Tag Archives: Hemingway

Devotion to a Particular Creative Subject Matter

The work of two good blog friends of mine, artists Michelle Endersby and Janet Weight Reed, fascinates me. Michelle paints roses, lovely roses, different varieties of roses, every color of rose, and travels her native Australia and elsewhere to study roses, always searching for a new rose to paint. Then she paints them and then they appear on her blog and in homes and galleries for us to enjoy.  My English blog friend Janet paints masterful landscapes, portraits, and bright, colorful hummingbirds, and it’s apparent to me that she studies hummingbirds—how they fly, how they flutter, how they cling to trees. She is a wonderful colorist, and her colors you don’t forget. Every rose and hummingbird they paint is different and unique. I have to realize that when they look at roses and hummingbirds, they are seeing much more than I am able to see.

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Ingrid Bergman Rose by Michelle Endersby

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Hummingbird by Janet Weight Reed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Painter Julian Levi said, “It seems to me that almost every artist finds some subdivision of nature or experience more congenial to his temperament than any other. To me, it has been the sea…In painting the sea coast I have tried to acquire as much objective knowledge of the subject as I possibly could.” He studied the fishermen, fishing gear, their boats and assorted paraphernalia.

Another artist I know specializes in painting clouds and another paints skies exclusively. American impressionist Mary Cassatt came into her own when she began specializing in the personal lives of women and painting mothers with their children. That’s because the most creative minds are drawn to explore and write or paint about—or take photographs of or make movies about–specific material in one segment of their experience.

They look at something that takes their fancy and feel an excitement within them, a yearning, a hunch, a hard to define but easy to recognize intuition that there is something there in that familiar subject that’s worth pursuing further. They then work with a devotion to that specific sort of material, possibly for their entire careers. It is their most creative world, their signature, what we know them by.

It is not a random choice, but a discriminating, highly selective instinct, a particular order of things that has an outstanding appeal to that particular creative woman or man. Ernest Hemingway and before him American novelist Stephen Crane were drawn to writing about men under extreme pressure such as warfare and shipwrecks where the best way out was through having courage. Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner wrote a fictionalized version of his home town.  Like me, many writers write mainly about growing up.

Speaking of creative people, T.S Eliot said, “We all have to choose whatever subject matter allows us the most powerful and most secret release; and that is a personal affair.” Literary critic Gilbert Murray wrote, “It seems to me that the writers who have the power of revelation are just those who, in some particular part of life, have seen or felt considerably more than the average run of intelligent beings.” I think the great difference intellectually between one painter or writer or one actor or director and another is simply the number of things they can see and feel in a square yard of their particular world of creation.

Creative people create because what they create and the act of creating it please them. Unless they please themselves, they will please no one. They function best when, while at work, they are thinking of nobody’s liking and standards but their own: “I alone here, on my inch of earth, paint this thing for my own sole joy, and according to my own sole mind. So I should paint it, if no other human being existed but myself…Thus I must do it, for thus I see it, and thus I like it” (John Ruskin).

They are at their best when they are immersed in their own individual creative segment of the world—Michelle with her roses, Janet with hummingbirds, Mary Cassatt with her women and their children, Hemingway and Crane with men of courage, Faulkner walking the streets of Oxford, Mississippi.

In what “subdivision of nature or experience” do you see more and feel more and are more at home and have more knowledge than other people? What subject allows you your most powerful creative release? Once you’ve defined it and have the voice to express it, then you become immersed in it and its details and you make it your own.

Then you tell us all about it and we find pleasure in it too.

© 2017 David J. Rogers

 

 

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The Perfect Creative Personality

The Perfect Creator Is Bold

What have you been working for these years and developing your talents for if not to set your creative potential free? And you will not do that without being bolder.

I know a painter. The best teacher she ever had gave her the best advice she ever received. He looked at her as she painted and said, “You’re being too careful. Make bolder strokes.” He went away. She followed his advice. The teacher came back and studied her work. He raised his voice and said, “Bolder.” Later he came back again and said, even louder, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?” It’s worthwhile to say to ourselves from time to time in our creative lives, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?”

The argument easily can be made that boldness in and of itself is what brings success in life. It’s a quality of excellence, of greatness, in every discipline, paint-33883_1280every field, especially in the arts where courage isn’t a luxury but a necessity. The great creative personalities couldn’t have attained success had they not taken bold risks. Even becoming creative at all carries risks. Creating seriously isn’t a typical life. Most careers are much less risky.

For almost all people—creative men and women among them–the problem isn’t being too audacious, but not being audacious enough. Boldness is the power to let go of the familiar and the secure. It isn’t something you save for when your life and your creativity are going well. It’s precisely when things are going badly that you should be boldest. When things look grim and you’re most discouraged, increase your determination and go forward boldly. Boldness brings a new intensity and sets you apart. When the situation is unclear but the outcome is important, be bold.

I’m interested in the samurai way of life and wrote a book about it. I find in it many analogies to creative peoples’ lives. In kendo—samurai swordsmanship—there’s a move that requires the swordsman to pass very close under the arms fighter-155746_150of his opponent. It’s not a difficult move, but taking the chance of coming so close to the opponent frightens the swordsman. It’s only the fear of taking the risk that prevents victory. But accepting the fear and edging in close anyway can bring easy victory. The great swordsman is bold and knows that the greatest rewards lie one inch from the foe’s blade. Your greatest future success in your creative life may lie close to the blade.

 

The Perfect Creator Is Sincere and Has Integrity

The true center of our experience with any kind of creation is the sense that someone with a mind, a personality, and a range of experiences is trying to communicate with us. That sense accounts—if it’s favorable–for much of the pleasure we get from the work or performance.  What a creative person is water-lilly-1227948_640intellectually, spiritually, and emotionally radiates in the work and can’t be hidden. Herman Melville said, “No man can read a fine author, and relish him to his very bones, while he reads, without subsequently“ forming “some ideal image of the man and his mind. And if you look…you’ll find the author has furnished you with his own picture.”

The  most loved creator is the one who’s able to develop a relationship with the audience that goes beyond liking and beyond friendship to intimacy, and that comes from above all else the sincerity we find in the work or the performance. Sincerity is what I sense all through the works of Pulitzer Prize winning author James Agee. Anyone who can write so beautifully and so sensitively, honestly, and intensely must be trying to pass on to me something that he cares deeply about.  (See especially Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.) The sincere, intimate creator invites us in to her inner life and says “Here I am.” The sincere creative man or woman is trying hard to convey something directly to me as well as he or she is able. And I respond.

Good creators have integrity. They are whole and authentic. When we have integrity we guarantee we aren’t faking, or deceiving, or compromising. It’s futile to think we can hide ourselves from the audience for very long or fool them into believing we’re something we’re not. The person we are—with our history and our points of view and perspectives and opinions–comes through clearly.

A creative person’s authentic voice isn’t achieved by adding something, but by the opposite process—by subtracting what’s pretentious or phony. Every creative person is different from every other. There are no duplicates. But whatever he is like, we’re trying to locate him, understand, and admire him.

 

The Perfect Creator Is Fearless

All athletes, business executives, adventurers–and cab drivers, accountants, homemakers—and all creative people of any kind know that the single emotion that most often holds them back is fear. Hardly a single day goes by without most people being afraid of something.

Every early morning I go to my work room upstairs and settle down to write. I’ve been writing so long and have produced so many words that generating work-space-232985_640text is second nature to me—easy, effortless, without strain. Yet, there is another emotion that is there with me some days, and certain days it’s powerful and tries to keep me from work. On those days I pause, fold my hands in my lap, gaze at the screen and ask myself, “What are you feeling now? Why are you hesitating?” And I answer, “What I’m feeling right now is fear.”

Author Joan Didion wrote, “I don’t want to go in there at all. It’s low dread every morning.. I keep saying ‘in there’ as if it is some kind of chamber, a different atmosphere. It is, in a way. There’s almost a psychic wall. The air changes. I mean you don’t want to go through that door.”

I ask myself, “What am I afraid of?”

Bear in mind that I’ve had many successes in writing. I’ve proven myself. Also, I am no coward who’s easily intimidated. I once rescued a woman from a would-be rapist–chased him, caught him, fought with him, wrestled him to the ground, and held him till the police came. I was heroic. Yet, when I sit at the computer to do the thing I do better than I do anything else, sometimes I’m scared.

