of pursuits. They may not be good at math, may not care for games, may never go dancing.   As a child all Pablo Picasso wanted was to draw or paint and was such extremely poor student in every other subject that people thought him stupid.

 

The Most Distinguishing Quality of Creatives

Persistent and enthusiastic absorption in their work is the most distinguishing quality of creatives in spite of Flaubert’s and Green’s kind of suffering, or your own very real suffering.  Creative talent is indistinguishable from passion and intensity. You can hardly call yourself creative if you lack them.

Landscape of trees, road and sky in blue, green and yellow

Landscape – Brecon Beacons Wales by Janet Weight Reed

One reason writers and painters who are experts are more accomplished than writers and painters who are very good but not experts is that experts are more passionate about their work and spend more hours at it. The only way you could keep some artists from writing or painting would be to dislocate their fingers. Even before their fingers were fully mended, the artists would be back at work.

What makes writers and painters, actors and composers so persistent? It is their thrilling, hard-to-contain joy in the act of creation itself: “It is worth mentioning, for future reference,  that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning [of a new work] quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything” (Virginia Woolf).

 

Flow

When they are creating, artists are capable of losing all sense of time and place, conscious only of the work before them. They will let nothing divert them from accomplishing their creative goals, working night and day if need be.  Flaubert said that only writing mattered to him, and that he kept all his other passions locked up in a cage, visiting them now and then for diversion.

Egrets taking flight purple and blue watercolor on white

Egrets in Flight by Janet Weight Reed ( recent)

The artist’s sometimes astonishing work production is aided by flow, a state described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. In flow you’re fully absorbed in the act of writing, painting, acting, composing–more fully absorbed than you have been in anything else. Your concentration and positive emotions are strong and alert, and you know exactly what needs to be done. You put aside personal problems. You lose your sense of being in time and of having a body or a mind. Art comes out of you effortlessly.

You’re relaxed, “psyched,” focused, and yet detached at the same time—in a state of harmony with your surroundings. You’re as confident and feel as competent as you’ll ever be. When artists are in flow they are functioning at their most potent ability.

The main qualities of flow are the following ten:

  1. Your goals are clear and not muddled. (When you work at your craft, your goals must be so clear that you can state them in a single sentence.)
  2. There’s unambiguous, immediate feedback on performance so that adjustments can be made. It’s hard to become immersed in your art if you’re not certain about how well you’re doing, what’s feasible and what isn’t, and whether you’re wasting your time or are accomplishing something that’s worth accomplishing.
  3. Your skills are well-matched with the goal you’re trying to achieve: whatever the skill the art calls for, you possess. You’re very confident that you have every skill you’ll need to reach the goals of the project at hand. To attempt something you lack the skills for will only frustrate you.
  4. Your concentration is highly focused.
  5. You’re not worried about failing.
  6. There’s no sense of “self” separated from the work at hand. You do the work, but don’t think, “I am doing this work.” There is no “I” involved. You are non-attached.
  7. Your sense of time is distorted. An hour seems like a minute or a minute seems like an hour.
  8. The activity is so enjoyable in itself that you need no external reward. But pay and other external motivations can also lead to you being in the zone such as when after years of trying unsuccessfully, you have a great financial success and public recognition.
  9. You don’t feel tiredness.
  10. You lose your appetite or don’t notice it and you skip meals.

 

Being In the Groove

Very much like being in flow is being in the groove. In The Creative Habit dancer/choreographer Twyla Tharp talks about “finding your groove.” Grooves can last minutes, hours, or weeks or months, and are usually preceded by a breakthrough idea. What does it feel like when you’re in a groove?

“When you’re in a groove, you’re not spinning your wheels, you’re moving forward in a straight and narrow path without pauses or hitches. You’re unwavering, undeviating, unparalleled in your purpose. A GROOVE IS THE BEST PLACE IN THE WORLD. It’s where I strive to be, because when you’re in it you have the freedom to explore, where everything you question leads you to new avenues and new routes as everything you touch miraculously touches something else and transforms it for the better…And then it’s over…There’s no point in analyzing it. If you could figure out how you get into a groove you could figure out how to maintain it. That’s not going to happen. The best you can hope for is the wisdom and good fortune to occasionally fall into a groove.”

