Tag Archives: Creativity

 The Worst and Best Traits of Creative People

Night scene of ridge over water with street lights Whether you find creative people in remote little mountain kingdoms accessible only by mule or in big, modern, cosmopolitan cities, you will discover that they are surprisingly alike. The many traits they share are not all favorable; some are obstacles. Yet those traits–the worst and the best together–prepare creative people for fascinating lives other people look at with admiration and envy.

 

Creative people:

Feel deeply and are gifted. They are people whose ecstasies and traumas will be the raw material for their creations–never to be forgotten, but reflected again and again many times in the works they contribute to the world.

Red-haired, barefoot little girl in a blue dress with a serious expression sitting on a chair and playing a violin May be “overlooked” as school children. Their talents unrecognized, they may have undistinguished elementary and high school careers, only to be recognized for their significant achievements later in life to the surprise of everyone.

Are self-absorbed, concerned first and foremost with themselves, their own wellbeing and state of mind, their projects and their cherished and most private desires, needs, hopes. Their self-absorption can make them overly emotional, temperamental, and difficult. But self-absorption is a necessary feature of a creative personality.

Proud, may react defensively, angrily, bitterly to criticism.

Man wearing a black sweater holding his head in his hands, as if sad or upset Sadly, at times may be too emotionally ill to work, particularly poets and writers who may be victims of the high and inexplicable incidence of debilitating mood disorders affecting them.

Have a strong belief in, respect, and enthusiasm for their art.

Need confidence. Confidence grows exponentially with each success. The most accurate predictor of future success is past success, as “Since I have written a best seller before, I can do it again.”

Are often “seduced” by their art. There is no shortcut to the tremendous amount of experience necessary to become highly skilled in an art. It is hard for someone in the arts not to see their art taking over more and more of their time and possibly becoming their most important activity, finding themselves doing everything for their art.

Are rebellious, bold, and open to new experiences. More daring than the majority of people. Have no fear of risks.

Pianist performing in front of an audience on a stage with a shiny wood floor and a background of blue water behind him Have an insatiable need to establish rapport with and hold an audience–followers, fans to applaud them.  And yet, deprived of an audience, they will still work just as conscientiously.

 

May not seem to be but are competitive, ambitious, prone to envy and jealousy.

Will of necessity bloom late due to the difficulties of becoming established, overcoming a sequence of hurdles, and mastering their chosen art. Late developing, being “behind,” they needn’t despair because they often accelerate and “catch up” quickly after their first successes, often surpassing those who bloomed sooner.

Tend to “live in their heads.”

Consider themselves the best judge of their work, its “foremost authority.”

Are lucky to have the particular creative talents esteemed by society that make them ideal writers, artists, actors, dancers, composers, etc. as if  they are people who have been ordered from a catalogue.

Beige and brown Siamese cat sitting up on a light-colored wooden table and looking at the viewer with intense blue eyes.“Know who they are.” Are marked by a clear, unambiguous sense of identity, as “I am an historical novelist specializing in women’s roles in England during the Victorian era.”

Can be characterized as having heightened perceptions of the drama in the world and the beauty and importance of their art. In time they develop a “novelist’s mind,” or a ”painter’s mind,” or an architect’s, or dramatist’s mind, etc.

Can be perfectionists who are extremely hard on themselves and others (loved ones, associates, subordinates).

Abhor pretense.

Are not driven by the same needs as even the people dearest to them. (That causes conflicts).

Hold sacred their independence (Will fight for it, don’t want to lose it) Hate having their freedom interfered with or restrained.

Are far more self-disciplined in their work than most people in other fields.

Fanciful painting of many red, orange yellow, blue, and green, and white open umbrellas floating in the skyCan be playful, child-like, humorous, silly, fun to be with, and seem younger than their age.

Are committed to the development and refinement of their talents; motivated by “an urge to improve.”

Are exuberant, often boastful, about their achievements.

Love to work, work hard, sometimes harder than seems humanly possible.

Possess extraordinary energy and are excitable.

Must be patient and longsuffering because if they reach high-level mastery and become famous they will have persisted doggedly through thick and thin for years; many “rough spots on the road” appear in a creative person’s career.

Are strengthened by powerful needs to be competent and to be respected.

colorful abstract painting with yellow, red, pink, green blue, black, brown and traces of other colorsBenefit from a rare ability to focus on one object, problem, or task for extended periods without being bored or losing interest. (Facilitates completing “big jobs” like writing novels and painting murals.)

Strive to find “the one true voice” that expresses them vividly and accurately. (Doesn’t happen overnight.)

Generally find more pleasure working alone than working in groups; do not avoid, but relish, solitude.

Must quickly develop a capacity for mature self-criticism, objectivity, and judgment about their work and their abilities

Highly value authenticity, integrity, and sincerity.

large number of small jigsaw puzzle pieces in blue, orange, yellow, green, and brown piled on top of each otherFor survival must become skilled at overcoming obstacles, of which there are many in the arts.

Have a practical problem-solving intelligence; prefer difficult to easy problems.

May show minimal interest in current events, gossip, and politics–not interested in discussing them, “tune them out.”

 

Creative people possess many gifts, many strengths, and many imperfections. As imperfect as anyone else, they nevertheless benefit the world in innumerable ways.

 

© 2022 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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Filed under Artists, Becoming an Artist, Creativity, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, energy, Late Blooming, Life of Creators, Persistence, The Nature of Artists, Traits of Creative People, Voice, Writers, Writers' Characteristics

The Three Qualities Found  in Successful Artists and Writers

A Story of Three Artistic Friends

I was sitting in my living room that wintry Saturday night with three old friends who were successful in the arts:  a novelist, a poet, and a Path and trees covered with snowpainter. The storm buffeting the windows and pelting them with hail and snow made impossible even the thought of digging cars out and driving home. But everyone was in a good mood, and the house was warm. We were happy being together again after being separated so long by COVID.

For a while the conversation wasn’t really a conversation–just random comments, funny memories from their careers and mine, times we had spent together, and our favorite projects. I told them that I had an idea. I had a topic that had intrigued me for a long time. The novelist, a very cheerful man, said, “What topic is that?” I said, “I’m glad you asked.” Everyone laughed, and I said, “I would like to know what  main qualities bring a person success in the arts–qualities that Da Vinci had, and Shakespeare, Monet, Brando, Faulkner, and anyone successful in the arts now, in the past, and in the future. What are the main qualities instrumental in their success?”

Everyone was agreeable, and Norman started things off.

 

Norman the Poet

Energy

Norman is an award-winning poet I have been friends with since I attended one of his riveting readings. The principal feature of his personality is gentleness which is reflected in his often-tender lyric poems. He said, “I’ve given this question some thought too.  I think a lot of Depiction of swirling energy in pink, blue, yellow and greean against a black backgroundaccomplished people in the arts have wondered what they have that makes their creative work possible. The main quality anyone must possess if they are trying to be successful in anything, not just the arts, but certainly the arts, I feel, is energy. Powerful, potent personal energy equips creatives to produce a steady flow of works. Isn’t that our goal?

“Phoebe and Paul, I know you will each have something important to say, but I think an accomplished person in the arts is inconceivable without a high level of sustainable energy. The most successful artists have the energy and reserves of energy to work very hard, sometimes in a creative frenzy, and produce their art steadily over the course of a satisfying career.