Each time I visited a painter friend I saw the same unfinished painting on the easel. Nothing about it changed month after month. Not a single new brush stroke touched the canvas. Then she moved away and I didn’t see her for a number of years.  When we got together again I asked, “Whatever happened to that green pastel that was on your easel so long?”

She said, “I never finished it.”

I said, “You were afraid.”

She said, “I was terrified of it.”

The goal is to be fearless when facing your creative responsibilities and tasks and obstacles, as many creative people are. Or to learn to be unafraid, or being afraid, to face up to fears and conquer them. There are creative people who are totally fearless. They don’t experience any fear whatsoever, the way some soldiers are fearless—and happiest–when under fire in combat.  Such creative people have a high threshold of fear, just as some people have a high threshold of pain.

janet self protrait3

Janet Weight Reed, self-portrait http://janetweightreed.co.uk/

There are creative people who experience fear and are stopped by it. They may be superb creatively but that doesn’t matter. They’re at fear’s mercy. When you’re stopped by fear, you have only the slightest chance of being successful. That’s why the top is such an exclusive place—because fear stops so many people from reaching it. Thousands upon thousands of wonderfully talented creative people fall by the way and simply quit–hundreds or thousands every day– because fear paralyzes them and they aren’t able to recover. There’s no premium on gifted creators. Gifted creators with indefatigable courage are a rarer breed.

Then there are other creative people who feel afraid but conquer their fear by nevertheless doing what must be done. They feel as afraid as anyone else, but they react differently. They have a lower threshold of fear than the fearless person. But they don’t permit their fear to stop them. You look at them and you can hardly believe your eyes. You know they’re afraid, and yet are unstoppable. They know that the best way to conquer fear is to do what you fear to do no matter how afraid you are. And that you can do.

sea-gull-939474_640In Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, the old man Santiago is in his skiff out on the sea when a small bird lands on the boat to rest. The old man talks to it, saying that the bird can stay for a while but then must fly away, taking his chances like every other bird And so must we creative people take our chances, afraid or unafraid.

 

Paintings by Janet Weight Reed, one of my favorite artists and bloggers, are featured in this post. When I told her I was writing a post on boldness, fearlessness and sincerity and would like to use a piece of her artwork, she sent me three paintings, saying:

If ever a painting of mine symbolises boldness and fearlessness, it is the attached (large oil on canvas) self-portrait.   It was painted in 1989 during one of the biggest turning points in my life and career.     I keep the painting with me as a reminder of what it is to persevere through seemingly impossible obstacles.

The hummingbird  (watercolour) also symbolises for me the same traits.     They have been significant in my paintings, large and small over the past 35 years, symbolising the ‘unseen magic’ of our world….a source to be tapped into during times of great duress.

When I observe the life of cats (small and large) – I see the same traits…..

Loving all Janet’s work, it was very difficult for me to choose one of the paintings, so I have included all three she sent me.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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

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Extraordinary Creative Outliers

I think all creative people are extraordinary. You’re extraordinary. I’m extraordinary too. We’ve been extraordinary all our lives and one day at the age of six or eleven or twenty-one or fifty-seven something remarkable happened and we discovered we were, and then a corner was turned.

But a separate breed of outlier creator is so extraordinary and so driven and capable of such incredible creative feats and leads such an extreme existence of sacrifice that we wonder what there is about them that inspires them so. What sustains them and equips them so perfectly to produce such exceptional work? Theirs isn’t the only path to creative achievements—most creators lead more moderate lives. But it’s a path extraordinary creative outliers often choose.

Creative outliers are so absorbed in facing challenges and solving creative problems that they have almost no interest in anything else. Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow—the premier American writer of the second half of the 20th century– said, “I have always put the requirements of what I was writing first—before jobs, before children, before any material or practical interest, and if I discover that anything interferes with what I’m doing, I chuck it. Perhaps this is foolish, but it has been the case with me.” He was married five times.

Novelist Jane Smiley wrote, “Even if my marriage is falling apart and my children are unhappy, there is still a part of me that says, ‘God! This is fascinating.’” Ernest Hemingway lived in poverty early in his career and sometimes stole food and said a writer’s perceptions are sharper when he’s “belly-empty, hollow hungry,” that “hunger is good discipline and you can ballerina-534356_640_copy2learn from it.” Before taking the literary world by storm late-blooming novelist/essayist Henry Miller lived in poverty too. He once said, “I have no money, no resources, no hope. I am the happiest man alive.” Emily Dickinson, the greatest American woman poet, author of 1,775 poems, said that if she felt physically as if the top of her head was taken off, she knew that was poetry. Ballerinas—artistes of artistes–may practice until their muscles scream and their feet bleed.

We look at these creative outliers and we marvel and are impressed or appalled or shocked, and often ask ourselves “Could I live an unusual life like sunflower-395026_640that? Am I willing to sacrifice so much for my art and suffer so much and risk so much?  Is that possible for me? How much of my normal life am I willing to give up? If I sacrificed more could I be great too?” And ordinarily decide it isn’t possible at all and we’re not willing to sacrifice in that way, nor suffer, nor risk all that. We couldn’t because a life like theirs asks too much. We draw a line and dare not cross it.

All creative people are obsessed to some extent or another, from mildly to ferociously, so much so that when we obsessed-but-less-obsessed creators hear about these outlier creators we have no problems understanding them since they’re only different from us in degree.

What humans in their craft can accomplish extraordinary outlier creators are willing to push themselves upward toward.  They have a genius.  They’re self-absorbed. They’re determined. They’re completely taken by a way that’s too demanding for the ordinary run of women and men. But for a select few like these outliers their craft becomes a way of life, a journey, a goal, an inevitable struggle of someone rare who’s capable of achieving the impossible.

Creative outliers pour themselves heart and soul and muscle and blood into their work. They work and they work and they work repetitively, and think bird-226700_640about their art or their writing, acting, or dancing continually, and have a monumental amount of confidence. Any time they’re not working they’re making plans for improvement because they know no matter how good you are and what you’ve accomplished you can always be better.

The fundamental role of all creators without exception is to create—to produce works–and they do with a vengeance. Pablo Picasso produced 50,000 works—1,885 paintings ,1,228 sculptures, 2,800 ceramics, 12,000 drawings, thousands of prints, and tapestries and rugs.

There wasn’t a moment of his waking day all his career that Nobel Prize dramatist Eugene O’Neill wasn’t thinking about writing.  He produced 35 full-length plays and 17 one act plays and revolutionized American theater. Writing  long hours, English novelist Charles Dickens—the most popular writer in the world at the time– would sometimes put his head into a bucket of cold water, dry his hair with a towel, and then go on writing.

Creative outliers learn—often at an early age–that they will achieve more if they concentrate their efforts in one area. They are aware only of the work before them, and let nothing divert them from it. French novelist 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. He said too, “Sometimes I don’t understand why my arms don’t drop from my body with fatigue, why my brains don’t melt away. I am leading a stern existence, stripped of all external pleasure, and am sustained only by a kind of permanent rage, which sometimes makes me weep tears of impotence but which never abates.”

French novelist/poet/dramatist Victor Hugo started his day by handing his clothes to his servant with strict orders to return them only after Hugo had finished a day’s work of seven hours. Composer Igor Stravinsky and novelist Thomas Wolfe worked all their lives in a frenzy—Wolfe in a “wild ecstasy” at top speed, never hesitating for a word, as though he were taking dictation.

You can’t measure intensity and a person’s pure life force. But the energy pouring out of outliers like Vincent van Gogh would bowl you over. Van Gogh vincent-van-gogh-starry-night-1889worked  furiously at a fever pitch, gathering up the colors as though with a shovel, throwing them on canvas with rage, globs of paint covering the length of the paint brush, sticking to his fingers. Goethe called such super-charged outliers “demoniacs”–people with a super-abundance of vitality, “something that escapes analysis, reason, and comprehension.” Goethe was aware of this power in himself.

Russian Anton Chekhov wrote 10,000 pages of short stories, and also produced great plays like The Cherry Orchard, The Seagull, and Uncle Vanya, and was a practicing physician too. Noted architect and futurist Buckminster Fuller was often unable to stop working until he dropped from exhaustion. Isaac Asimov, author or editor of more than 500 books, said he wrote for the same reason he breathed—because if he didn’t, he would die.

Extraordinary creative outliers are guided by an ambition, a notion so bold that it’s almost outlandish:  that you’re born with a certain aptitude and with direction, discipline, and sacrifice you can transform yourself into something magnificent. Their focus is maniacal—all day long every day. When they’re away from their work they long for it.