 

Hummingbird in green white and Aqua on yellow and pink background

Hummingbird by Janet Weight Reed

The beautiful paintings included in this post are by one of my favorite artists, Janet Weight Reed. The images shown here are a tiny example of some of the work she has completed during a career which has spanned 45 years.The hummingbird, symbolizing the “unseen magic” of the world is her signature image.

Janet says, “Waking each day filled with anticipation, excitement and sometimes trepidation is I believe one of the many reasons that keeps an artist/creative going.  To be in the flow and rhythm of creative work is a wonderful state of being.  No matter what else is going on in one’s life a deep sense of fulfilment takes over.”

 

I won’t ask if you have ever been in flow or in the groove or have known the bliss of creation because if you are an artist working every day with seriousness, living the life of a creator, I know you have, possibly many times.

Instead, I’ll ask, “Were you in the groove today? How did your work go?”

 

© 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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Creators’ Lives: The Need to Turn and Change

I have been sitting here wondering for the last couple of hours:

How is it possible for creative people–those playthings of their rich imagination–to recognize how extraordinary and talented they really may be when so many seem blind to the heights they may reach if they are patient?

I’ve been wondering too:

How to inspire and rouse creative people to overcome the detours and false starts of the past that so often bog them down and now leap forward and move steadily, with new confidence, toward a more fulfilling creative life?

 

I was a guest on an hour-long lunch time TV talk show talking about my book Fighting to Win. It had just been named Microphonethe best motivational book ever written. It identifies the main reasons people are blocked from reaching fulfillment. It prescribes specific remedies for leading a more liberated existence. As the show ended I said, addressing the viewers, “What I’m sayings is, ‘There’s so much to you, DO something with it.’“

Then I shook hands with and thanked the host and the engineer and left. The next day I was in my work room talking with my son who wanted to play hooky from school that day and wanted to talk it over when the show’s producer called. Her voice was excited. She told me that the response to the show “was incredible.” The phone had kept ringing late into the night: who was I, where could they get the book, would I be coming back?  She asked me to come back for a “return engagement.” I said I would be happy to.

I am convinced that that little sentence that ended the show was the reason for the fuss. “DO something with it” was saying, “You are something, you have talents that you just must make use of because you will not have another life: this is it.”

All it took was for me to empower viewers out there–homemakers, unemployed people, people taking time off from work, and self-employed people–by reminding them that they are special and not to deny any more their own potential that they might have forgotten or never noticed.

Many people–possibly most, I believe–don’t think highly enough of themselves. Do you think highly enough of yourself? They underestimate themselves and their potential. They think other people can achieve noteworthy things, but not them. Because they are “ordinary.”  They settle for lesser lives.

I’ve met many quietly magnificently gifted people who frustrate me and whom I’ve felt like shaking by the shoulders Butterflyand saying, “Wake up will you: your life is happening and you don’t seem to be aware of it. Your life needs you. Half the days allotted to you have passed and how far have you gotten?”

But I was aware of the audiences’ greatness and had all the respect in the world for them and wanted to tell them: “Don’t waste a day of a precious life; get with it.”

I had talked with such conviction and compassion for them in my voice that they knew I had recognized something exceptional in people and they wanted to know more to help them get started in a new direction. Here’s the background of my thinking. You’ll see why I am so optimistic:

 

There is a Hasidic term that means “turning.” It’s the complete change of a person’s whole being. Quakers too use “turning” to mean the same major existential event. To realize that you can turn is to realize that you are at liberty to rotate a life that is facing one direction–your life at present possibly–and face it in another, to change the direction of your whole being at any time.  What an insight that is.

It’s a misuse of a creative life to be able to turn, to feel the necessity to do it, to feel the powerful urge, and not to turn. Turning arrowMary Oliver wrote about missing the opportunity to pursue a creative life when that was exactly what you should have done: “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.”

Is it time for you to turn?

 

An inner impulse pushes you and me and all other living things to become what  we and they are equipped to become, regardless of how harsh or unaccommodating the environment we find ourselves in. People in the creative arts have often gone through periods of dire deprivation which they overcame. We can learn from them and from trees–oaks and birches, elms, and cedars.

Denied water, a tree is not helpless. It will send out its roots long distances in search of it. Hidden in shadows, it will Twisted tree with skytwist and wind its branches until they reach blessed sunlight. The tree is driven by its nature not merely to survive, but to flourish. It is driven to be all the tree it can possibly be, as beautiful as it can be, as functional as it can be. A tree all twisted–whose life hasn’t been easy–isn’t it lovelier than a tree without twists?