” I cannot imagine people in any field having more energy than those of us in the arts. Athletes may equal us, but don’t surpass us. Artists are the antithesis of lazy, but have a passion to roll up their sleeves and work. I think they have had this passion all their lives. Their energy breeds more energy, as though their supply of it is inexhaustible. In a creative state of mind and body they don’t seem to get tired the way other people do. They can work long hours when working long hours is needed, as when they have a deadline. Imagine writing a novel. It is a pleasant ordeal that requires the expenditure of energy every day from the first draft which may have been written a thousand days before the finished book is available to readers.

“Consider the staggering achievements of Shakespeare. He wrote more than thirty tragedies, comedies, and histories, and the sonnets, and directed plays and acted in them. He managed a theatre company and had a wife and children to take care of.  Vincent van Gogh produced three thousand works in his brief five year career. That’s two works a day`. Picasso was even more productive.

“I’ve never known a successful creative person who lacked impressive energy. Their main goals are to pay their dues mastering their craft and then to produce one work after another non-stop. A big reason for a creatives’ failure is just lack of the energy that excellence in the arts requires.”

 

Phoebe the Painter

Talent

Phoebe has long experience and has had many shows. Her work can be found on the walls of several museums. She oozes confidence–a woman giving an impression of total self-possession, independence, and fearlessness. She is remarkably attractive. A friend once described her to me by saying, “And then I saw crossing a bridge the most beautiful woman on earth.”

She said, “I believe that the most important quality in an artist is talent. People in the arts are people with a gift, and that gift is their talent.  Shakespeare, Picasso, and van Gogh had tremendous energy but if they hadn’t had more talent than other people, they wouldn’t be the artists we admire so. An artist will not succeed without substantial talent.

Talent is the most recognizable quality in the creative world. It is everywhere. The most impressive thing in the world of art is the virtuoso performance, a display of talent by an individual that is so great that you will remember it long after you have forgotten everything else. There it is in Norman’s poems and Paul’s novels, and Degas’ and Jackson Pollack’s paintings, Laurence Olivier performing Hamlet, and Hemingway’s and Faulkner’s novels. Their talent is–how should I say it–extreme.

Colorful photo of young girl working on artwork“Painters, writers, actors, and dancers enter the world talented. From the beginning of their lives they can draw better than other children or write more interesting compositions, act out scenes more skillfully, dance more gracefully. Just look at the lovely paintings some little children can paint and the poems they can write.  Some children are too young to have learned to paint, yet they paint wonderfully and have technique. No one has taught them. They can paint superbly before being taught.  When they are being taught they absorb information so quickly, it’s astonishing. That’s the definition of talent.

“Talent cannot be depleted. If you have it you will never lose it. There will always be more. To be very good or great you must add to your talent. Creative people have been favored since birth, but not without the gods requiring something in return, and that is the responsibility to augment their talent.  Much of the energy Norm was talking about an artist applies to getting better–studying, practicing, experimenting.

“Raw talent is a quality which grows in quantity with effort.

 

Paul the Novelist/Actor

Focus

Paul had his first literary success as a college sophomore when his short story received an O’ Henry Award. He went on to write novels, and then in his words “branched out” into theatre acting where he also found success. That snowy night he said, ”Who can argue with a creative person’s need for inexhaustible energy and for talent that is exceptional? But I think that focus that is the salient factor that brings success to anyone in any field, especially in the arts, where the creator must concentrate so hard so often on so many things.”

He continued, “People often think of broad periods of time: ‘In eight months I’ll take my vacation and in eighteen years I’ll retire.’ But the creator in the act of creation focuses, thinking only of what occurs in single moments, such as ‘this brush stroke’  and ‘this sentence,’ ‘this musical phrase,’ or ‘these lines in this play I am to deliver now.’ The best moments of a creative person are that sliver of time when your mind is sharp and focused only on your work, when your mind is alert and clear, your concentration undivided and pin-point.

Magifying glass illuminated in gold light“I think that focus is a rare quality–the famous image in Zen of lack of creative mindfulness being a drunken monkey. People in our business have to learn pretty quickly to discipline their minds, so they don’t wander, but stick to the creative job at hand and not let any extraneous thought cancel that mysterious moment when you’re hard at work, focused, and being as creative and fulfilled artistically as you will ever be.”

Paul said, ”I also think that people in the arts have to be sure that they are in the art that most suits them and where their energy, talent, and focus will bring the best results. That may seem so obvious that it’s not worth mentioning, but what has struck me is that practicing artists sometimes discover they are focusing on the wrong art or genre, or that other artistic careers are right for them too, the way I discovered I could act and write both. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it that a creator wouldn’t realize that another art or creative specialty would be more suitable. But it happens.

“There are other examples of people in the arts who were focused on the wrong specialty. Thomas Wolfe began by thinking that he was a playwright and was educated to be one in college and at graduate school at Harvard.  It was only after studying and writing plays for ten years, when his lover said, “Tom, you’re not equipped to be a playwright. You’re intended to be a novelist” that Wolfe became a novelist. Mary Cassatt spent several years painting in a conventional style before living in France and falling under the sway of Impressionism. She became an Impressionist herself. She destroyed all the paintings she had produced prior to making that change. “

“For me the key to success in the arts more than anything else is focus, both in the sense of mindfulness in the moment and in the sense of concentration on the most suitable and rewarding art.”

 

Application of Energy, Talent, and Focus

We thought our evening together had been fun–and enlightening. I said, “Other qualities are important to creators too. Self-confidence, intelligence, a rich imagination, detailed memory, drive, intensity, curiosity, experience, and careful preparation, for example, and beyond those of course is luck–is the person lucky? But energy, talent, and focus–I like that. We could look at the theatre department of a small college. Let’s say there are thirty students in the department.  They will all receive exactly the same training in acting, but the results will be different.

“Let’s estimate that after college fifteen will have no further connection with acting.  Ten will get involved in community theatres.  Five will become professional actors, two in lead roles. One will become a star. What we’re saying is that it’s likely that those who will become professionals will have more energy, talent, and focus than the others, and that the star will have more than anyone. I think we have something.”  Phoebe said, “Something good happens whenever we’re together.” Norman said, “We’re a good team.”

Going Home

painting of a simple house on a snowy nightThe storm still didn’t look so good, so they stayed the night. In the morning Paul insisted on making breakfast. I made coffee. We vowed to get together again soon. Then in early afternoon a bright sun came out, the winds died, and they left for home where work and many challenges were waiting.

 

© 2022 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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

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A System for Improving Creative Performance

Reflections on Creative Purposes

In my book Fighting to Win I place emphasis on the Japanese maxim Mokuteki hon’I, which means “Focus on your purpose.” They are a few simple words that can have a major positive effect, changing the whole course of an existence. To focus on your purpose as this post asks you to Brown, black, red, and green targetfocus on a system to improve your  creative performance is to be aware of what you are trying to accomplish–with your life, and in this year, this day, this moment.  When you acquire the habit of saying to yourself often in your daily life–morning, noon, and night–“Focus on your purpose,” those words become a hypnotic motto that stirs your muscles and mind to action. Then your life takes on a quality that is now becoming rare even among gifted creators–vital intensity that facilitates the production of works that can be pointed to and admired. That single goal–producing works as a result of talent combined with discipline–is more powerful than all other creative goals.