Nobel novelist Toni Morrison said, “But the important thing is that I don’t do anything else. I avoid the social life normally associated with publishing. I Toni Morrisondon’t go to cocktail parties. I don’t give or go to dinner parties. I need that time in the evening because I can do a tremendous amount of work then. And I can concentrate.” Outlier novelist Philip Roth said, “My schedule is absolutely my own. Usually, I write all day but if I want to go back to the studio in the evening, after dinner, I don’t have to sit in the living room because someone else has been alone all day. I don’t have to sit there and be entertaining or amusing. I go back out and I work for two or three more hours.” American William Faulkner said jokingly, “If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate: the ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ is worth any number of old ladies.”

We live in a world where everyone is selling something. Everyone has an ulterior motive. They want to be a brand. But these outliers only want one goal: to reach the highest heights they can. That’s it. There’s nothing else.

You look at Picasso and Faulkner and say, “Oh, that’s why painting and writing were invented. As if the gods of the arts declared, ‘To show you others how it should be done we’re going to make a person to represent perfection’.”

They have bad days, difficulties, and setbacks, and still believe in themselves. Andre Gide said, “The great artist is one …for whom the obstacle is a springboard.”   They know that effort is more important than talent. And if you say to them, “You’re just so gifted” they’ll stop you and say, “No, I’m no more talented than anyone else, no more talented than you, but I work much harder” and tell you and me, “If you want to excel you’ll have to overcome the notion that it’s easy.”

They’re a psychologically phenomenal combination of purity of focus and energy-1101474_640purity of discipline and purity of energy. Their creative lives are both comfortable and disciplined.  Even when they’re miserable they’re happy. Age has little effect on their skills except to improve them. They’re never happier and more at ease than when under pressure. They have a sense of being destined for something that very few other people are fitted for. But they are and they know they are.

They have a supreme care about their craft, and they never forget their failures. Their craft is their sanctuary. They’re never better than when doing their craft.

Outlier playwright George Bernard Shaw said, “I am of the opinion that my life sparks-142486_640belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible…”

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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

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20 Tips on Writing Like a Nobel Prize Winner

Writer Flannery O’Connor thought that any idiot with some talent can be taught to write a competent story, and something on that order may be true of all the arts. But a quest all creators aiming beyond mere competence are engaged in—writers, artists, actors, architects, dancers– or should be engaged in is discovering and refining a style which expresses exactly their unique vision and their unique skills and their unique selves.

old-1130735_640When they settle on that style their work leaps up in quality and they are whole.  But until they find it–it may take years– they cannot possibly come into their own and fully bloom and realize their highest creative potential. Style is the constant form in the creator’s work, the never-changing elements or qualities and expression of the person—his or her manner of communicating what is communicated.

Finding THE style that suits you supremely well is no small matter. A distinctive style that’s your own is the first sign of artistic greatness. There are styles that are okay for you and more styles that are wrong for you. And one style that is best. And the best may not be the style you’re writing in currently.

Nobel Prize winning writer Toni Morrison wrote that “getting a style is about all there is to writing fiction.”  And the most influential literary stylist on earth in the last 100 years was American Ernest Hemingway whose Nobel Prize citation reads, “For his mastery of the art of narrative…and for the influence he has exerted on contemporary style.” Hemingway’s techniques “have profoundly influenced generations of writers across all boundaries of nationality, gender, race, ideology, sexual orientation, class, religion, and artistic temperament” (Robert Paul Lamb). Critic Alfred Kazin:  Hemingway “gave a whole new dimension to English prose by making it almost as exact as poetry.” Joan Didion said about Hemingway’s style: “I mean they’re perfect sentences.”

ernest-hemingway-401493_640Probably no fiction writer before or since worked so hard for so long or prepared so thoroughly to create a personal manner of writing that was so perfectly suited to the writing he wanted to do. If you’re looking for a model of how a writer should develop skills you can do no better than hard-working Hemingway.

“In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. In the bed of the river there were pebbles and boulders, dry and white in the sun, and the water was clear and swiftly moving and blue in the channels. Troops went by the house and down the road and the dust they raised powdered the leaves of the trees. The trunks of the trees too were dusty and the leaves fell early that year and  we saw the troops marching along the road and the dust rising and leaves, stirred by the breeze, falling and the soldiers marching and afterward the road bare and white except for the leaves” (First paragraph of A Farewell to Arms).

Until you perfect your own style and are satisfied with it, you may wish to pick out from the style of Ernest Hemingway whatever might be useful to you. If you want to improve your writing by learning from the master—and what serious writer wouldn’t–here are 20 practical tips on writing like a Nobel Prize winner:

* To cause the most powerful emotional responses in the reader always understate, never overstate. Don’t lay it on thick. Write prose that’s always less emotional than the events seem to call for. No emotional excess. Reject sentimentality. Hemingway doesn’t state characters’ emotional responses at all except in the simplest way. He might say the character “felt lousy” or felt “bad.” The more emotionally charged a situation, the more emotional restraint you should use in writing about it. And then the result will be emotionally powerful. Flannery O’ Connor said the fiction writer has to realize that he can’t create emotions with emotion. If you want the reader to feel pity, be somewhat cold. Write in a subdued, unemotional voice. Make your prose cool and dispassionate.

* Don’t make the reader aware of your style. When you’re reading Hemingway you’re reading an extraordinary style. But you’re unaware of it.

* Have an intense awareness of the world of the senses. No one renders the physical world with more vividness than Hemingway. His descriptions of mountains, hills, plains, and valleys are beautiful and unrivaled.

* Base your paragraphs on simple sequences—the Hemingway character does this, then does that, then does something else—gets up from the table, crosses the room, goes down the stairs, and  then steps outside where the sun is shining and the flowers are red and yellow.

* Avoid describing the mental state of characters. Show it in the action.

* Simplify in every way you can.  Willa Cather said, “The higher processes of art are all processes of simplification.” “To write simply is as difficult as to be good” (Somerset Maugham). Fiction these days has shifted more and more toward greater conciseness and simplicity.

* Be completely objective. The more objective you are the stronger will be the impression your writing will make on the reader. State the facts.

* Tell the truth.  “A writer’s job is to tell the truth…Do not describe scenes you have not witnessed yourself” (Hemingway). Write down what you see and feel in the simplest way you can. Anton Chekhov: “One must never lie. Art has this great specification: it simply does not tolerate falsehood…there is absolutely no lying in art.” Hemingway’s works are generally autobiographical and stamped with authenticity.  He never wrote about anything he hadn’t first experienced himself.  He said, “I can only write from memory.” That creates trust in the reader.

* Show absolute sincerity. The particularly effective writer will develop a relationship with readers that goes beyond liking to intimacy, and that comes from above all else the sincerity the reader finds in the work. Hemingway is the sincerest of writers.

* Do no moralizing, no moral judgments—have no “messages.” Don’t preach.

* Eliminate long words or use them sparingly. But always use the mot just, the single best and most accurate word to convey exactly what you’re trying to say.  “I have never used a word without first considering if it is replaceable” (Hemingway). Put the right words in the right order to do the subject the most justice.

* When writing short stories make the stories simple—simple plots. The more elaborate the plot of a short story, the less effective as a work of art it tends to be. In many Hemingway stories very little happens.  In fact some of them aren’t even stories, but sketches that are only a few pages long. The same is true of Chekhov, and he and Hemingway, along with Guy de Maupassant, were the three greatest short story writers in the history of literature.

* Be brief, condensed, maximally concise. Not a single word should be unnecessary or superfluous.  A minimum number of words selected with care.

* Provide few details and make them precise and concrete. Too much detail exhausts the readers and takes their mind off the action—and that’s where it should always be.

* Stress clarity at all times.

* It’s not necessary to state everything. Rely on suggestion.  Leave some things for the reader to figure out.

* Write in a style that’s easy and flowing and has simple rhythms—a tremendously appealing sensual style.

* Keep sentences short and simple–a series of short declarative simple sentences, generally not complex or compound. No ornamental rhetoric. Write forceful and direct prose. There is hardly a single simile or metaphor in all the works of Hemingway. Dialogue sentences especially should be short.

* Severely limit adjectives and adverbs. Emphasize nouns and verbs. If Hemingway used adjectives they were inexact and common—“The trees were big and the foliage thick, but it was not gloomy.”  The colors were “bright.” “Hemingway certainly helped bury the notion…that the more you pile on the adjectives the closer you get to describing the thing” (Tom Stoppard).

