Tag Archives: artists and writers

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/

 

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

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Filed under Artists, Creativity, Creativity Self-Improvement, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Inner Skills, Life of Creators, Memory, Persistence, Quotations

The Most Important Step in the Creative Process

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

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

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

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

I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

II

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

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

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

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

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

III

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

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

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

 

IV

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

 

 

© 2018 David J. Rogers

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

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

 

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

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Filed under Creativity, Personal Stories, Pre-Compositional Lilt, The Creative Process, The Nature of Artists, Writers, Writing

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/

 

Order Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life eBook by 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:

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

 

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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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Inspiration, Information, and Learnings For People In The Arts

Part 6 of a series.  See also Part 1, Part 2 & 3 Part 4, and Part 5

Pink and orange zinnias in impressionist style

Late Season Zinnias by Steven V. Ward

THE NATURE OF ARTISTS

  • “Artists shape the structure of their creative lives not by means of their gifts, but by means of their work. Production–to produce good works– is the artist’s overriding goal. Delicate creatures, when unable to produce works, they almost immediately fall into some form of self-doubt and then despair” (David J. Rogers).
  • “To possess and capture beauty (the artist) will do anything, use anything…be ruthless, murderous and destructive, cold and cruel and merciless…to get the thing he wants, achieve the thing he values” (Thomas Wolfe).
  • Berry branch with shadowy colored background

    Berry Shadows by Steven V. Ward

    “There is nothing we will not give to the person who can show us the undiscovered world within ourselves, for most of us are unaware of the possibilities we hold” (Seymour Krim).

  • “It is all in the art. You get no credit for living” (V.S. Pritchett)
  • “The hunger to succeed in spite of every impediment and the confidence that you can, along with skill, energy, focus, and the knack of overcoming obstacles have proven to be the key indicators of success in art” (David J. Rogers).

 

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

  • “The uninitiated imagine that one must await inspiration in order to create. That is a mistake. I am far from saying that there is no such thing as inspiration; quite the opposite. It is found as a driving force in every kind of human activity, and is in no wise peculiar to artists. But that force is only brought into action by effort, and that effort is work” (Igor
    Pink flowers on impressionist background

    Spring Colors by Steven by Ward

    Stravinsky).

  • “It has not been possible to demonstrate that creativity tests are valid” (Howard Gardner).
  • “If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing works” (Marc Chagall).
  • “If he thought, he would go wrong; it is only the clumsy and uninventive artist who thinks) (John Ruskin).
  • “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” (Thomas Wolfe).
  • “Everything you can imagine is real” (Pablo Picasso).
  • “It is important to forget about the opinions of others and to write after your own fashion with careless, proud indifference” (Llewelyn Powys).
  • ”There are no rules. It’s amazing how willing people are to tell you that you aren’t a real writer unless you conform to their clichés and their rules. My advice? Reject rules and critics out of hand. Define yourself. Do it your way. Make yourself the writer of your dreams (Anne Rice).
  • “Most creators know intuitively from the beginning of their serious work on a project what the final product will “feel” like. It may take weeks, months, or years to complete the work. But they’ve had from the beginning some sense of it. And that sense will guide them through the entire creative process” (David J. Rogers).
  • “Great artists feel as opportunity what others feel as a menace” (Kenneth Burke).
  • “A great portrait is always more a portrait of the painter than of the painted” (Samuel Butler).
Three white and pink lotus blossoms on blue background

Lotus Trio by Steven V. Ward

CREATORS’ WORK LIFE 

  • “Wake about seven thirty, have breakfast and am working by nine and usually work straight through until two p.m. After that it’s like living in a vacuum until working time next day” (Ernest Hemingway).
  • “Publishing is a very mysterious business. It is hard to predict what kind of sale or reception a book will have and advertising seems to do very little to the good” (Thomas Wolfe).
  • “We should write our own thoughts in as nearly as possible the language we thought them in, as though in a letter to an intimate friend. We should not disguise them in any way” (Leo Tolstoy).
  • “When I write I feel like an artist. When I’m not writing I don’t feel like anything at all) (Saul Bellow).
  • “I work on whatever medium likes me at the moment” (Marc Chagall).
  • “They come and ask me what idea I meant to embody in Faust as if I knew myself and could inform them” (Goethe).
  • “Great artists have no consideration for anyone’s sleep. Left alone and working all night, they phone you at three or four in the morning to announce they’ve thought of something” (David J. Rogers).
  • “We all do better in the future” (Raymond Carver).
  • Yellow Wildflowers on an impressionis style background

    Yellow Wildflowers by Steven V. Ward

    “You have reached the pinnacle of success as soon as you become uninterested in money, compliments, and publicity” (Thomas Wolfe).