I have looked very seriously into what brings success to people in the arts, the sense that the person is functioning in a creative field at as high a level of performance as is possible for him or her. I have come to the conclusion that to reach excellence and satisfaction as a writer, artist, actor, dancer, musician, director, architect, etc., and to excel in any creative field and have a long and perhaps illustrious career, you must pursue, with all the commitment and intelligence you can muster, a small number of certain types of goals.

To excel, to make your mark in a creative field, I realized that you must find your most suitable creative specialty and develop your skills for Golden path through a forest to a shimmering golden lightthat specialty. And you must increase your knowledge of your chosen niche and put yourself on a specific Life Path with the objective always of producing a steady stream of high quality works that will bring you creative happiness. But it was clear to me that much more was involved.

So I wracked my brain for a way to convey in a clear, interesting, and organized way exactly what over the years I had come to believe about how a “real creator” such as those I admire most came into being. I searched my experiences for a useful model. I’d become interested in Buddhism at seventeen and over the years had done a lot of reading and thinking about it. It was there that I found my model.

As you and I live we encounter suffering. That that suffering is the most basic fact of life is the most important tenet of the religion or philosophy or approach to life known as Buddhism. That is the first of Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths, physical and mental suffering, dukkha.

A Buddhist strives to follow an “Eightfold Path” which is intended to lead to enlightenment and the end of dukkha. Enlightenment and a life Buddha statue free of suffering are the goal in Buddhism. The Buddhist Eightfold Path consists of eight ideals that when practiced bring an upright and happy life. They are eight prescriptive “rights,” including right association–being careful about associating with good, wholesome, even holy people; right intent–making up your mind as to the one main purpose in life you really want to pursue; right speech–no lying, backbiting, or slander; right thoughts–thinking compassionately, generously, and with goodwill; right conduct–not killing, stealing, or lying; right effort–using your will power and taking action to  achieve a good life; right concentration–the use of techniques to enhance concentration and enlightenment. And there is right livelihood–doing what you’re best suited to do in an honest occupation that harms no one.

Then I thought, “That’s it. That’s what I’m looking for: a clear path that will take a creator to what he/she is seeking and needs strong, continuous encouragement, compassion, and votes of confidence to reach—an eightfold path, but without any religious connotation.”

So now I realize that you and I can realistically speak of The Creator’s Eightfold Path consisting of eight specific components—eight “rights”–that must be present–not one missing–if a person pursuing a career of creative endeavors is to reach high performance and become the real thing.

Introduction to the Components of the Creator’s Eightfold Path

blue and black number 8 in a white circle on a yellow backgroundSuccess in a creative field (in fact success in any field) is not attributable to one thing alone such as talent or IQ as many people believe, or three or four things. I believe there are eight components.  It’s important to understand what the eight components are and the questions they will answer:

 

Right Work/Production Program: How can you produce the quality and quantity of works that you hope for?

Right Craft: How will you know if the creative specialty you have chosen to pursue is the most appropriate for you?

Right Identity: What are the personal qualities that will best equip you for the creative craft you have chosen to pursue?

Right Education, Training, and Development: How can you prepare yourself to reach your highest creative performance?

Right Skills: What are the variety of skills you’ll need, and what is your authentic voice and most expressive style?

Right Knowledge: What knowledge will you need if your goal is to excel?

Right Motivation/Drive: Do you have the drive and doggedness you will need if you are to excel?

Right Life Path—are you following the Way of the Creator?

 

You can reflect on these components and identify the ones in which you are strong and those in which you are weak and need improvement.

In future posts I will discuss further the components of the Creator’s Eightfold Path.

Here is an introduction to one of the components:

Insights about Right Work/Production Program

The most vital factor of successful production is working with a single-minded preoccupation—the focus on the one thing, the work itself–whether for fifteen minutes or many hours–avoiding and getting rid of distractions, and ignoring as much as you realistically can other responsibilities.

It is not enough to possess talents. Talents must be put to work and result in paintings and poems and such.  Creators make the structure of womanl playing a violintheir creative lives by means of the work they do. If they are unable to work or the work is poor quality or is stopped-up and doesn’t go well, they suffer. Regarding the necessity of a creator to sweat and produce paintings, poems, symphonies or buildings, etc., Saul Bellow said, “For the artist, work is the main thing and always comes first.” Brewster Ghiselin said, “It is only as the work is done that the meaning of the creative effort can appear and that the development of the artist…is attained.” 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.”

The Value of Structure

Successful creators almost always structure their work time and environment carefully.  One of the first things a creator does is to clear a work space. A perfect work place and good production routines and rituals are to be treasured. By simply being there ready to work repetitively the same time day after day, the power of good habits goes into effect.

painting of a man playing a cello superimposed on sheets of musicThere isn’t one universal work/production program that suits all creators. A production program won’t work if it’s imposed. Each creator’s program will have to be idiosyncratic–custom-designed by yourself for yourself. To find the ways and means to improve the quantity and quality of your production, you should experiment and try out different approaches until the best work/production program suited to yourself is found.

A well thought out Right Work/ Production Program should be designed to enable you to:

  1. Focus on your work for desired periods of time–minutes or hours, weeks or months
  2. Abandon what isn’t working, putting aside futile problems that will lead to dead-ends and frustration
  3. Free yourself from distractions and time-wasters
  4. Remain efficient and productive in the midst of obstacles and setbacks in either your creative or personal life
  5. Maintain and not fully deplete your energy and stamina
  6. Achieve a desirable level of output

Be Ready to Work

Pan of watercolor cakesFor high quality uninterrupted work to happen, not all, but most creators need isolation and solitude. “The concentration of writing requires silence. For me, large blocks of silence. It’s like hearing a faint Morse code…a faint signal is being given and I need quiet to pick it up” (Philip Roth). Some creators prefer noisy environments.  But even the feeling that you might be interrupted interferes with creative thought.

The Value of Volume.

The big names in an art are often the artists who have produced the most works. They have a genius for productivity. It is a good idea to have Painting of a ballet dancer with a flowing red skirt on a hazy blue cloud backgroundproduction goals continuously in mind. Production ebbs and flows. Some days work comes out of you in torrents. You’re in overdrive. But other days–nothing. But one way or another, good mood or bad mood, you must apply yourself, overcome inertia, and get work out.

In Art & Fear, authors David Bayles and Ted Orland talk about the importance of a creator’s need for production. They write about what happens in a ceramics class that I’ve found also happens in a class of writers.  You could take two groups of writers in a class. Those on the left side of the room would be graded solely on the quantity of the work they produced. Those on the right side would be graded only on the work’s quality. On the final day of the class the teacher would measure the amount of work of the quantity group—500 pages an A, 350 pages a B, and so forth. Those the teacher would grade on quality would have to produce only one story, but it would have to be perfect to justify an A.

A curious thing would happen. The quantity group would also produce the highest quality work. The quantity group would churn out streams of work and learn from their many mistakes and develop wide assortment of skills. But the quality group would get caught up the elusive concept of perfection and grandiose dreams and would become paralyzed. Some creators produce 10, 15, or 25 times more works than other creators. Those who produce the most works usually rise higher, do better work, and find a greater sense of accomplishment.

Working Regularly Is Almost Mandatory

Abstract flower painting in orange, blue, green and blackIf you neglect an activity for just two days you’ll function much less effectively when you resume work. In writing and painting, as in everything else, inactivity leads to the atrophy of abilities.  Your level of motivation affects your willingness to work. The quantity of your production is in direct proportion to the intensity of your motivation and drive. Creators with drive are able to persist steadily without interruption whereas poorly motivated creators will interrupt their work more often and not engage in it for long periods.  Samuel Johnson said, “If you want to be a writer, write all the time.”