You and I were brought into this world for the purpose of making the most of our creative lives and are driven by an innate urge to do just that, whatever obstacles, phantoms, ogres, and fears we must overcome to find happiness. You could have lived a thousand different lives, but are inclined toward the life of a creative. It is like no other life it was possible for you to have.

It is as though whatever power created us had a particular concept in mind of the creative person we each should become (I was to be a writer, starting at the age of eight; you were to be what?) And after conceiving of us, lovingly, with a gentle nudge, sent us sprawling into this unfamiliar world fully equipped with the complement of unique creative strengths it seems everyone envies and wishes they too had–unique talents, aptitudes, qualities, gifts, sensibilities, skills, intelligence, determination, energy, and inclinations–necessary to thrive and become the successful writer, artist, actor, composer, or dancer we really could be when we set our minds to that goal.

There was an expectation then that once on our own, we would decide what art we would follow and commit ourselves and work hard to achieve mastery of it.

 

In the course of a creative life that’s changing there is a particular period of upheaval when the momentum shifts and the creative who is moving in the wrong direction stops and starts in a more promising direction.  That may entail a deliberate process wherein you set out intentionally, with forethought, to create a more fulfilling creative life, holding an idea of what your life could be steadily in mind, consistently showing the sense of purpose, motivation, and deliberate effort needed to turn that idea into concrete reality. Or a tremendous change in direction of a life may occur in the blinking of an eye.

American Sherwood Anderson turned. He was a successful businessman in Ohio, the President and owner of a profitable company who enjoyed writing his firm’s advertising copy. One day he noticed a stranger sitting in the waiting room outside his office. He asked who the man was and was told he was the printer who set the type for the newspaper advertising that Anderson wrote, and Anderson called him in. All he wanted to say, he told Anderson, was that while setting the type he always noticed how unusually excellent the writing was, that Anderson had a talent.

That was all there was, a printer taking time out to praise the quality of a client’s advertising copy. But it was an event Wood typesetthat completely changed Anderson’s life. Anderson went home, cleared space in his attic for a desk and books, and began to write seriously. Eventually he gave up his business and turned to writing full time. With his book of short stories Winesburg, Ohio he became one of America’s major authors. He is considered one of the masters of the short story.

 

I’ve traveled a great deal and talked to privately, I’m sure, thousands of people about their lives. I’ve found so many times that all it takes to ignite a person’s desire to change their creative career for the better may be just a word or two of encouragement and confidence from another person they respect and trust, even a stranger–a guest on a TV show, for example, or a printer.

As a young man George Bernard Shaw wanted to be a novelist. Every year for five years he wrote a novel–one a year–and sent it to publishers. The manuscripts always came back rejected. But one day Shaw received, in addition to the standard rejection form, a note from an editor that unfortunately his novels did not fit their list. But then in the note appeared the words: “Your dialogue is wonderful. Did you ever think of writing plays?”

He never had, but then he started to, discovering that indeed he did have a talent for dialogue, eventually, of course, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature for his drama. Would Shaw have become a playwright had he not received that note of encouragement, or would he have continued to write bad novels, one a year and meet only failure, sensing he had talent but getting nowhere, or would he have given up writing?

 

Weary of being one kind of person, creatives about to bloom and produce finest creative works transform themselves Poster about fulfilling potential with rose in backgroundinto something else: “I don’t have to be the way I’ve been just because I’ve always been that way.” The worst excuse for not changing is to say, “That’s just the way I am. I guess I’ll never be any different.” You’re different if you say,   “I don’t have to put up with this obstacle that’s holding me back for one more day “I can buckle down and get to work to develop my talents,” “What I always wanted to be–I can really can be that.”

 

Every day and every moment in each day you have the power to fashion a new creative life to your own specifications, training yourself, educating yourself, turning, encouraging yourself, forming friendships with other creatives, seizing opportunities, taking risks, working hard, applying yourself seriously to your craft till you are committed to it in a way you never have been before and your head spins gloriously. That will lead to a reshaped destiny all your own. It will be unique to you.

 

What can I say but, “There’s so much to you. DO something with it.”