* Cut exposition to an absolute minimum.  No explanations, discussion, analysis, and comments. Eliminate the frame. It’s not necessary. Jump right into the action.

stockholm-952497_640Having found your right style you’ll be equipped to achieve the writer’s objective “to convey everything, every sensation, sight, feeling, place and emotion to the reader” (Hemingway). Everything with brevity, economy, simplicity, intensity. It isn’t possible to overstate the influence of Hemingway on the way Americans speak or on how writers everywhere write fiction.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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Why Do Creative People Write Blogs?

Until I started writing a blog I’d never read one. And one thing that surprised me right away was how so many talented, creative people writing them were woman-865111_640talking so freely, so honestly, and so candidly—so confidentially–about their work in progress. And knowing that hardly anyone does anything without expecting something in return, I wondered why they were doing that. What were they gaining? And were they losing something by doing it as I had been led to believe a creator who did that would? Now I can see that they are gaining something of immeasurable benefit.

I cannot imagine myself showing work in progress I’m serious about or discussing it with anyone until I think it’s finished and that I’ve done the best I can. To get that feeling about the work I’m serious about such as a book or a literary sketch, I might make major changes in it 70 or 75 times before anyone else knows about it. When I was writing what was to become my most popular book, an award-winning poet/professor of literature friend and I would get together every two or three weeks and talk  intensely for hours about writers and writing (and jazz, and the price of apples—that kind of thing–etc.).

And for two years I never once mentioned the book I was spending 18 or 20 hours a day writing. I told him about it when I gave him the date it would be typing-849807_640hitting the book stores.  He said “What the hell?” I didn’t show him. I didn’t show my wife. I didn’t show other friends. I didn’t show anyone because I didn’t want to hear anything that might affect my vision of the work, my plans for it, or my enthusiasm for it. And I believed that if you talked about your work in progress you’d dissipate the drive and energy you should be using to write it. I was very happy with my editor who didn’t give me a word of advice except to say, “An introduction would be a good idea,” and then as I turned chapters in said simply, “It’s really very good.”

But once the work in my mind is done I want to hear the frankest and most direct criticism, the kind a creator gains the most from—if it’s from someone who knows what they’re talking about.  A teacher in college said to me, “A good friend is one who’ll kick you in the teeth constructively” and that has always stayed with me. Without adequate feedback, effective learning is impossible and performance improvements only minimal, even for the most highly gifted artists or writers.

You need to have a good sense of your strengths and weaknesses as a creator. Often the best route to that kind of self-understanding is via constructive feedback and help from other people who won’t know about you unless you tell them the way bloggers tell you, “Here I am in England, Russia, Paraguay, Australia, Oman, etc., and I’m working hard.”

Getting help, support, and feedback is a major strategy for reaching creative excellence.  Without any doubt at all, performance feedback, support, high blogging-15968_640motivation, and writing success go hand in hand despite what anyone says to the contrary. Being deprived of support and positive feedback is a big reason why so many thousands of creators give up their craft altogether and   turn to other pursuits, hoping to find fulfillment there. And maybe finding it, maybe not.

I suppose I was thinking along the lines of William Faulkner who said, “The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity.”  Or Truman Capote who said, “I never show anybody a single thing I write…I write it and finish it and this is the way it’s going to be.” Or Hans Koning, author of 40 books who wrote, “You don’t worry about what editors or reviewers may like or not like. (That comes afterward.) You don’t write…in order to get an independent judgment. Your own judgment is independent. You don’t accept any suggested changes except where you made a factual or grammatical mistake. My motto has been through all these years: Not a comma.” (And I once had an editor who told me she was so depressed because she’d argued for an hour with a writer about a comma.)

Ernest Hemingway believed talking about your work was bad luck and that writers should work in disciplined isolation, and “should see each other only after their work is done, and not too often then.” Otherwise they become “like writers in New York.” He thought that giving a public reading of your work in progress was “the lowest thing a writer can do” and was “dangerous” for the writer. If people liked the writing and said, “It’s great Ernest,” he would think, “If these bastards like it what is wrong with it?” “It made me feel sick for people to talk about my writing to my face.”

When I ask myself why I’m so private about my work until in my mind it’s finished (at that point I’d like every person on earth to read it) my theory is it’s because growing up we did not talk openly about personal things that were important to us and were taught not to blow our own horn, not to be showy in any way, and that has had a lasting effect on me. Not showing off is a value I think of all born and bred bona fide American Middle Westerners. Even now when I find myself showing off in my writing I say to myself, “Cut it out.”

I’ve often thought about there being so many women artist and writer bloggers and so few men and such strong relationships between the women. It’s kind of woman-69531_640lonely for me. But I sit back and read what creative women say to each other and just as often have thought, “There’s something very special, very wonderful going on. Look how they understand each other, how they comprehend each other’s meanings, the nuances and subtleties. And how they raise each others’ confidence.”

When I look at the comments such forthright writer and artist bloggers receive about their experiences with their works in progress, what strikes me is that what they receive mainly is not technical information. There’s very little discussion of that at all, or it’s superficial—a few positive words. No, they talk about what they’re going through—their difficulties, successes, failures, setbacks, fears, and hopes, the balance they’re trying so hard to strike between their creative life and their family and work lives. And that’s exactly what readers want more than anything to hear about and what they respond to.

Before I’d thought of writing a blog and I don’t think knew what a blog was, my son Eli, a writer himself, told me I should write one.  “Me?” I said. And he said, “Yes.” He said I was writing every day for hours and producing volumes of work, and that I should share it with other people and receive feedback from them.

How I love now to wake in the morning and still drowsy-eyed go upstairs to my work room, and there on the screen see that I’d been visited overnight by viewers from the world’s capitals and desert villages, remote South Sea and map-221210_640Atlantic islands, and African mountain kingdoms accessible only by horseback–Lesotho, Sri Lanka, Somalia–and to hear from them that they like what I’m doing and look forward to it. What a joy to hear from bloggers from everywhere who’ve become my friends, whose work I admire, to hear the stories of the lives they’re leading and to care about them and about hard they’re trying and  to think about them.

What honest bloggers receive in return for their blogging is what every creative person hungers for—companionship, friendship, kindness, generosity, and words of blessed encouragement.  To “discourage” someone is to steal their courage away from them, but to “encourage” them is to give them courage. When we’re deeply discouraged –and that is so often in the arts–our courage abandons us and one way or another we must retrieve it or we will perish creatively. The main thing a writer or artist–or actor or dancer–has to overcome is getting discouraged.

Even the smallest encouragement during difficult times bolsters a person’s spirits. Someone, anyone, saying, “Just hang in there, my friend, a little longer.”

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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Feedback and Help for Creative Success

Without doubt, performance feedback and creative success go hand in hand. Useful feedback can help you evolve and reach high levels of satisfaction and achievement. But where are you to find the quality of feedback and help you need? Deprived of it, some artists and writers quit before they reach their peak. They bid their beloved craft adieu.

Something, for example, has gone out of publishing. Something is missing. No longer can you find the publisher’s textual editors who once existed who would work tirelessly with you, the author, suffer with you, and use their specialized skills to help you create the best you’re capable of. Creators are rare and exceptional human beings who are able to work alone in seclusion long hours without recognition, without praise, sacrificing, overcoming hardships without flinching, always returning with high energy to the work which they have a talent for. For a writer or artist who by necessity spends so much time alone, the insights of a close collaborator who cares as much about your work as you do can be a godsend.

hands-545394_640In a novel I wrote an episode in which a New York publisher’s editor came out here to the Midwest to spend a week in a cabin at a lake working intensely with a promising writer. I wrote this episode knowing very well that an actual editor would say, “Well, such a thing is simply not conceivable.” But I thought how wonderful if it were. I enjoyed writing that episode more than any other.

Maxwell Perkins was the most acclaimed book editor of the twentieth century and thus far in the twenty-first. During the 1920s and 30s his Scribner’s writers included the greatest and most gifted working with one editor in the history of American publishing. They included, in addition to his protégé Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ring Lardner. Wolfe’s association with Perkins is the most celebrated author/editor relationship in American literature.