 

© 2022 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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

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Writers with No Desire to Publish

The senior editor of a literary journal asked a writer friend of mine to submit a piece for a future issue, but my friend who thanked the editor for the compliment has no interest in submitting anything to that magazine or any other.  I’ll call her Kathy because that’s the name she wishes she brown silhouette against gold background of a woman working at a computerhad, but doesn’t. It is a highly-regarded journal and would enhance any serious writer’s reputation to appear in it. That journal had published other pieces of Kathy’s in the past during her particularly prolific period when work poured out of her and was in demand by editors and readers. Some of her books were being published at the time, and many of her articles appearing in magazines were achieving record readership scores.

Kathy is far from alone now being a writer who works as hard as ever at the writer’s craft to perfect her work, and has high standards–revising, refining, embellishing, cutting, and improving endlessly–but does not care to be published by book or magazine publishers. People like Kathy enjoy writing for its own sake and its own sake alone. Publication that was once important to her is not important to her now. People ask her, “Don’t you get a kick out of seeing your name in print?” and she answers, “Ive seen it in print many times so it is not as big a thrill.”

colorful pile of open magazine pagesI am talking about the difference between writers whose overriding goal is to see their work in print–a Publication Focus–contrasted with writers whose overriding goal stops short of publication in which they are not interested. They are concerned solely with generating what is in their judgment the highest possible quality text–a Production Focus.  The latter are more than contented to produce works they are proud of without seeing them published.

Having their work published seems an automatic motivation for writers that follows sequentially from writing the work, and is generally expected of writers–you are a writer and you write a story, for example, and then you are expected to submit it to a magazine (or a novel to a publishing house) where a committee of editors and managers evaluate it in comparison with other submissions and decide if it is suitable for them to publish. The submitting writers are competing for a prize and the prize they are competing for is seeing their name and their work printed, perhaps for pay, but even if not for pay, for the delightful satisfaction of well, having a work published which they can tell friends and family about, which for most writers is the whole point, the end goal for which they are prepared to work very hard.

What could writers who are not motivated to publish possibly be thinking, and what does motivate them to go on writing with no intention or hope of seeing the finished product in print where it would be read by  hundreds, or thousands of others–or more–many of them fans of good writing?

Research

Production Writers who have no desire to publish don’t have to wait for money or praise or any external reward to be fully satisfied. All that fantasy picture of woman standing on an open book flying a kitematters to them is that the works they produce be the best they have the skills to produce. They believe that because they are not interested in publishing but in producing the highest quality work they can, they are more creative and do better work than they would were they competing with others to see their work in print, and there are grounds for that belief.

Harvard psychologist Teresa M. Amabile has spent her entire career trying to understand what motivates people to be creative and what are dis-incentives. She has staked her reputation on proving that creativity increases when you are what she calls intrinsically motivated and engage in the creative activity for the sheer pleasure it offers (as Production Writers do). If you write, paint, sculpt, dance, etc, to earn rewards other than the enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge of performing the activity as well as you are able (as Publication Writers do), you are extrinsically motivated and  become less creative. The work that results is not as finished-beautiful-aesthetically pleasing-masterful as it might have been.

Amabile tested subjects ranging from young children to college women, giving some of them rewards for doing the work. What they had pile of magazines and booksproduced was then graded by professionals–seasoned painters grading the paintings, experienced writers the writing, etc. The results were significant in that no matter what the reward was or when it was given, if the subjects thought they were working for  external rewards, even a little trinket, and not for fun and pleasure, they became less creativeBut when they were light-hearted and fooling around and no external reward was involved, they were more creative and their work was better.

In one experiment Amabile divided writers into two groups. She had one group fill out a questionnaire about the joys of writing for its own sake such as being able to experiment with words. The other group filled out a different questionnaire about the external benefits of writing like being on a bestseller list. Writers in both groups then wrote short, haiku-like poems. Then a panel of judges—poets–rated the poems. The writers who had been thinking about rewards like bestsellers wrote inferior poems. Extrapolated, that suggests that it may be detrimental to the quality of your next novel to have making The New York Times list on your mind.

I had experiences that confirmed Amabile’s research in my writing life. When I was writing one book, my mind was solely on communicating in man sitting on the edge of a cup of coffee, writing on a laptop computera clear, informative, and entertaining way concepts that were unfamiliar to western thinking. It was a challenge because the concept of the book was totally new and original. Every day’s work  of many hours was fulfilling, I didn’t spend a second thinking about how my book would do in the stores, only about the book’s clarity and how useful I could make it and how inviting it would be for readers. It was a highly successful and profitable book and my ambitions for the next book I began were high. But I found my thoughts losing focus. They often wandered away from the book’s content and style and how to satisfy the reader to where I would build the new house the new book’s royalties would bring me and the kind of cars I would buy. Both books received many accolades and made best seller lists. But whereas I wouldn’t change a single word of the first book, I live with the knowledge that the second book could have been better.

Publication Writers in Contrast with Production Writers

Publication Writers often experience stress and worry about the chances of the work being published. But in contrast the Production Writer feels no pressure, no stress, and is relaxed. That experience can make Production Writers feel freer and bolder and unafraid of taking chances they might not otherwise take, but which might improve the work. That freer confident mood can lead to leaps in their performance. William Faulkner is a good example.

When Faulkner realized that his complex rhetorical style and subject matter weren’t those of a commercially-popular author (would not lead to extrinsic rewards such as high sales) he began a period of sustained creative energy. He started to become great. He decided to write for himself: brown shut door in the middle of black wall“One day I seemed to shut a door between me and all publishers. I said to myself, ‘Now I can write.” He started working on The Sound and the Fury, “thinking of books, publication, only in the sense in saying to myself, I wont (sic) have to worry about publishers liking or not liking this at all.”

A disincentive Publication Writers must face is the inevitability that their work is going to be evaluated by editors and others. They are competing for the good opinion and a favorable decision of people who have power who will be passing judgment on the quality of the work, and indirectly, also the quality of the writer. That is why rejections can be so hurtful and discouraging, and taken so personally: “In rejecting what I have worked so hard on and put so much effort into they are telling me I am inadequate.” Thousands of writers make the decision to quit silhouette of dejected man sitting with head on his hand with a background of words such as worthless, unwanted, hopeless, etc.writing every day.  Most of them quit because of the heavy, depressing weight of too many failures and too few–if any–successes and the toll of failures on one’s confidence and sense of competence and self-esteem. Extraordinary self-confidence is necessary to persist in the face of failures and setbacks.

The knowledge that the submission will be evaluated negatively affects the writer and tends to produce works that are more conventional. Some of them are written specifically to suit the publication as if to order. Magazines and publishing houses make very clear the kinds of materials they are in the market for and will publish. Possibly the works could have been better written had the writer been more relaxed and playful and had not been seeking the approval of editors so desperately.