  • “Inspiration exists, but it has to find us working” (Pablo Picasso)

I am pleased to again feature in this post artwork by the talented artist Steven V. Ward whose work can be found on FineArtAmerica.  Some of his work also appears in my post More Inspiration and Information For Creators #5

© 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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The Writer’s Block You’ve Never Heard Of

When Writers Hate Words and Painters Hate Paint

I

I adore words. Words have been my dearest medium since my childhood in a Welsh home where the English language Pink clouds behind single bird in a treewas king and queen. I can hear words as if they are being spoken in my ear as I read them on the page or computer screen.  I swear I can taste them. If I don’t read a minimum of a few thousand of them in books every day I am fidgety and dissatisfied.

I study words assiduously and they float in my mind because they are the building blocks from which a writer fashions images, ideas, and narratives. I want to know all of them and use them in my work when I need them. The more of them I can use intelligently the more ideas and emotions I will be able to communicate. Writers cannot pour the whole of their talent into their work without a storehouse of expressive language at their ready disposal.

Wooden typesetting blocksThe vocabulary in the piece may be as simple as Ernest Hemingway’s or as complex as William Faulkner’s. Either way, each word, doing its part, must have zest. If you lack the one and only “just right” word you cannot adequately convey the emotion and its shadings, or the expression on a face as it differs in daylight or at midnight, or a beach at dawn.

What can be more painfully frustrating and galling for writers who take their work seriously than sensing there is a word that will express precisely what they want to express, but not being able to think of it and having to settle for a second, third, or fourth best word?

I maintain on shelves massive loose-leaf notebooks with bright red, orange, and yellow covers. In them I enter words I come across that I think I might wish to use at some time that I don’t currently know or do know but don’t use. The 2 spiral notebooks, one lime green and one blacknotebooks are filled with many thousands of good, useful words and brief definitions and ideas for using them.

I consult these notebooks regularly. When I begin writing something substantial I jot down many interesting and lively–“good”–words that I will work into the text. I might write down in the notebook the word “irascible” with the note–“a nice, strong, dramatic word to use,” or other nice words, “pallid,” “stipulated,” and “rapture.”

II

But never knowing why and never knowing when, I experience a mystifying writer’s block you’ve never heard of that overwhelms me. I’ve never heard anyone else say a word about it, nor have I read about anything like it. I’d like to tell you about it now.

It is a periodic aversion  to the basis of the creators’ medium–words to writers, color and paint to painters, and music to composers. Such an intermittent malady may seem odd, but for me, odd though it may be, it is a fact. Sometimes writers hate words, painters hate paint, and composers hate notes.

water collor paints next to a blank notebookPainters feel the same way about paint as I do about words–that the goal of doing this thing called art in these media is to never be caught unable to express what you want or need to express.  A writer must be able to write everything down, a painter to paint everything she can see or imagine, and composers to be able to use all the means available to them to express all emotions.

When you are a magician with language as American novelist Thomas Wolfe and American poet Walt Whitman, and French novelist Marcel Proust were–more so than any other writers who walked this earth (including Shakespeare)–you have available to you all the words you will ever need to express with the exceptional skills of the trained writer, which you take for granted, anything and everything–any emotion, any idea, any situation, any image–you can hold in your mind.  Nothing is out of your range, everything is within your grasp.

But at times I become so filled up and overly sated with words–thinking of them, writing them, reading them from morning to night year after year, decade after decade–that I reach a kind of maximum limit and it is futile to go on. I must be away from them.

random letters in the shape of a brainFor a while I have to be free from the tyranny of having to go through the process of translating, as though from a foreign language, every palpable thing I can see or touch or hear or imagine, or remember, and each and every mood I can feel, into abstract, impossible-to-touch symbols–words and syllables.