The day before Christmas, 1929 Wolfe wrote to Perkins: “One year ago I had little hope for my work, and I did not know you…. You are now mixed with my book in such a way that I can never separate the two of you. I can no longer think clearly of the time I wrote it, but rather of the time when you first talked to me about it, and when you worked upon it….You have done what I had ceased to believe that one person could do for another–you have created liberty and hope for me.” Wolfe wrote a note to Perkins: “In all my life, until I met you, I never had a friend.” Wolfe described Perkins as “a man of immense and patient wisdom and gentle but unyielding fortitude.”

Wolfe was immensely talented, but his main problems were his uncontrollable, obsessive verbosity and a chronic inability to cut that resulted in unedited manuscripts of fantastic lengths, three or four times longer than a publishable book could possibly be. Those problems in turn were caused by Wolfe’s difficulty making any kind of independent decisions. He didn’t know where or what to cut. He would stare for hours at the manuscript before eliminating a few sentences when his agreement with Perkins was that he would strike out tens of thousands–a hundred thousand—words. He would start by rereading the manuscript section by section, trying to find things that were unnecessary and could be omitted. But he was totally blind to them. He never in his entire career had a concept of a publishable book.

I am certainly no Thomas Wolfe, but my wife Diana is my Maxwell Perkins. She has been a highly-regarded writing teacher, tutor, and mentor for years, and I doubt her judgment and skill can be surpassed. She edits all my work, and over the years I’ve been prolific—well over a million words–and she’s been busy. I—we—have had published best-selling nonfiction, as well as fiction and poetry, many magazine and newspaper articles, and this blog.

But she is far more than a conventional editor, and in this post I’m holding her up as an ideal, one the likes of which every writer and artist should find, hold onto, and treasure. I heard a psychiatrist say, “Everyone could benefit from a therapist.” And every writer and artist could benefit from knowledgeable, frank criticism—sympathetic criticism of course, not thoughtless and cruel criticism. When tough, street-smart novelist Henry Miller found himself being abused by editor after editor he submitted work to, he snarled, “Who are these shits? Where do they get off saying such things to me?” If you are to survive in the arts, as in life, you must never be intimidated by anyone. I think the greats were all bold, all brave.

Diana and I have developed a harmonious division of labor. I create. She evaluates. I respect her talents and she respects mine. They are different talents, but are aimed at the same object: the quality of the work. I’m aware that she will be my first and most demanding audience. I’m always eager to hear what she has to say because her opinions will help me improve. And isn’t to improve, transforming a gift into an achievement, what every creative person wants most?

ernest-hemingway-401493_640The most important criticism a seasoned writer or artist receives is self-criticism. The standards of good writing, painting, or dancing, etc., are now a part of the writer or artist’s makeup. Yet, a creative person of any level of ability should ask, “Am I getting honest feedback regularly also from someone else whose judgment I trust? Have I made arrangements to do that? Am I receptive to constructive criticism? Am I confident enough for it? Can I be dispassionate about it? Can I be non-attached?”

We all wish to be lavished with praise for every work we produce. John Irving said that “Good job” is the only feedback a writer wants. But it’s much more beneficial to have a wife or friend or coach, editor, teacher, writer’s or artist’s group, etc. who’ll point out flaws and shortcomings before the work reaches agents, publishers, newspaper reviewers, and the final judge—the audience.

Some writers and artists and people in every other profession would prefer to not know how well or poorly they’re doing. Others very much want to know if knowledgeable people they trust think they’re doing okay, and possibly more importantly, if they’re doing poorly, and if they are, in what areas they might improve. They welcome feedback and actively seek it, feedback that is (1) timely, (2) specific, (3) well-meaning, and (4) helpful.

Ernest Hemingway, for example, didn’t become the most innovative literary stylist of the last 100 years without incorporating into his work the advice of his newspaper editors, and fellow writers Sherwood Anderson, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald who were generous enough to share their expertise with him

Diana advises me, consults with me, inspires me, encourages me, and criticizes every facet of my work—objectively I believe, and always fairly. She is not easy on me, but pushes me. Well, not “pushes.” Pushing isn’t in her nature. But from her commitment I feel myself gaining energy. She is to me what a real editor should be, though I know how trying writers can be. (I once called my publisher’s editor and she sounded demoralized. So I said, “What’s wrong, Kathy?” She said, “Oh, I just had an hour-long argument with one of my authors about a comma.”)

vincent-van-gogh-self-portrait-1887Many creative people benefit from close personal support and encouragement from one other person such as a lover, husband or wife, sibling, or close friend: Frederick Chopin/George Sand, Jackson Pollock/Lee Krasner, Jean Paul Sartre/Simone De Beauvoir, Henry Miller/Anais Nin, Vincent van Gogh/Theo van Gogh, Virginia Woolf/Leonard Woolf, Salvador Dali/Gala, and George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin.

It may not be the oddest phenomenon, but it is something of a phenomenon that as soon as a creator is in his judgment finished with a work, he immediately loses interest in it. He wants to go on to something else. A study found that professional writers couldn’t remember what they had just written. But amateurs could remember very clearly exactly what they had written. And writers, like artists, are often working on 3, 5, or 10 projects simultaneously, moving restlessly from one to another as the mood strikes. While at times I’ve forgotten about whole projects I’ve got going, Diana somehow remembers. She will say, “Whatever happened to…?”

I might work on a piece for a long time, turning down invitations to go to movies, visit friends, or take vacations. Poet John Milton said some people—like me–“scorn delights to live laborious lives.” But when I can say, “That’s it,” well, that’s it. It’s all done. Something shuts off. All responsibility for it disappears. My mind elsewhere now, I might say flippantly, “Well you take care of it from here. Just mop it up.” And Diana will say, “Oh, no, you’re the writer, not me. I won’t make a change without your approval. So let’s get going. Why in the fourth sentence do you say…?”

Diana doesn’t usually suggest subjects I should write about. I develop my own ideas. But once she gave me a subject and it will give you an idea of how we work. I’d never really written anything significant about the death of my sister Sharon who was very dear to me. Diana said I should. I wrote what I thought was a good piece and gave it to her. She didn’t like it. I said, “It’s perfectly fine. I’m done with it. I’m not doing anything more.” Her words in reply were “It is not up to your standards.” I liked the implication that I had high standards, and in the back of my mind I knew I wasn’t satisfied with it either. I redid it seven or eight times. It became “Days End.” When it was done, a critic said, “This is not just writing. This is literature.” If it is, it wouldn’t have been without Diana so persuasively prodding me.

I’ve learned more of what they call “classical restraint” from Diana. That that style appeals to her is not coincidental. It suits her. She is dignified and calm—classically restrained. Her favorite word in the English language is equanimity—composure, level-headedness. A writer’s most effective writing mood is important, and every writer has to find his/her own, just as painters and sculptors, etc., must find their most productive working mood.

Diana is able to find in my writing what I may not see. I asked her to go over some fiction of mine. As she read she stopped abruptly and said, “Hmmm, this passage right here is a poem.” She said, “Just read it. These lines here. It’s a really nice poem just as it is.” I put it verbatim in poem form without changing a word and it was published and won a contest. I hadn’t noticed my poem among the prose.

I’m currently writing a book that I believe has something original to say to writers who wish to achieve their writing goals, including becoming a higher quality writer and being successful in other ways too. I don’t let Diana or anyone else read anything I’m working on until in my judgment it’s pretty much done. I never tell anyone exactly what I’m doing. But she knows something about the book and the other day let slip the comment, “You should really make it applicable not just to writers, but to artists and actors, and so on.”

I’ve tried, but for the life of me I cannot get that sentence out of my mind. I wonder, “Should I do what she suggests? It would take more time, more work. It wouldn’t be easy, it would be tough. There are a hundred reason why I shouldn’t do it.”

But damned if I don’t have a hunch that once again she’s right.

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Self-Taught Artists and Writers

I’m guessing that very few of you reading this post graduated from the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop, and  many did not graduate from any graduate writing program, and possibly you were not even an English or journalism major in college. You might have had a major that was totally unrelated to writing, like Nobel novelist Saul Sorbonne634035_640Bellow, an anthropology major, or innovative French novelist/ screenwriter/essayist Alain Robbe-Grillet, an agronomist, or may not have attended college at all. Many great writers, like Nobel winner Ernest Hemingway, had no interest in attending college, and many others, like Nobel winners William Faulkner and playwright Eugene O’Neill didn’t take college seriously (well that’s probably true of 30 or 40% of all college students), and quit it because they thought it was not only not helping them, but holding them back. And I’m guessing that not more than, let’s see, two of you painters attended the Sorbonne, and some possibly never attended any art school. Yet you’re capable and have had writing and painting success. Your work has been published and art works have been shown. Some of you are professionals earning a substantial living.