Writers at ease and at work–in a favorable state for creativity–have many of the attributes of children at play. Psychiatrist D.W. Winnicott wrote that “it is in playing and only playing that the individual child or adult is able to be creative.” Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson said it is striking to see a two-year old child rolling a ball. They can throw the ball on the floor again and again, watching it roll a hundred times and never get little boy in yellow and blue rain jacket playing with a ball in a water puddle or near a water's edgebored. Just as children do that, writers can do something remarkable. As fully absorbed as children, they can work on perfecting a single paragraph forty or fifty times without experiencing a moment of boredom while people who are not writers and think that one draft is sufficient are astonished that such a feat is possible. The conclusion of Amabile’s experiments was that a playful approach like that of children increases the likelihood of producing creative results, and that pursuing external rewards diminishes the person’s creativity.

Being competitive makes it hard for most writers to be relaxed and in a light and child-like playful mood that is conducive to creativity. But competition is a major feature of most writers’ experience Out of necessity writers are forced to be competitive when they try to get their work published. There may be hundreds of other writers attempting to get their work published at the same time in the same magazine or thousands with the same book publisher.

In contrast, the absence of competition and evaluation (other than their own evaluation, perhaps severe, but coming from no one but Woman writing on glass pane in front of her the words, "I'll do it My Way."themselves) which Production Writers experience has been shown to improve the quality of the work that is produced.  That is why so many famous writers think that they, and no one else, are the best judge of their work and why so many of them ignore or don’t ask for the advice of editors. Who enjoys being evaluated? Writers often dread evaluations, and evaluations negatively affect the writer’s mood and thus the quality of work that is produced. A Production Writer may ask for editorial assistance–to be helped–but not to be evaluated.

The best way to recognize which kind of motivation you have is to ask yourself if you’d continue doing the work if no reward were to follow. If you answer, “No way,” your motivation is that of a Publication Writer. But if you answer, “Of course I would; it wouldn’t affect my work whatsoever,” it is the motivation of playful, child-like Production Writers.

 

© 2022 David J. Rogers

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Should a Painter or Writer Plan the Work?

Let me tell you about a problem I had:  I started to write a prescriptive how-to book for serious creatives interested in becoming skilled craftsmen in their art. It was to be titled A Book for Creative Writers and Painters in Training. But wouldn’t you know it, right away I was in a container of pens, pencils, and highlighters in front of a computer keyboardfix. I was writing what should be an easy section on planning what you are about to write or paint. Now planning is something I know a lot about. For years I was a trainer for a consulting company I founded. I trained thousands of people to use the best techniques of planning so they might effectively plan whatever business or career project they had in mind.

But I couldn’t go on when I realized that it would have been hypocritical of me to tell writers or painters how best to plan an artistic work when I had an epiphany, a realization which was that I never–never–plan  a written work.  I then asked myself a question: “Why don’t you plan texts?” and found myself answering “Because I consider planning unnecessary at least for me and writers and painters like me, of whom I’ll bet there are an astounding number.” It’s not that non-planning is superior to planning or planning superior to non-planning. They just suit people who create differently.

The Habit of Planning

Even as children girls and boys who will become writers and painters when they grow up have been told and taught by teachers to plan the work before they begin to execute it.  They are taught that in grade school, and in graduate school professors or experienced visiting artists and writers stipulate that every work should have a plan. Planning becomes a habit that isn’t questioned because “everyone knows you have to have a plan before you begin. How else will you know how to proceed?”

When these now adults feel that urge that stirs a person to create a work they immediately tell their mind to start concocting a plan that will guide them in making the idea for the work or the painting’s main emotion into a tangible reality, as a finished landscape or a finished novel, for example.  A novelist submitting a book proposal to a publisher must include a plan that the publisher will scrutinize and refer to to judge the potential of the book.

Having made a plan that the creative has thoroughly thought out, the writer or painter can tell anyone who asks what they are trying to accomplish in the work because the plan’s goals and sub-goals and the book’s or painting’s features are precise. Some writer’s working plans are so detailed that they are hundreds of pages long, and some painters make abundant pre-painting sketches and work-ups.

Road extending to the distance with the word start at the beginningSome creatives meticulously plan and think the work to be produced through to the last detail. But some non-planner creatives begin to paint or write without a subject in mind, preferring to permit the work to grow organically and emerge. Some writers, like me, begin without any conscious concept of how to proceed other than, at best, a notion not at all well-developed of what the work should probably be about.

For example, it seemed to me that a “How-to-live” book containing the knowledge, spiritual insights, and wisdom of the Japanese samurai I had acquired could be helpful in many practical ways to people now living everyday lives if it were adapted and written properly. I wrote a brief six -page proposal, it was accepted, I wrote the book successfully without a plan, and from its revenues I bought a house.

Like the speaker in the poem “The Waking” by Theodore Roethke, non-planners “learn by going where [they] have to go.” They start not knowing yet what they will create, waiting for an inspiration to guide them.  Writers will write something and then react to what is written, and then without a plan a work begins to take shape little by little. They write a book this way. Non-planning painters work the same way–each brush stroke an experiment.

hand of a child painting vibrant colors Non-planning Virginia Woolf said that her idea for Mrs. Dalloway started without any conscious direction. She thought of making a plan but soon abandoned the idea. She said, “The Book grew day by day, by week, without any plan at all, except that which was dictated each morning in the act of writing.” Had someone asked her what exactly she was trying to accomplish other than to follow a woman throughout a day she would have replied, “I’m not sure.” The planner- writers are sure of where they are going. Their plan tells them.

Research

The research cited in David W. Galenson’s book Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creation sheds light on the question this post asks: should a painter or writer plan a work? The answer is that not everyone profits from planning the work because given the methods of creativity of some artists and writers planning a text or a painting is superfluous.

Mona Lisa paintingThe more spontaneous process which non-planning creatives like greats Woolf and Mark Twain (possibly America’s greatest writer) and Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci use to complete a work is contrary to the rational goal-setting, plan-making processes.  Following a plan inhibits certain creatives for whom a more spontaneous approach results in better work.

If a writer for whom planning the work is contrary to the way they think and create is forced to develop a plan, doing so will be difficult and stressful because doing so is unnatural to someone for whom planning a painting or a text is unimportant. Such people are dying to omit planning and to get to the keyboard or the easel and create the way they do best, relying on repeated inspirations to guide them to the right words and pigments as they experiment with this sentence or brush stroke, and that until they are satisfied that they have done the best they could, and the work finished.  With regard to a plan before starting the execution of the work they think: how can I possibly plan the death scene, for example, when I don’t know at the moment what my mood and state of mind will be when I reach that section a year from now?

Often in the act of executing the work the non-planning writer or painter realizes that the plan that seemed perfect as they imagined the work will simply and emphatically not do the job. I’ve had that experience with every book I’ve written. I ignored the plans and proceeded in what Galenson would call an “Experimentalist’s” manner. A plan sometimes has to be done because that’s what teachers and publishers want and “grade” you on, but no plan will ever satisfy a writer or painter whose methods of creating works make detailed plans unnecessary.

Planners and Non-planners

colorful abstract paintingGalenson describes two significantly different types of artists. The “everything must be planned” artists are called Conceptualizers: they must have a full-blown concept of the work they wish to create in all its detail before they begin writing or painting the work. Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, James Joyce, Herman Melville, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were Conceptual writers. Pablo Picasso was a Conceptual painter. Conceptualizers state their carefully- wrought goals for a particular work precisely before the work’s production. For their paintings conceptualizers like Georges Seurat (the best example of a painter who planned)–a very cerebral painter) make many detailed preparatory sketches that may be so detailed and finished that they are works of art in themselves. While painting, they closely follow a preconceived image they hold clearly in mind.