 

© 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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or

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

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Filed under Achievement, Becoming an Artist, Creativity Self-Improvement, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, George Bernard Shaw, Quaker Concept of Turning, Sherwood Anderson

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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or

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

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Click on book image to order from Amazon.com

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Inspiration, Guidelines, and Quotations for Writers, Artists, and Other Creators

Painting of red trees on blue and green background

Above Vinci by Karin Goeppert

This is my eighth post of quotations about creativity, creative people, and the creative process that I’ve assembled from my reading and writing. These quotes are valuable because writers, artists, photographers, and actors and other performers have expressed interest in them. They are interested in them because insights into creativity and the creative life can be applied to their work, bring them inspiration, and  increase their knowledge and skills, enabling them to produce increasingly better, more sophisticated, and more popular work. That is an urge to improve and excel that animates almost every creative person from the first morning of the first day of their creative life to midnight of the last.

An important reason a creator hungers for information like this is the competitiveness of fields requiring inventiveness: painting is exceptionally competitive; writing and acting are too, and the creator is looking for an edge. Even one idea from these posts may lead to a creative breakthrough that strengthens the creator’s competitive position.

Persistence

The first thing a creator has to learn is not to quit.  Have you thought of quitting? The majority of creators quit. They quit because they think no matter what they do they can’t succeed.  But that can be overcome.  The ideas in this post may help. What they need are new insights showing them that success comes from within a healthy, creative mind and is feasible for them. Then they have to also learn not to be mediocre. Most people don’t want to be mediocre, yet are perfectly satisfied to be mediocre-plus. The quotes may help you not to quit and not to be mediocre. A creator must learn to persist, and then persist more, persisting if need be beyond what seems human capability.

Painting in blue shades

Waterborn by Karin Goeppert

Naturally much is made of a creator’s talent. Thomas Wolfe said about the need to put your talent to use: “If a man has talent and can’t use it, he’s failed. If he uses only half of it, he has partly failed. If he uses the whole of it, he has succeeded, and won a satisfaction and triumph few men ever know.” Almost all people believe that talent is the reason for creative success. But persistence–the art of refusing to give up–may be more vital to a creator’s success than talent. Teachers of the arts often state that the students who will fare best in creative life are not the most gifted but the students who are the most determined to succeed. If they are persistent, less talented writers may have more works published and make more money than the more talented. The same is true of painters. American Jack London received 600 rejections before his first short story was published. He was not considered one of the great writers, but after the publication of that first story he became the most popular writer in the world within one year.

Enlightened creators are confident of themselves and possess what I call “inner skills” that not every creator possesses, returning again and again tirelessly, almost maniacally, to their work. They overcome sometimes enormous obstacles and difficulties that would deter less powerfully persistent people. Painter Pierre-August Renoir’s hands were crippled and rendered useless by severe rheumatoid arthritis and he was unable to paint with them late in his career. But with a strong will he produced some of his greatest works after that lying on his back, painting with the brush between his toes. Even without such extreme obstacles, creative work can be exceedingly difficult. When creative work “goes painfully, when it’s hideously difficult, and one feels real despair (ah, the despair, silly as it is, is real!)–then naturally one ought to continue with the work; it would be cowardly to retreat” (Joyce Carol Oates).

If you are a creator with talent and persistence both, your prospects of success are excellent.

Intensity

Orange flowers on green background

Floris Mit Rahmen by Karin Goeppert

Intense people are growing rare in this era. Something is weakening people. But creative people are different.  They tend to live intensely, and have strong beliefs about their creative pursuits: “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” (Oscar Wilde). That intensity of their emotions and sensitivities is a necessary part of their make-up. They think, feel, and imagine intensely. They are often overstimulated, and at any moment may be flooded with mystical waves of rapture and joy with a sense that every cell of their body is incredibly alive.  “So far as the artist is concerned, the unlimited extent of human experience is not so important for him as the depth and intensity with which he experiences things” (Thomas Wolfe). “It is evident that a faith in their vocation, mystical in intensity, sustains poets. There can really be no greater faith than the confidence that one is doing one’s utmost to fulfill one’s high vocation” (Stephen Spender). The creator has to learn to harness that intensity and aim it to producing quality works.

Creators must have a hunger to experience, to feel deeply, to know, to self-disclose, sharing what they have learned, felt, seen, and heard with anyone who is interested.  “The meaningful difference intellectually between one painter or writer or one actor or director and another is simply the number of things they are intrigued by in a square yard of their experience and the urgency of their hunger to express them”(David J. Rogers).