There is no word or combination of words ever written in poetry or prose that is as tangible and pleasurable as a kiss or a caress.

I find that it is hopeless to try to fight this mood. Nothing but frustration is gained by being heroic and hacking away at the keyboard in hopes that something more or less intelligible that can be worked into something more meaningful will mercifully appear on the screen. No, it’s best when words become abhorrent to me–to you, fellow writer–to just shut down, be patient, and wait.

I think this bottling-up happens to many writers, but they don’t realize what’s happening to them. They come to that impasse I know so well and they have no idea why or what to do next. And painters may be unable to even look at their palette and grow sick for a while of their beloved medium and need a break.

My periodic aversion to words, when the bases of my craft are repugnant to me, reminds me of  the great cellist Pablo Casals whose first thought when he fell and injured his hand was a happy one–that maybe now he wouldn’t have to play the cello anymore.

III

Having been through this troublesome block many times, I stop writing and I stop reading and try to clear my mind of words, just as painters who have been exposed to too much color stop painting for a while.

Then, without the written word, I have lost my bearings. I am aimless. I watch TV, paying no attention, or look for someone to talk to or go upstairs and lift weights or go for a walk or thumb through a baseball magazine.

A listless evening or a day or two of seeming to have no purpose in life pass, and my passion for words returns and I am hungry to sit at the computer and watch nouns and verbs, and then their friends the adjectives and adverbs appear in a perfect order on the screen as I hoped they would.

beautivul sunrise on blue skyAt that moment the creator’s existence–lived in a little world of contented seclusion, devoid of glamour–seems to me in an astonishing way to be as splendid and wonderful as any life on earth could be.

I am again confident, blissful, my temporary word-aversion now gone from me. I am happy. Everything I love and can think of I then love more tenderly. I am creating again, performing the sole work I believe I was so carefully allotted X number of years in this world to see what I could do with–which may be the same feeling you have about your work.

 

© 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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A Strategy for Defeating Writer’s Block and Painter’s Block

Hand of artist dipping brush into colored cups of paintWhen they are free of blocks creators are the most productive human beings on earth, capable of generating tremendous volumes of writing, painting, music, etc., the likes of which no one has ever seen. When I was in the business world lecturing on human motivation, my approach was unusual. I held up my beloved writers, artists, actors, composers, and particularly ballerinas as models of commitment, sacrifice, and inexhaustible drive and courage.

I’d say, “Study people in the arts. They will teach you more than anyone else what motivation and the quest for excellence really is, the demands it makes on you, and the heights of achievement it can take you to.”

Yet, it’s quite possible that at any given time the majority of creators–wonderfully talented though they are, with so much potential to contribute beauty to this oh-so-needy world, longing for one thing only: to create–are experiencing a block that is tying them in knots, and are at a standstill. The ability to overcome blocks is a major survival skill for creators

Some blocks last hours, and some for years. Minor blocks come and go and are nothing to worry about. For example, just not being in a mood to work for a short period. But some creators even now are being controlled by a chronic inability to create that is driving them to despair and anguish.

What could be more of a torture to a creator than to long to work, to be ready to work, and to have something urgent to say, but be unable to work?

There are many causes of creator’s blocks. Some of them are hard to diagnose and hard to cure. Exceptionally rare is the creator who is not blocked some of the time, though many puff out their chests and boast that they have never been and claim to be unable to imagine how anyone could be. That infuriates the person who is deeply mired in a block who prays night and day to know where to turn to remedy it.

A writer whose head is composed of crumpled paper uses a typewriter.

By Drew Coffman

The causes of blocks may be much more complicated than many people realize. It has been found that blocked creators are more anxious and less confident people than creators who aren’t burdened by blocks. Blocked creators tend to worry excessively, and are self-doubting, and more prone to depression. They have also been found to be less ambitious and more easily discouraged than creators who are not blocked.

So to cure a severe block, the creator’s whole unique psychology–who they are as human beings and how they differ from other people–may have to be factored in if the block is to be overcome. A creator’s mind, more than other people’s minds, is the birthplace of rich images.