The majority of you are autodidacts—mainly self-taught–and many of you autodidacts, you formally “untutored” creative people, have surpassed and achieved more success than many if not most Iowa writers, and Sorbonne painters. When most of what you know about how to paint or write creatively is a result of what you have taught yourself, of knowledge and experience you’ve acquired on your own, there is directness, freshness, and truthfulness in your work that you might not have achieved had you followed a more conventional developmental route that “everyone else” seems to be following.

French painter Henri Rousseau (1840-1910) was a self-taught autodidact too. An official with the French customs office, he began painting as a late-blooming amateur “Sunday painter” who might take his cheap paint box out into the park for an afternoon’s relaxation. He signed Rousseauhis first picture at the age of 36 and exhibited in his first show at 40. His earliest paintings were technically incorrect and unsophisticated as the work of a beginner usually is. The forms were stiff and simple; the proportions were inaccurate, and the perspectives were wrong. But in his work there was “something” that drew the attention of critics and the public—the honesty in the works, a directness that came right out of his obvious joy in the act of creation. He was an advanced autodidact and did things that other unschooled artists did not usually do, and conventionally trained painters did not do. Paint which in a run-of-the-mill painting of a beginner would be thin and dry is applied with rich body. Colors that would be anemic or muddy in the ordinary newcomer’s work were clear in Rousseau. His work continued to grow in popularity. His paintings created a world of enchantment.

This was a dangerous point for Rousseau because he had to strike a balance of learning to be more technically proficient, but not to the point that technical qualities would obliterate the originality that came to him naturally, just as I hope however technically advanced you become, you never lose your natural and authentic voice.  Rousseau had to guard his naiveté and so he created for himself a personal style based on the forms that had been spontaneous to him as a beginner—a highly cultivated style that at the same time was rooted in an untutored simplicity. And that is Rousseau’s special charm.

Although seriously technically limited by conventional standards, a painting or a story, poem, or novel, or any creative product, may be a work of art even if the work’s quality is half-accidental, as it was with Henri Rousseau.

Walt Whitman (1819-1892), another thoroughly self-taught autodidact, ended his formal education at eleven. During the six years between 1849 and 1855 he turned himself from a lazy second-rate journalist and less than average creative walt-whitman-391107_640writer who couldn’t hold a job into–through a “liberation of language” never seen before on earth—one of the greatest poets the world has ever known. Prior to his first book– Leaves of Grass–he seemed to be a very untalented man. Before becoming the” father of American poetry,” he worked as a carpenter (building his own home) and as an elementary school teacher, printer, editor, shopkeeper, and in the world of newspapers, paled around with artists and sculptors, attended operas (said he learned more about writing from operas than from anything else), studied history and astronomy on his own, read voraciously, and believed in self-help and self-education. He said that during those years before Leaves of Grass when he was writing “conventional verse” he was “simmering, simmering, simmering.” This man who wrote, “I have not once had the least idea who or what I am” developed in those mystical six years a vision and style that no one since has been able to duplicate. His poetry startled the literary world and started a new direction in poetry. Readers were astonished.

Living not far from Whitman at the time, and working in solitude, unknown to the literary world, was quiet, subdued poet Emily Dickinson. Do you think it is a coincidence that those two untutored autodidacts who worked alone, were unknown, taught themselves, and never met,  would become America’s finest poets and produce work the likes of which no one had ever seen before?

Most often the reason a writer, artist, composer, etc. is not yet accomplished is not because she’s unintelligent or not talented, but because she isn’t knowledgeable enough yet. In writing and every other art, every other discipline, knowledge isn’t everything, but almost everything. The more you know, the more you can achieve—the greater your reach. The self-taught creator knows that and follows an atypical but most productive route to the knowledge she needs to excel. She looks for it wherever it may be and acquires it on her own. She has high motivation and a thirst for learning about her craft that cannot be quenched.

Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) was reading Whitman in 1886 around the time he was painting the apocalyptic “Starry Night.” If you know your Whitman that makes perfect sense. A solitary who worked outside of any school or tradition, vincent-van-gogh-89422_640van Gogh was self-made. He had only one year’s total training from instructors, but studied ceaselessly on his own, the autodidact of autodidacts. He had tremendous faith in the future of his work, and felt it was worth sacrificing everything for it. He was a harsh self-critic, considering many of his paintings now accepted as masterpieces mere studies. At the time of his death he had sold one painting and traded another for brushes, had been represented by just a few dealers, had participated in a half-dozen shows, and had dissuaded critics from writing about his work. Few artists of any kind have made themselves as knowledgeable or clear-sighted about their art, or have a more developed understanding of painting. He rarely signed his works, believing that to do so was arrogant, and that an artist should work humbly. He had a short but prodigious career, leaving behind a legacy of more than 2,000 paintings and drawings at his death at thirty-seven.

Artists and writers and people in general who don’t follow a traditional route to expertise and beyond that to excellence–who go off on their own–may produce direct, fresh, original work they might not have been able to produce had they followed a traditional path. They are original often because they see that the traditional rules don’t suit them, or they don’t know the rules and aren’t limited by them. It may take them longer. By necessity they may have to be late-bloomers like Rousseau, van Gogh, and Whitman. But what does time matter if time is needed for you to come into your own? When writing Leaves of Grass, Whitman told himself, “Make it new.” and he did.

What we learn from autodidacts is to be original, be true to ourselves, be honest, be direct, don’t hide from ourselves, and find our own truth though it may be different from everyone else’s. You are not like other artists or writers. In Leaves of Grass Whitman writes, “I celebrate myself” which seems to me not a bad place for creative people to start.

(For further reading, you may wish to see the excellent Van Gogh: A Retrospective, edited by Susan Alyson Stein, and Geoffrey Dutton’s Whitman)

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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13 High Achievement Skills for Artists and Writers

Part I

I’m writing a book that says high achievement for artists and writers is within reach. It describes eight qualities creators need if they are to excel. If even one quality is missing, they will not excel. Day after day for a week I made no progress on one section. I would sit down to work at the computer and find myself fiddling around mindlessly for a few hours, then going down to the kitchen for a snack or looking around for someone to talk to, or I’d do laundry or something and after a while would go back upstairs to the computer with every intention of working on that section only to find myself Laundrychecking the sports scores. Then I’d quit for the day and feel that nagging dissatisfaction with myself that writers and artists so often feel. Finally I sat down on my recliner to try to get to the bottom of this and asked myself, “What’s the problem?” and I immediately answered, “That section is too easy for me.”

Most people in the world can be divided psychologically into two broad groups. Probably you are in one group, just as I am. There is the minority who set and pursue challenges for themselves and are willing to work hard to achieve something, and then the majority who don’t care about challenges all that much and don’t work hard. Those two groups are to be found among artists and writers everywhere in the world, just as they can be found among students, accountants, businessmen and women, athletes, and people in any other field. Mozart was a tremendous worker who practiced, performed, and gripped a quill pen to compose so many hours that by the age of 26 his hands were deformed.

The first group that sets out in pursuit of challenges possesses a distinct kind of motivation, a specific kind of measurable psychological need that the group that is indifferent to challenges lacks. That need is called Achievement Motivation, Success Motivation, or The Need to Achieve, and the people who have it are those who reach higher achievements than most other people, certainly higher than those who don’t care. (Much of the initial work on race-695303_640Achievement Motivation was done by psychologist David C. McClelland). The achievers are more successful artists and writers, just they are more successful students, physicians, athletes, salespeople and business executives. It is naïve of a creator to think talent alone will take a person to great heights. Most teachers of writers and artists will tell you that it is rarely the most talented pupil who dazzled the class that they hear and read about later. They hear about the one who was the most determined to succeed and the most dogged—a member of the first group.

So it seems to me extremely important if you want to enjoy more success, however you define success, to understand what high success people are like, so if you wish, you can become more like them and achieve more creatively and find more fulfillment. If they are in the business world, achievement motivated men and women have high career aspirations just as achievement motivated writers and artists are ambitious and have high career aspirations. Author Ernest Hemingway was as ambitious as anyone. An unbelievably hard worker, he wanted nothing less than to be the world’s greatest writer. And in 1954 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize, he was. Vincent van Gogh said that while he wasn’t successful during his life—he sold only one painting in his lifetime and traded another for brushes–one day he would take his place among the immortals. In the work world achievement motivated people get more raises and are promoted rapidly. If they are unemployed they get new jobs more quickly than less motivated people. Companies that employ a lot of them prosper.