Risk-Taking

Purple flowers on white background

Nothing Ever Stops by Karin Goeppert

Creative works do not come cheap. In order to produce them, creative people, once as ordinary as dishwater, must reshape themselves and not be afraid to branch out into the insecure, the anxious, and the unknown, risking, daring. For the creator risk-taking is not fool-hardiness. It is essential. On what is a memorable creator’s life based if not taking chances because life is short, time is fleeting, and an art that burns inside the artist must be expressed or it will extinguish into nothing. Can you feel it: that hunch igniting your spirit that there is a passion there that has appeared in your writer’s, painter’s, or composer’s life that must be pursued to its conclusion no matter the cost to your time, personal life, or peace of mind? Picasso said that “one must act in painting, as in life, directly.”

Identifying Creativity

How can you tell if you are creative? The pursuit of ways to identify creative people has led to scores of tests. But it has not been possible to demonstrate that creativity tests are valid. “High scores on a creativity test do not signal that one is necessarily creative in one’s actual vocation or avocation: (Howard Gardner). The answer is in the work: Is it original? Does it have a use? Do your artistic peers and the public agree that it is creative? If so, it is creative and having produced it, so are you.

Life of Creators

Ferns and leaves on white on green background

Hasenheide by Karin Goeppert

Generally, creators’ childhoods have more impact on their creativity than any other period of their lives. “Early in life, the creator generally discovers an area or object of interest that is consuming(Howard Gardner). Author John Updike said that nothing that happens to you after the age of twenty is worth writing about.  If you knew in childhood what you loved doing and were relatively sure what you would be when you grew up, you were more likely than most people to be creative as an adult.

The creator’s life, being hard, is not suited to everyone. To succeed you have to be an exception from the norm. To become highly skilled in creative works takes many years of hard work that only a minority of people are equipped for. “The sheer labor of preparing technically for creative work, consciously acquiring the requisite knowledge of a medium and skill in its use, is extensive and arduous even to repel many from achievement” (Brewster Ghiselin). “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon one can never resist or understand” (George Orwell).

To live the life of an artist appeals to millions of people, many envious of artists who they think lead “glamorous, exciting” lives. But that life is especially difficult in ways that other lives are not. “The artist’s life cannot be otherwise than full of conflicts…There are hardly any exceptions to the rule that a person must pay dearly for the divine gift of the creative fire” (Carl Gustave Jung).

To accomplish something noteworthy in art requires that you sacrifice at least one other important activity, person, or goal. The hard and fast rule is: to get, you must give up. “A special ability means a heavy expenditure of energy in a particular direction, with a consequent drain from some other side of life” (Carl Gustav Jung). The artist must take time and think very carefully and decide what he/she is willing to give up. What shall it be–this or that?

Influences on Creative Output

Red buds on branches on blue background

Harbinger by Karin Goeppert

Memory is the most significant key to the creator’s gifts. “The poet above all else is a person who never forgets certain sense impressions which he has experienced and which he can re-live again and again as though with all their original freshness…There is nothing we imagine which we do not already know… And our ability to imagine is our ability to remember what we have already experienced and to apply it to some different situation” (Stephen Spender). All creators in any of the arts and sciences possess this kind of memory.

Creative works are the products of the whole person: intelligence and courage, talents and commitments, and unceasing energy: “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” (Pablo Picasso). “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” (Henry Miller).

Creative Vision

Many artistic creations are a result of the creator playing with new possibilities that disregard and shatter society’s sometimes restrictive rules of decorum, conformity, and political correctness. Doing that may lead to a kind of liberation: Novelist Henry Miller wrote, “The world would only begin to get something of value from me the moment I stopped being a serious member of society and became…myself.”

The creator must never sacrifice his or her own vision, or water it down for the sake of acceptance,  whatever the opposition to it or how out of the ordinary it may be, and must never be intimidated by anyone, or live in fear of anything for even a moment.

leaves and flowers reflected on aqua water

Beneath the Surface by Karin Goeppert

The artist whose beautiful work is featured in this post is Karin Goeppert (www.karingoeppert.com). She says, “Life is a largely subjective experience; but that subjective experience is my bridge to the objective world. And it’s this synthesis of the two that I am trying to capture.” She says of her inspiration and process: “I love experimenting and want to give my works an individual expression. Most of my works are abstracted from nature but I also do non-objective paintings. I am inspired by the beauty and power of natural phenomena, the mystery of nature, its colors and forms. Every painting is a one-of-a-kind work in which I try to combine feeling and thought.”