No one on earth can generate mental images as skillfully and profusely as creators. That’s the role they commit themselves to–makers of vivid images in words, paints, physical gestures and movements, and sounds. I believe that a path to freedom from creator’s blocks is through those images. I’ve written extensively about that in another post.

BUT THE PERSISTENCE OF BLOCKS IS STRONGLY ASSOCIATED WITH A POOR CAPACITY FOR DAYDREAMING.

Here is a strategy involving your creator’s abilities to make images and daydream that may begin to loosen the grip of a protracted creative block. I have designed it for writers, but it can be adapted successfully by creators of any kind:

  1. When you are caught or snagged and having difficulty writing, I want you to slow your breathing down, inhaling and exhaling smoothly, using an ancient breathing technique I’ve written about. There is no need to hurry. Just breathe comfortably for a while until there is a rhythm.
  2. Now I’d like you to project your consciousness above you into a corner of the room and see yourself in images in your mind’s eye writing smoothly and effortlessly as though you are someone else who has never had any trouble writing. There’s no strain and the words appear almost magically on the page under the direction of your creator’s mind.
  3. Think about the state of being you would be in at maximum productivity. Can you identify it? What would it entail?
  4. Think about the state you’d like to avoid—anxious, compulsive, self-doubting, and depressed. Let all your ridiculous worries and all obsessions and doubts drift away.
  5. Think of your mental state. It should be alert. It should be sharp. You should be thinking of writing words and not thinking of yourself doing this exercise.
  6. Now, daydream to your heart’s content.

Vivid mental images that can be made into creative daydreams and “mind wanderings” that writers I’ve talked to have found helpful in breaking through blocks include:

Traveling through space to get to a place of creative freedom (I often in my fantasies do the backstroke through space high above the earth. Below me are ancient cities with palaces with magnificent gold steeples and minarets.)

Going down deeper, inside and under the block

A faucet opening and the words you’ve been waiting for pouring out in a deluge

Flipping on a light switch

Going around a wall

Crossing a bridge

Enjoy the images. Go with them. Revel in them.

 

Use this strategy, doing the exercise once or twice a day for seven consecutive days or whenever you are blocked, and you should see results.

 

© 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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More Inspiration and Information For Creators #5

Part 5 of a series.  See also Part 1, Part 2 & 3, and Part 4

 

Leaves floating on water with reflections

On the Surface and Beneath by Steven V. Ward

 

 CREATORS’ FEELINGS, EMOTIONS

  • “(Creators) who lose their youthful rebelliousness are in grave danger of losing their talent as well” (Robert Jourdain).
  • “Art depends heavily on feelings, intuition, taste. It is feeling, not some rules, that tells the abstract painter to put his yellow here and there, not there, and may later tell him that it should have been brown or purple or pea-
    Lost Pink Hydrangea by Steven V. Ward

    Lost Pink Hydrangea by Steven V. Ward

    green. It is feeling that makes the composer break surprisingly from his key, feeling that gives the writer the rhythms of his sentences, the pattern of rise and fall in his episodes, the proportion of alternating elements, so that dialogue goes on only so long before a shift to description or narrative summary or some physical action. The great writer has an instinct for these things” (John Gardner).

  • “Every day the rejected manuscripts would come through the slot in the door…I’d sit at that old wooden table and read one of those cold slips that had been attached to a story I had loved and worked on very hard and believed in, and I couldn’t help crying” (Ernest Hemingway).
  • “One of the marks of a gift is to have the courage of it” (Katherine Anne Porter).
  • “The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity” (William Faulkner).
  • “Research has found that uncontrollable anger is common among creative geniuses of all stripes. Always reaching for the impossible, life can be a long series of obstacles and frustrations” (Robert Jourdain).
  • “It seems to me that the writers who have the power of revelation are just those who, in some particular part of life, have seen or felt considerably more than the average run of intelligent beings” (Gilbert Murray).

WRITERS

  • “Writing is harder than anything else. It’s much easier to wash dishes” (Kristin Hunter).
  • “It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book 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).