If you are in the first group—achievers—I know you very well. I know how you think. I know how you act. I know your values. I know something about how your parents reared you. I know what color clothes you prefer to wear.

man-73318_150First of all, you are definitely goal-directed, and it’s no secret to you that achieving goals will require that you follow a linked series of steps over an often long period of months or years as you progress from beginner to expert, and sometimes amateur to professional. P.G. Wodehouse said, “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.”

From the start you exert yourself and mobilize more energy to reach your goals than other people. And you are able to persist steadily without interruption whereas poorly motivated writers and artists have low energy and will interrupt their work more often and not engage in it for long periods, even years. That can have a detrimental effect: if you neglect an activity for just 48 hours you function much less effectively when you resume the activity. While achievement people are hard persistent workers, they need not fill their entire day with work and are able to cut out and enjoy leisure time. At least in America most people work at least 7 hour days and must travel to and from work, but professional writers usually work at home about four hours, 16.7 % of the day, leaving 20 hours for other things (though some, like prolific novelist Philip Roth, work all the time).

paintings-316440_640A long gestation period is required before artists and writers are fully developed and performing at their peak, and during that period you spend your time actively thinking about how to do things better. You constantly talk about doing things better. You’re concerned with getting better all the time. You take classes, you study, you read, you learn. In other words, you are dominated by what is called An Urge to Improve. It’s not difficult to understand why people who constantly think about doing better:

  1. Are apt to do better at what they’re interesting in doing better
  2. Prefer working in situations where they can tell easily if they are improving or aren’t
  3. Keep track of their performance so they can tell if they’re in fact doing better

If you are an achiever, the goals you set are one or more of four types:

One, you compete with yourself, trying to achieve more in the future than you’ve achieved in the past. Is this true of you? If it is, you stay interested by aiming higher and higher. Once you’ve achieved a goal, the goal loses its luster and you now want something more. You had an essay published. That’s over and done; now you’ll write a book.

Two, you compete with others. You may not like it, but unless you do your creative work solely for the joy of it, you have to compete. Hundreds of writers, possibly thousands, are trying to get their stories in the same magazines as you and as many artists are trying to get their work shown in the same galleries. As novelist Doris Lessing said: “You have to remember that nobody ever wants a new writer. You have to create your own demand.” No one wants a new painter either. And so to draw attention to yourself in a cluttered field of one talented person among many talented people, you must develop the competitive survival skills of the showman and self-promoter.

The necessity of competing needn’t cause anxiety if you learn to be dispassionate and non-attach. Then you see competing as just another challenge and role, the role of the marketer of your work, a set of skills that can be learned, the logical conclusion of all your development and all your work.

Three, you engage in a long-term involvement over the long haul, and four, you pursue unique accomplishments–definitions of the work of writers and artists.

painting-316135_640You have sub-goals which will lead in an orderly way to the achievement of your major goals. For example, you know that to do as well as you hope, you’ll need to acquire more and more knowledge of your craft throughout your career. Knowledge is not quite everything, but almost. Writers and artists of all kinds draw from all the cumulative knowledge they’ve acquired. They do that sometimes consciously, sometimes spontaneously. What they know is reflected in their every word, every turn of phrase, every image, every idea, and every choice of color and perspective and every brush stroke. So it is incumbent on them if they are to excel to learn more and more about their craft, including how it’s done and how others have done it.

You take a futuristic view and are a long-range planner who keeps his/her goals in mind continually. They are never out of your mind very long. (In itself, this makes you exceptional because most people have very little idea of what their goals are and don’t think of them often.) The more important the goal is to a low-motivated person, the less interested in it he becomes. He loses focus on what’s important. But the more important it is to you, the achiever, the more challenging and therefore the more interesting to you it is. As it becomes ever more important it becomes ever more challenging and ever more interesting.

It’s worth remembering that to an achievement motivated person like yourself failure to achieve a goal makes the goal more attractive, not less. Failure doesn’t devastate you, but pushes you to greater effort because now it is even more of a challenge, and you thrive on challenges. You try again. And then again and again tenaciously until you succeed, whereas a less strongly motivated writer or artist may not try a second time and never reach success.

You are aware that reaching your goals depends on how difficult they are in relation to your capabilities. The ideal you’re trying for is to match your abilities perfectly with your goals, your abilities equipping you to achieve them all. If you lack the ability, you cannot reach the goal. Simple tasks and very difficult tasks are interesting to people with low motivation, but not to those with achievement motivation like yourself. You’re drawn to goals that are moderately difficult—not too easy; not too hard, but a little out of reach. Goals like that motivate you the most.

It’s been said that if writers were good businessmen, they’d have too much sense to be writers, and John Steinbeck said the profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business, and the same is true of painting, dancing, and acting. If you’re an achievement motivated writer or artist you won’t even try to reach goals that in your judgment of your own capabilities you don’t have at least a 30% chance of reaching. I submitted a manuscript to a publisher with the odds of publication statistically about 3,000 to 1 against. But I was confident and thought I had a 30% chance. I was right and the book was published.

joshua-tree-5104_640You will not pursue goals that aren’t challenging enough. Sure things hold no excitement for you. They’re not interesting, just as the section of the book I’m writing is too easy for me. So you spice things up to make the goals more challenging, sometimes making the sculpture or the novel you’re working on more complicated, more ambitious, something, you’ve never tried before, for example. If something is important to the achiever, she will sometimes work days or weeks non-stop. But if it isn’t, she’ll avoid work. She’ll go fishing.

Think about your three main writing/art goals at this time. Your crucial goals should always be held clearly in mind so that if I asked you could quickly say…

“No doubt about it, my major overriding goal now is…

“My second most important goal is…

“Also very important is…

Do you feel all in all you have a 30%-65% chance of reaching them? (I’m asking you if they are moderately difficult goals, the achiever’s aim.)

 

Part II

 You work in intense, concentrated spurts (which studies find now is the most effective way to work). Other people often marvel at your capacity for sustained effort. They ask, “What do you have going for you that you can stick to it and never seem to tire?” It’s because you are achievement motivated. But when the work is done, you put it completely out of mind and want nothing more to do with it. You want to go on right away to the next moderately difficult project, or you want to go to the beach and forget all about your work. The change from hard work to a total disinterest in work is so extreme at times that your significant other will say to you, “One minute you’re a ball of fire, the next I can’t get you to do a thing.” A research study found that professional writers couldn’t remember what they had just written, but amateurs could remember very clearly what they had written.

You consider your goals very carefully if you are achievement motivated. You “research the environment,” gathering information wherever you can and consider the probability of success of a variety of alternatives and try to find goals and tasks that will excite you. Should you continue working on the project you’ve started or stop and begin something else? One thing experienced creative people are good at is knowing when something is not going to work out, and if it isn’t, they don’t hesitate to junk it. Writers have been known to write an entire book, then decide they don’t like it and put it in a drawer and forget about it. Should you get help? Getting help is a sign in itself that you’re trying to reach the goal. Should you try something completely different such as a new style, a new technique, a new market for your work? You take time to reflect on your career, your strengths, your weaknesses, your ambitions, and your possible future continually.

When you set goals you spend more time thinking about what it would be like to succeed than what it would be like to fail. You don’t dwell on failure, only on success. And what is success to you? It is reaching excellence. Producing excellent work is far more important to you than prestige. But prestige is more important than excellence to those whose motivation is low, and they dwell on the possibility of failure.

When working in a group setting and asked to pick someone to help them solve a problem, low motivated people will tend to choose friends, but the most highly motivated will choose for a partner someone who’s more able than they are, friend or no friend.

You are task-oriented, a hard-worker no matter what the situation is—writing, painting, doing chores, planning a novel, assembling a dresser. The low-motivated writer or artist avoids working hard whenever he can. Also, highly motivated people, surprisingly, are better able to recall tasks they didn’t finish. And if they’re given a chance, they will return and compete those tasks. Even tasks that were interrupted many years before—the so-called Zeigarnik Effect. Achievers are not comfortable with unfinished business.