 

© 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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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/

 

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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

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

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

Writers and Shyness:  Anton Chekhov, Master of the Short Story

I think it’s well established that wherever they been born and bred, many writers–young, middle-age, or old–are shy. Certainly I personally have met and read about scores who are. Shy writers may be far more prevalent than we realize. Shy writers and shy artists, actors, dancers, soloists, and composers are well documented and may in fact be the rule rather than the exception in the world of artistically creative people.

path with overhanging trees in winterAs is true of all complex psychological characteristics, it is not easy to assess why a man, woman, or child is shy–what causes it– possibly particularly for the person who is shy and tries to understand why. Causes are part genetic and part environmental–that’s known; but that insight doesn’t tell us much about writers and shyness. Does serious writing (painting, acting, composing etc.)–possibly in an occupation–attract shy people because it requires so much introspection, savage self-criticism, and living much of the time in your head just as shy people do?  Can shyness be outgrown? I think so. I’ve seen that happen.

Shy writers may puzzle us and make us think, “Why in the world should she (he) be shy?” when they possess all the qualities that should result in a more socially self-assured and confident person, (and confidence is so crucial to a creative.) They have qualities some people would flaunt, such as prodigious and unique giftedness, highly developed Reflection of scene in waterskill, physical attractiveness, stunning achievements, exceptional intelligence, and disarming charm. Yet many shy writers, from the most famous to the least famous, despite having everything a person could want, are chronically ill at ease in any spotlight, and can’t remember a time when they weren’t. They try their best to avoid drawing attention to themselves, and are dismayed or depressed when they can’t.

Of all the world’s short story writers, Russian Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), is generally acknowledged to be the best. By the age of twenty-six he was a national celebrity; fingers were pointed at him wherever he went.   He never failed at anything, for example transitioning without any apparent effort from great fiction to great drama. He was cultured, well educated, and intellectually brilliant, the most popular Russian writer of his generation, and unlike most of us other humans, never suffered great sorrow. Yet he was shy.

Anton Chekhov

Anton Chekhov

His shyness might explain his hatred of personal appearances, promotions, exposure, and publicity. He refused to do readings: “I don’t recite…If I do it for three or five minutes my mouth dries up, my voice grows hoarse, and I can’t stop coughing;” “I recite abominably  The main thing is I’m terrified. There’s a complaint called ‘fear of open spaces;’ well, I suffer from fear of the public and publicity.”

He was an innovator whose ideas on the art of short fiction–extraordinary economy of language, objectivity and complete absence of moralizing, lyricism, blurring of the boundary between protagonist and author, understatement, extremely brief openings (two or three lines at most) or none at all, surprising detail in physical description, repetition of key words, inconclusive endings–have become standard practice, changing the way that genre is created.

As an adult he had all the requirements of happiness. But it is possible that an absence of affection in his childhood permanently stunted his personality. He wrote: “So little affection came my way as a child that I treat caresses as something unfamiliar, and almost beyond my ken, now that I’m grown up. That’s why I can’t show fondness for others, much as I’d like to.” Extreme holding back of emotions, introversion, social discomfort, and self-effacement distinguished the mature Chekhov.

He said, “Father began teaching, or to put it bluntly, beating me before I was five. He birched me, boxed my ears, clouted my head, and when I woke up each morning I’d wonder if I’d be beaten that day. My brother and I were forbidden to play and lark about.” He described himself as “a serf’s son, a one-time shop boy (his father was a struggling, eventually bankrupt grocer), public school student, brought up to worship rank, to kiss priest’s hands, to defer  to other people, who said thank you for every bite of food, who was often beaten, who had no galoshes to wear.”

Chekhov began what was to become, unexpectedly, a literary career as a struggling medical school student who submitted short comic pieces to humor publications.  Later, as a serious writer, he was to say that his early comic works Owl “exhibited no characteristic beyond silliness.” Soon he was writing a popular and widely discussed column of comic tales. But, he said, he was “bored stiff and longed to give it up,” much as he needed the fifteen rubles a month which it earned him. His creative imagination was so fertile that he bragged that he could select any subject at random, “an ash tray or even a wall” and make a story of it. He said all he thought about other than stories was “Money. Money. Money.” He vowed he would not die a journalist, an occupation of “scoundrels.”