The other type of writer or painter Galenson calls” Experimentalists”–each new idea they set about to write is an experiment. Experimentalists such as Charles Dickens, Henry James, Twain, and Woolf, and painter Paul Cezanne have a totally different approach.  They allow the work–a novel’s plot, for example–to take shape as if it were growing organically on its own because they believe that creating should be a process of discovery.

The extreme Conceptual painter “is one who makes extensive preparations in order to arrive at a precisely formulated desired image before beginning the execution of the final work.” In contrast extreme Experimentalists “make no decisions for a painting before beginning to create what will become the final work” except to have needed materials and a space to work, etc.

watercolor landscape with mountains in blues and purplesOnce Conceptualizers find the crucial problem they advance slowly with a plan, but Experimentalists move fast without a plan. Experimentalist’s goals are imprecise. They have ideas about what the work will be like when it is finished, but are unclear about everything else until the piece is written, the painting mounted on a wall. That imprecision is how Experimentalists like to work, but it creates problems. Not clear as to what they want the final work to look like, they have trouble finishing works.

Because they have trouble finishing a work many Experimentalists often return even after many years to finish works they earlier abandoned. They “hang on” to works rather than being done with them. They have difficulty deciding when the work should be presented to the public in the form of a painting that is for sale, or a book that is ready to be offered to a publisher. It is said that Experimentalists Michelangelo and Da Vinci never really finished a single work. Mark Twain was very slow in producing works and labored over his books’ endings. His endings are never satisfying.

One of Da Vinci’s greatest contributions was his rebellion against the rigid procedures of traditional artists’ training that emphasized the use of careful preparatory studies, advocating in its place methods that allowed artists the freedom to develop their own ideas as they worked.

Which Bloom Early and Which Bloom Late?

orange and yellow tulips with green stems and leavesConceptualizers tend to bloom early, often with a striking new style or innovation or great success at the start of their career. They mature quickly, starting very early, not gradually through years of trial and error as Experimentalist painters like Jackson Pollock and Claude Monet did, but rapidly.  A young Ernest Hemingway’s innovative writing style quickly revolutionized writing throughout the world.  At twenty-six he took over as “the big man” in American literature.

A problem for Conceptualizers is that they may be captive to their early success and develop fixed habits of thought and become too committed to a single way of approaching artistic problems.  They become stuck.  Experimentalists experiment, writing works that are not all the same.  Another problem of Conceptualizers is that like F. Scott Fitzgerald, so mournful in his last auto-biographical short stories, many Conceptualizers spend their last years wondering where their talent has gone.

Experimenters tend to bloom late. As in the case of Impressionist Monet, their skills are not full blown at the beginning of their career as is often the case with Conceptualizers, but develop slowly over the course of a career spanning sometimes decades: they get better and better as time passes.

Is One Method Better than the Other?

It may be thought that non-planners are not as well-organized as planners and may produce disorganized works, but that not true. They organize as they go. Throughout history, both methods have produced superb works.

 

© 2021 David J. Rogers

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31 Prescriptions for Serious Writers

“Writing a novel is a painful and bloody process that takes up all your free time, haunts you in the darkest hours of night, and generally culminates in a lot of weeping over an ever-growing pile of rejection letters. Every novelist will have to go through this at least once and in some cases many times before they are published, and since publication itself brings no guarantee of riches or plaudits, it’s not unreasonable to ask what sort of a person would subject himself to such a thing” (Alice Adams).

Prescriptions:

Have a strong belief in and respect and enthusiasm for writing. To many serious writers writing is the central activity of their lives: no other activity compares. It is probably true that the majority of people, young or old or in between, don’t like to write. But there is just something about the act of writing that people struck by the writing bug find irresistible. Many aspiring writers wait all day for the half hour between putting a child to bed and sleep when at last they are free to pound away at a keyboard.

Be patient because all writers who reach high excellence in their craft will have done so via a long, sustained period of learning and application. P.G. Wodehouse wrote that “Success comes to a writer, as a rule, so gradually that it is always something of a shock to him to look back and realize the heights to which he has climbed.” “If the promising writer keeps on writing—writes day after day, month after month…he will begin to catch on” (John Gardner.)

Fountain pen on an open book Have a need for self-expression and self-disclosure. Good writers reveal themselves in their work. Readers want writers to reveal themselves. A novel, for example, enables authors to convey a wealth of information that expresses them.  Your writing, even the way you turn a phrase and the metaphors you use (why did you use an image of a fish then instead of a train?) and your vocabulary and points of view, tell the reader what you’re like. Writers have a need to discover exactly what they are thinking by writing it out, and then to artfully communicate it to the reader who wants to know.

Be more self-disciplined in matters concerning your work than most people in other fields .Success in writing is largely a matter of discipline.

Learn to overcome boredom and fatigue, particularly through positive self-talk and physical conditioning. .

Sacrifice for the sake of your writing. Anton Chekhov said, “It is difficult to combine the desire to live with the desire to write.” In A Moveable Feast Hemingway wrote, “On Thursday I was…feeling virtuous because I had worked well and hard on a day when I wanted to go to the races very badly.” For some writers writing is more important than their family.  The family goes to the zoo; they stay home and write. “Generally (Eugene) O’Neill elected to lead an existence completely removed from what the great majority of people would call life, It was centered on, was focused on, organized around work” (Malcolm Cowley). Toni Morrison didn’t do anything but write, to the exclusion of everything else.

Take pride in your extraordinary writer’s memory nature has equipped you with. Your writer’s imagination depends so much on remembering what you’ve heard about, read about, or seen. Whatever happens to writers they never forget it, but store it for future use. Katherine Anne Porter said, “We spend our lives making sense of the memories of the past.” Writers must have a gift to remember sensations and images that were experienced at times many years earlier and to relive them in their original freshness and vividness. Not just memories, but detailed memories: “Thus the greatest poets are those with memories so great that they extend beyond their strongest experiences to their minutest observations of people and things” (English poet Stephen Spender). A writer may not be able to remember a telephone number or to pick up a dozen eggs at the store, but will never all his life forget the expression on his mother’s face as she came in the door that particular day. He has a perfect memory for that. Memory is a writer’s workshop.

drawing of a hand with a penPossess extraordinary energy. No outstanding writing achievement has ever been produced without hard work. One of Joyce Carol Oates’ novels had 5,000 pages of notes. When writers are functioning at their best they work at white heat for an hour, a month, or years. Creative people don’t run out of steam.  Their enthusiasm doesn’t wane very long.

Don’t spend your time working on easy problems. Good serious writers work on problems that are hard for them because they’re stimulated by things that are difficult. They not only solve problems, they create them because when they solve those they make progress and become better writers. That’s how they create work that no one has seen the likes of before and expands their abilities at the same time. A major intuitive skill effective problem-solving writers have developed is being able to identify the specific point to approach the crux of the problem.