    Watercolor Iris by Steven V. Ward

    Watercolor Iris by Steven V. Ward

  • “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).
  • “History shows that the less people read, the more books they buy” (Albert Camus).
  • “The only writers left who have anything to say are those who write about practically nothing and monkey around with odd ways of doing it” (Raymond Chandler).
  • “It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous” (Robert Benchley).
  • “The only drama which really interests me and that I should always be willing to depict anew is the debate of the individual with whatever keeps him from being authentic, with whatever is opposed to his integrity” (Andre Gide).
  • “When men ask me how I know so much about men, they get a simple answer: everything I know about men I learned from me” (Anton Chekhov).
  • “If you are silent for a long time, people just arrive” (Alice Walker).
  • “For the writer there is only endless memory” (Anita Bruckner).
  • “The classical authors you still read today are not those who said the truest things. But those whose language has preserved a trace of them” (Jean Guitton).
  • “It would be as hard to predict the dancing flight of a flock of finches, or the subterranean movements of a single mole, as to explain a great writer’s peculiar gift” (Llewelyn Powys).
  • “A writer is interesting because of his peculiar perspective. Can this perspective be taught? I think not…A
    Blue Hydrangea Sunset Impressiion by Steven W. Ward

    Blue Hydrangea Sunset Impressiion by Steven W. Ward

    beginning writer hesitates to anoint himself, to make a declaration of his very special character. And so he seeks institutional support. He goes to the universities and gets a Ph.D. in creative writing and feels himself armed for the struggle. Like any other licensed professional. But this is social assistance rather than creativity.” (Saul Bellow).

 ARTISTS

The art featured in this post is by the talented artist Steven V. Ward whose work can be found on FineArtAmerica. His beautiful images attracted my attention on social media, and he kindly gave me permission to display some of them in this post.

  • “I alone here, on my inch of earth, paint this thing for my own sole joy, and according to my own sole mind. So I should paint it, if no other human being existed but myself…Thus I must do it, for thus I see it, and thus I like it” (John Ruskin).
  • “One man in particular has the faculty of inflaming your imagination till you feel ready to declare him one of the bringers of heavenly fire. And yet his art is mad. Your first impulse is to laugh at these staggering cottages with flaming red roofs, or the blaze of rockets and Catherine-wheels supposed to represent night. But your laugh dies on your lips; you go on gazing, stupefied yet interested; and when you leave the exhibition, you do not know whether you have been looking at the pictures of a madman or not, but you have forgotten all the other pictures in the room” ( (From a review by Cecelia Waern of a painting by Vincent van Gogh in 1892).
  • “Like other creators, artists exhibited androgynous personalities, meaning that they were not concerned with
    Digital Watercolor Field of Wildflowers by Steven V. Ward

    Digital Watercolor Field of Wildflowers by Steven V. Ward

    their actions being viewed as masculine or feminine” (Jane Piirto).

BALLET DANCERS

  • Other performing artists try to give the definitive performance of a work, a role, a score, but ballet dancers have even higher standards that apply only to dancers. The standard against which dancers measure their performance is not simply that of the highest excellence. “Every serious dancer is driven by notions of perfection–perfect expression, perfect technique…In no other art can one find a comparable gap between what the world thinks of a star and what the star thinks about himself or herself, between the adulation that pours from the outside and the relentless dissatisfaction that goads one from within…Part of being a dancer is this cruelly self-punishing objectivity about one’s shortcomings, as viewed from the perspective of an ideal observer, one more exacting than any real spectator could ever be”(Susan Sontag).

ACTORS

  • “The great moments (in theatre) are almost always connected with the personality of an actor or actors” (Tyrone Guthrie). 

COMPOSERS

  • “The most perfect (musical) instrument in the world is the composer’s mind. Every conceivable tone-quality and
    Winters Approach by Steven W. Ward

    Winters Approach by Steven W. Ward

    beauty of nuance, every harmony and disharmony, or any number of simultaneous melodies can be heard at will by the trained composer; he can hear not only the sound of any instrument or combination of instruments, but also an almost infinite number of sounds which cannot yet be produced on any instrument” (Henry Cowell).

 

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I want to tell you two stories:

Story One: “The Storekeeper and the Thief”

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

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

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

Story Two: “The Teaman and the Ronin

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

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

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

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

“No. I wasn’t thinking at all.”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Option Two: Operating Without a Self-Concept

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

© 2017 David J. Rogers

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

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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