He maintained a medical practice, and his identity as an author  cannot be understood in isolation from that of Chekhov the physician. He wrote, “Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature my mistress.” He never asked for payment from struggling people in the arts. His medical practice supplied him with material, bringing him into close contact with people from all levels of society, and did so at times of crisis when they were too much under pressure to wear their usual masks. For a writer who specialized in detaching characters from their illusions about themselves that was invaluable.  But he neglected his own health though he was aware that he was tubercular, and that that more than likely would be the cause of his death, as it was to be.

In 1886 veteran novelist Dmitry Grigorovich hailed Chekhov as a writer of genius with a remarkable literary career in store for him if he did not waste his talent writing trifles. Grigorovich wrote to Chekhov: “Judging by the different Massandra Wineryqualities of your undoubted talent, your true feeling of inner analysis, your masterly descriptive passages, the way in which you give a complete picture of a cloud at sunset in a few words, etc., you are destined, I am quite sure, to become the author of many excellent and truly artistic works.” It was Grigorovich’s letter that finally decided Chekhov to be more serious about his work, and to devote all his time to literature.

He turned away from writing comedies to more serious, literary writing, and then his stories became almost without exception perfect works of art. Publications asked him to name his own price. Chekhov responded with modesty, reserve, and anxiety. According to biographer Ronald Hingley, “There was no true satisfaction for him in all this fuss. He was meeting too many people; he felt over-praised,” in the way American novelist Walker Percy would feel seventy years later when he wrote, “Reading reviews of your own book is…a no-win game. If the review is flattering one tends to feel vain and uneasy.” At the age of twenty-nine, when he wrote the memorable “A Dreary Story,” Chekhov had firmly established himself as the finest active Russian fiction-writer of his generation.

When abruptly Chekhov’s stories began becoming widely popular and catapulted him from obscurity to celebrity something happened to him that he hadn’t expected. He became self-conscious and unsure of himself.  He said: St. Petersburg path“Formerly when I didn’t know that they read my tales and passed judgment on them, I wrote serenely, just the way I eat pancakes. Now I am afraid when I write.”  Janet Malcolm: “His letters of that period have a feverish, manic quality…He is alternately boastful and fearful. Chekhov’s letters now also begin to express his ambivalence toward writing that was to remain with him. They suggest that the literary artist…is doing something unnatural…Chekhov would often talk of idleness as the only form of happiness.” A similar tension between writing as legitimate work for a person to do appears in the biographies of many working class and middle class writers.  Chekhov resolved his dilemma by slowing down and going at his work with more seriousness.

Praise of his work only irritated him because he doubted the critical abilities of those who praised him: “I yearn to hide somewhere for five years or so and tackle serious, meticulous work. I need to study, to learn everything from the very beginning because I am a complete ignoramous as a writer. I need to write…sixteen pages in five months, not eighty pages in one month.” Very self-critical,, he wrote, “For two years I’ve disliked seeing my work in print. I couldn’t care less about reviews, literary chat, gossip, success, failure, high fees.”

He ascribed to himself laziness, apathy, and idleness: “My flame burns low and steady without flaring and crackling. That’s why I never dash off fifty or sixty pages in a night, or get so absorbed in work as not to go to bed when I am tired. And that’s why I never do anything outstandingly stupid or remarkably brilliant. I think that if I lived another fifty years and spent all the time reading, reading, reading, and learning to write well…which means economically, then I’d bombard you all from a vast canon which would shake the heavens. But as it is, I am a pygmy like everyone else,” “Everything I’ve so far written is nothing compared with what I’d like to write.”

His personality’s reserve was so profound that he found it extremely difficult to establish intimate friendships with anyone, man or woman. Everyone closest to him was always aware of a certain distance that couldn’t be broached. Famous, renowned, envied, he had not a single friend. An acquaintance said, “He never opened his soul to anyone.” Chekhov was capable of touching deep emotions in his writing but was not able to make intimate contact with anyone in his real life.

But with his difficulties his achievements in the craft of short fiction are yet unsurpassed.

 

© 2018 David J. Rogers

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

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Filed under Anton Chekhov, Becoming an Artist, Confidence, Creativity, Emotions of Creators, Shyness, Writers