Be resilient and able to overcome obstacles and to persevere. Many writers persist however difficult the physical and mental effort of pursuing their goal might be. “Creative people are those who are more willing to redefine the ways in which they look at problems, to take risks, to seek to overcome daunting obstacles, and to tolerate ambiguity even when its existence becomes psychologically painful.” (Scott Barry Kaufman and James Kaufman)

Enjoy writing’s sweat factor and be able to produce tremendous amounts of work. Writers–creatives–love to work. Production is the writer’s main goal. Usually the greatest writers are also the most prolific.  Cynthia Ozick said, “There is a definite relationship between being major and having a profusion of work to show. You could write one exquisite thing, but you would never be considered more than a minor writer.”  Thomas Wolfe sometimes wrote 5,000 words in a night. Georges Simenon who was capable of writing 60 to 80 pages per day, produced 200 novels, 150 novellas, autobiographical works, numerous articles and scores of pulp novels under two dozen pseudonyms. Ray Bradbury took two hours to write a poem, half a day to finish a short story, and nine days to write a novel.

Strive for the fullest development of your skills. Developing skills leads to competence, then to expertise, then excellence, then greatness. If you feel you have the skills, you’re less likely to be haunted by self-doubt and your writing will flow more freely.

Young man typing on a laptopHave a strong concern for your technique and style. The reader isn’t meant to notice a writer’s technique, but other writers are aware of it immediately. The first thing you notice about writers is their style. Toni Morrison said that “getting a style is about all there is to writing fiction.” An appealing style is so important to a writer that writers joke about it:, ”If you are getting the worst of it in an argument with a literary man, always attack his style. That’ll touch him if nothing else will” (J.A. Spender).

Maintain an artistic vision and heightened perception. To writers the world is inexhaustibly rich with aesthetic potential. There are dimensions of reality they are sensitive to that other people overlook, perceptions of what might be called “hidden reality.” It’s the business of the writer, who has the creator’s faith that they are seeing a true reality, to find, collect, and communicate that reality in their work. Eugene O’Neill: “I am a dramatist…What I see everywhere in life is drama.”

Have a capacity for self-criticism and objectivity about your work and your abilities. Writers must learn to lay their egos aside as they would any other impediment.

Be sensitive to life and open to experience. Insatiably curious, writers plumb what is outside them in the world and their own thoughts, sensations, and emotions.  They are not afraid of what ogres they might discover in the world they write about or in themselves.

Be what you are: more self-confident, rebellious than the vast majority of people. Writers who lose their youthful rebelliousness are in danger of losing their talent as well.

Have a large tolerance for ambiguity–larger than the great majority of people. That’s one reason writers are generally such effective problem-solvers.

Be restless because you can’t help but be. Writers often move on to other projects just when what they’ve accomplished becomes clear. (Months may pass, years may pass, but be sure to get back to your project and finish it.) The first stanza of a poem by Wordsworth may have been written 28 years before the last stanza was written.

Strive for competence and constant improvement. Writers are never content very long. They are guided by a persistent willingness to write with more expressive power.

Value independence. Writers must be allowed to move unrestrained in their own direction under their own power. No voice should be more persuasive than the writer’s internal voice saying “X is the truth I must pursue.”

Spend a lot of your time alone. Most successful writers would agree with historian Arthur M. Schlesinger that “everything that matters in our intellectual and moral life begins with an individual confronting his own mind and conscience in a room by himself.” Writers often prefer solitude over socializing.

Have the ability to focus. 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. Writers are capable of intense concentration, losing all sense of time and place, conscious only of the work before them. They will let nothing divert them from accomplishing it. Gustave 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. Focusing is intense. Emily Dickinson said that if she felt physically as if the top of her head was taken off, she knew that was poetry.

Be playful and value the simple and the unaffected. Writers are in love with simplicity and bring to mind a Chinese proverb: “A truly great man never puts away the simplicity of a child.”

Computer, cup of coffee, and woman's hands writing in a notebookBe able to muster an abundance of physical strength and stamina. Often it’s the end of writers’ endurance that stops their working day. Novelist Thomas Wolfe would turn in manuscripts a million words long . He claimed that the physical demands on the writer made the writer’s life seem to him to be the hardest life man has ever known.

Adapt and make adjustments. An experienced writer has learned when to stop and begin again when something isn’t working.

Be studious in the sense of studying to develop your craft. All writers study and all are self-taught to a greater or lesser degree. Composers and fine artists are likely to have been taught by masters; writers are likely to have taught themselves.

Establish rapport with readers. Your writing is always for someone–yourself certainly. But also the audience, the reader. Skilled writers are aware of whom they are writing for and establish rapport with them within the first few sentences of the work.

Take luck, the breaks, and good or bad fortune into account. Good luck often follows persistence. A failure or wrong direction or bad luck may lead to something fruitful later on. A “wrong” word in a sentence may prove to be the perfect word.

Pencils, pens, markers and other writing toolsHave or develop a business sense. You have a career to manage and responsibilities and expenses. Study marketing and salesmanship–read. Take business classes.

Feel deeply; be emotionally rich. Writing, like music, must convey emotion–from sorrow to joy and everything between. Writers have strong feelings. For example, they often have fiery tempers.

 

If I asked you what you think are the qualities that it’s most important for writers to possess, how would you answer?

I, myself, would begin with “hard worker.”

 

© 2021 David J. Rogers

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Imagery in the Arts

Painting of boats in water with mountains and clouds behind

Fjord, Norway by Pamela Jones

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

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

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

Tenby Harbour Pembrokeshire West Wales by Pamela Jones

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

 

POETRY OF IMAGISTS

William Carlos Williams
(Excerpt from “Nantucket”)

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

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

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

Stroll in the Moonlight Mumbles by Pamela Jones

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

An Imagist Poet:

“Evening” by Richard Aldington:

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

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

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

Cottage, Carmarthenshire, with Poppies by Pamela Jones

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

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

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

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

 

THE VALUE OF MEMORY AND DETAIL

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

KEEP A NOTEBOOK OF IMAGES

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

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

Painting of farmhouse with blue roofs on pale green field

Farmhouse in the Brecon Beacons Wales by Pamela Jones

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

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

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

From Eliot’s “Preludes:”

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

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

Farm in the Brecon Beacons with Cow Parsley by Pamela Jones

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

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

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

 

HAIKU AND IMAGERY

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

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

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

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

Three Cliffs Bay, Gower South Wales by Pamela Jones

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

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

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

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

 

PROSE AND IMAGISTIC WRITING

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

Ernest Hemingway from The Sun Also Rises:

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

From my “Wolves in the Rocky Mountains:”

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

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

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

Starry Sky, Three Cliffs Bay, Gower by Pamela Jones

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

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

 

© 2020 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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July 23, 2020 · 12:50 pm

15 Strategies for Breaking the Bad Habit of Avoiding Work or Quitting Too Soon

Creative people begin projects with the goal of finishing them. No writer or artist has ever thought, “My goal is to quit this project when I’m halfway through.”  If you find you’re consistently not Jigsaw puzzle piecesfinishing, you’ve developed a bad habit and you’d better do something about it.

Creative work may be joyous. Yet it is sometimes tedious and unenjoyable.  It’s natural to prefer what’s easier. The easiest choice is not to work at all today.  But that usually results in feeling guilty and irresponsible. The works you may be devoting a good part of your life to never gets done.

Productivity is the creative’s main purpose—bringing all the training and talents into the act of producing finished works of the highest quality the artist is capable of at this time.

High-achieving creatives exert more energy from the start of a project and work steadily without long interruptions for a much longer period than the majority of creatives, often producing staggering amounts of their best work.

How do you break a habit like avoiding writing or painting or quitting before you should? There is only one way, as pointed out by the foremost American psychologist Willian James, and that is to Woman working at an easelstart another contrary, more fruitful habit. To break the habit of consistently not writing, you develop the habit of writing regularly. To combat the habit of quitting too soon, you make yourself not quit.

No one is saying it will be easy and that you will not encounter resistance. But you are not helpless. You’re an adult, and what is needed is a mature, adult, rational approach to production. Production is a necessity not only to increase artists’ volume of work, but to enhance their talent. The more work artists generate the better their skills become.

Here are 15 strategies to help you break the habit of avoiding work or quitting too soon:

  1. Keep your production goal in mind. If your goal is to work for an hour or to produce X number of words before you quit for the day, make yourself accountable. Don’t be satisfied with less. As you become accustomed to reaching your performance goals, your motivation will climb. It’s exciting to set a goal of writing 200 words a day and to write 250. And more exciting to write 275 or 300.
  2. Take regular breaks. Relax. Get up and stretch. Walk around. Artistic performance improves after rest periods. Even if you’re tempted to work straight through without a break, take one anyway. Even if you’re working for a long, sustained stretch of time (say four or more hours) work in short, intense, concentrated half-hour spurts, with short rest periods between spurts. That is the most efficient, healthiest, and most productive way to work.
  3. Set reasonable goals–moderately difficult–not too high or too low. And no goal you set should be beyond your current capabilities to achieve it.
  4. Get in the habit of saying, “Work is my friend. Idleness, lethargy, and avoiding work are not my friends. Work is my friend.”
  5. Ignore your past reactions. In the past you may have let yourself off the hook if you weren’t in the exact mood to stay with your work session’s goal. And maybe you were in the habit of not setting work goals at all. Don’t be a slave driver, but don’t let yourself off the hook so easily.

computer keyboardYou’re not a child or hedonist, a worshipper of permissiveness and pleasure who doesn’t have any will power. There are many writers who write not the traditional four or fewer hours daily, but put in eight hours a day, much longer than the majority, considering themselves no different than their parents who worked eight hours a day and the majority of the work force who work eight hours daily.

  1. Seize the first opportunity to break the old habit of avoiding/quitting and start the new. When you feel that first urge to lose your focus, that first, “I’ll put this off till tomorrow,” DON’T DO IT. Continue working. Be strong.
  2. Set aside time to be alone. For high quality uninterrupted work to happen, most creatives need isolation and solitude.

Texting, emails, and phone calls are subversive and can destroy creatives’ best work intentions. Whether you let yourself be delayed by interruptions or not is a reflection of your motivation and drive. Interruptions are one of the biggest enemies of creative thinking. Creatives with strong drive are able to persist steadily without interruption whereas poorly motivated creatives will interrupt their work more often and avoid working on it for long periods.

distorted clock facesIt takes longer to completely absorb yourself in an ambitious project than in an easier, less complicated one. And during that period, distractions seem to come up out of the ground. Any intrusion on the delicate world of a creative mind can make that world disappear. Every intrusion not only robs you of time, but also of the time it takes you to recover. If you set a goal of working a three-hour session and have three interruptions you may be busy for three hours but only do fifteen minutes of actual work. If you try to do four things simultaneously, you’ll probably only finish one, at most two.

One study showed that following an interruption for an email or phone call, people were so distracted that 40% of the time they didn’t get back to work, but moved on to something else. If you quit 40% of the time, how long will it take you to finish your novel?

  1. Commit yourself totally. Artists will exert themselves and overcome impediments when they are on fire with the incomparable excitement of creating. It’s excitement or necessity or both, excitement over the production of a work or the necessity of overcoming obstacles to produce it—and the habit you’ve developed of working through impediments such as tiredness. Either you’re committed to writing or painting regularly or you’re not.
  2. woman sitting at the edge of waterDon’t let a lousy mood prevent you from working. When I’ve written about the effects of moods on your writing, I’ve shown that no matter how you feel before you start writing, once you get started your mood almost always improves and you feel good. You may begin with depression or sadness and end feeling elated.
  3. Start with success. Failure the first time you attempt to break an old habit of avoiding work or quitting too soon makes your commitment weaker. But success on the first attempt makes it more likely that you’ll try again. Be sure that the first day and first week you’re starting the new habits of working and not quitting you stay with it. If your goal is to work forty-five minutes do not work fewer than forty-five.
  4. Be consistent. Bad habits are incorrigible and don’t disappear without a fight. They have strength. They may have been a part of you for years. If you don’t win the battle with avoiding work or quitting too soon, your ability to replace the bad habit will soon disappear. You must not flinch from making the consistent effort.  But when you make no exceptions, the new habit settles into your personality and you become a highly efficient creative person.
  5. Motivate yourself to finish a project by having something better and very appealing to go on to after you finish this project. Don’t let yourself do B unless you finish A.
  6. Use positive affirmations and helpful self-talk: “I’m doing well. It’s taking shape. It’s becoming easier for me to begin difficult projects and to stick with them.”
  7. Make the act of not only starting work (which is easy) but finishing it (which is harder), become second nature. Pick the unfinished project or activity you find the most important to finish. Then when you finish that one project, pick the next one and finish it, paying no attention to anything else.
  8. Don’t quit. It’s very easy to quit. The majority of writers and artists eventually quit completely, but the artists you remember and talk about did not quit.

Over the course of your life you’ve learned to manage yourself and to do what is in your best self-interests. And if you are an artist, what is in your best self-interest is to choose work over idleness, Sculptor at work in studiowork that leads to the fulfillment of your gifts over the avoidance of work.

You can be strong. Our commitments falter when we are weak and self-indulgent. You are aiming to create art. If you’re working, you’re doing the right thing.  Most artists love to work.

© 2020 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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Filed under Artists, Creativity Self-Improvement, Habits, Overcoming bad habits, Persistence, Producing Artistic Work, Writers

Why Artists and Writers Are So Self-Absorbed

The Self-Absorbed Artist and Writer

Blue sky with clouds above mountains and trees

A Break in the Clouds by Kendall Kessler

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

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

Green mountains with pink and orange sunrise

Morning Color Dance by Kendall Kessler

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

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

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

Distant View of the Peaks of Otter by Kendall Kessler

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

 

Nature Cooperates With Gifted People

bare trees leaning over river with mountains in the background

Fall on the New River by Kendall Kessler

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

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

Wooden walkway over water with greens, pinks and blues

Pawleys Island Atmosphere by Kendall Kessler

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

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

 

To Artists Their Art Is All-Engulfing.

Three boats on blue and purple water

Boats on the Chesapeake Bay by Kendall Kessler

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

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

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

Breakers at Pawleys Island by Kendall Kessler

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

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

 

The Inner World of Artists and Writers

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

Two figures wading in green water with orange and blue sky

Morning Stroll at Isle of Palms by Kendall Kessler

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

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

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

 

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

 

© 2019 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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Filed under Artists, Creativity, Developing Talent, Human Potential and Achievement, Emily Dickinson, Life of Creators, The Nature of Artists, Writers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The majority of creatives pursue both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

What motivates you most?

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

1.

 

“Also important to me are:”

2.

3.

4.

5.

 

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

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

 

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

 

© 2019 David J. Rogers

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

Interview with David J. Rogers

 

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

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Filed under Actors and Directors, Artists, Composers, Creativity, Creativity Self-Improvement, Creators' Work Life, Drive, Motivation, The Creative Process, The Nature of Artists, Work Production, Writers