You prefer to take personal responsibility for outcomes rather than to leave the outcome to chance. You want outcomes to be the result of your own efforts and your own skills. You are not a gambler if no personal skills are involved and if winning and losing is a matter of luck and not of skill. Lotteries and slot-machines aren’t appealing because no skill is involved. If you were able to throw dice with a 1 in 3 chance of success or work on a problem with the same odds, you will choose to work on the problem because the result would be dependent on your abilities rather than chance.

Since achievement motivated people are always interested in improving their performance, they crave feedback on how well they are doing. The feedback must be (1) rapid and (2) specific. They want to know now and they want to know why. They are writers and artists who want constructive criticism.

So if you wish to be more of an achieving writer and artist:

  1. Pursue moderately difficult goals that require: a) doing better, b) competing for success, and c) engaging in projects that need long-term involvement and unique accomplishments.
  2. Get in the habit of researching your environment, looking for many sources of useful information you’ll need to set reasonable and attractive goals.
  3. Don’t dwell on failure; dwell on success. Think of what it will be like when you’ve succeeded.
  4. Be always expanding your knowledge. Set knowledge development learning goals.
  5. Take a long-term view of your writing, your painting, your sculpting.
  6. Be interested in excellence for its own sake.
  7. Work intensely in spurts and persist in the face of failure.
  8. Carefully consider the probability of success achieving each of your goals.
  9. Take personal responsibility for your work and your career.
  10. Get rapid and specific feedback on your efforts continually.
  11. Get help
  12. Be thinking all the time of how to do things better.
  13. Place your confidence in your own abilities and your own hard work.

I’ll have to find a way to make writing that section of the artist’s and writer’s book more interesting—more moderately difficult–so I can work harder and finish it. We’ll see what happens.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Boldness and Success for Artists, Writers, and Everyone Else

“Human drama does not show itself on the surface of life. It is not played out in the visible world, but in the hearts of men.”                                                                 —French Novelist Antoine St. Exupery

Be willing to incur danger.

When opportunity appears, strike like a bolt of lightning.

We should be like tigers– cautious when we need to be, but always ready to leap.

 The Value of Living Dangerously

What have you been working for these years and developing your talents for if not to set your artistic potential free, and you will not do that without being bold.

For most people the problem is not being too audacious and bold, but not being bold enough. After serving as Supreme Commander of Allied forces in World War II, Dwight Eisenhower returned to civilian life speaking of the value of “living dangerously,” and that resonates with artists and serious writers; that resonates with everyone.

Boldness is the power to let go of the familiar and the secure. It isn’t something you save for when your life, your work, your art is going well. It’s precisely when things are going badly that you should be boldest. When things look particularly grim and you’re most discouraged, increase your determination and go forward confidently, even if you don’t feel up to it.

I know a painter. The best teacher she ever had gave her the best advice she ever received. He looked at her as she painted and said, “You’re being too careful. Make bolder strokes.” He went away. She followed his advice. He came back and studied her work. He raised his voice and said, “Bolder.” Later he came back again and said, even louder, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?” It’s worthwhile to say to ourselves from time to time in our personal life or our artistic life, “Bolder! What are you afraid of?”

People want to know more about boldness. I was asked to write an article on the subject for Success magazine and the article received one of the magazine’s highest readership scores ever.

 Boldness and Success

The argument easily can be made that boldness in and of itself is what brings success in life, and that it is a quality of greatness in every field of human endeavor, possibly especially in the arts where courage is not a luxury, but a necessity. The great names in the arts could not have attained great success had they not taken great risks. Boldness is part and parcel of writers’ and artists’ lives. Even becoming one carries risks. What if Ernest Hemingway had decided he was more likely to be successful if he played it safe and wrote the way everyone else of his era wrote and did not risk failure with a writing style no one had ever seen before? You must be bold to tell the truth in your work and reveal your authentic self to an audience.

It could be that right now you are hanging back from making a decision and taking decisive action because you’re afraid of taking the chance. But success often resides in one place: on the other side of those risks. You were never happy in your career, but you could have remained in it and led a secure and good enough life. But the career wasn’t you at your best. You wanted more than good enough, so you took a chance on a different career. Now you’re happier.

In kendo–Japanese swordsmanship–there is a move that requires the swordsman to pass very close under the arms of his opponent. It’s not a difficult move, but taking the chance of coming so close to the opponent scares the swordsman. It’s only the fear of taking the risk that prevents victory. But accepting the fear and edging in close anyway can bring easy victory. The great swordsman knows that the greatest rewards lie one inch from the foes’ blade. Your future success in writing and the world of the arts may lie close to the blade.

Psychologist Gordon Allport said, “To be able to make your life a wager is man’s crowning achievement.”

Strategies: Take the Necessary Chances

  • Realize that every important choice involves risk. You make a choice. Your hopes are high, but the choice could always be a bad one. Nevertheless, you take your chances, overcoming self-doubt, and coming close to the blade and risking defeat, you succeed. In your life you’ve had your share of close calls. By the slimmest margin things worked out for you. They could have been disastrous, but they weren’t. And now, even in hindsight, you know that you would make the same choice again, your eyes wide open. We must make honest choices without illusion, with the full awareness of the consequences–either way.
  • Take a chance of failing. What better way is there to learn to succeed than by failing? If you never fail you’re aiming too low. You take the chance and try, but you fail. You take another chance and try again, but you fail. But you’re learning all along. Then you make corrections, take a chance again, and try again. This time you succeed. But you wouldn’t have succeeded if you hadn’t failed and taken a second or third chance. Or maybe it was your hundredth chance. You were wise: you found out what would succeed by finding out what wouldn’t. Fainter hearts would have given up, but you didn’t. You didn’t make the mistake of being afraid to make one. You were like a bulldog. You sank your teeth in and wouldn’t let go.
  • Be willing to incur danger. If your life consisted merely in avoiding risks, it would be extremely mediocre. Being courageous even in the midst of uncertainty brings a new intensity and sets you apart.
  • Be strong in the face of criticism. If you believe you’re right, stand your ground.
  • Plan ahead–as well as you can. Plans are representations of possible reality, but are not in themselves reality. We look ahead and what do we see? We see that half of the factors on which our decisions are made and our actions are taken are obscured by a kind of fog. Some things will always be ambiguous. We will never see the lay of the land exactly as it really is. Nevertheless, those decisions have to be made and those actions have to be taken. You can’t stand around hoping to be totally sure, or go around asking people, “What should I do next?” Whatever important action you are contemplating now, you have no choice but to live in uncertainty as to whether it will be the right one.
  • When the situation is unclear, but the outcome is important, have courage. There is no greater courage than the courage to risk being wrong.
  • From time to time in our life, a moment of great opportunity opens up before us and invites us to take hold. Often we’re too cautious, or too preoccupied, or just too lazy or stupid to pluck it. The maxim goes, “Opportunity knocks but once.” Why is that such a popular saying when there’s no truth to it? Opportunity knocks constantly if we listen closely enough. It’s knocking all the time. Sometimes it’s knocking so hard it’s deafening.
  • When opportunity appears, strike like a bolt of lightning. An opportunity will present itself to you–today, tomorrow, another day. All life long you have to be on your toes, being alert to great opportunities, and recognizing that here it is—your special moment. Then you must grasp it despite knowing that nothing is guaranteed.
  • Have high expectations, but be prepared for anything. A study was done of “failure prone” people. They had two noticeable traits. One was the illusion that they were immune to bad luck. The other was the illusion that they could control life’s events. When events that they had no control over struck they were thrown off balance and they failed. The more consistently successful people took the unexpected into account. They prepared themselves for it. When it struck, they were ready. Knowing that at times the unexpected will appear and challenge your goals, you should prepare yourself. You must make the unexpected expected. You must have options in mind and be bold with them. What major goals are you pursuing? When the unexpected arrives, what are your options? What will you do?
  • Never be rash. Boldness stops at the outer edge of the impossible. There is one great disease we should be forever vigilant of–egotism. We should guard ourselves against self-infatuation and the notion that we’re invincible. We aren’t fit for everything. We should be like tigers– cautious when we need to be, but always ready to leap. We should be willing to incur danger, but must never underestimate it. We should never undertake actions without sufficient means to support them, and should always obey our sober judgment.
  • Move forward if it’s to your advantage. If it isn’t, stay put. You’ll win a struggle when you know when to struggle and when not to struggle. Some courses of action should not be followed, some opportunities should not be pursued, and some decisions should not be made.
  • If you have to worry, do it beforehand, never after. In his book Psycho-cybernetics Maxwell Maltz told the story of a woman who while playing roulette observed players who were totally at ease before they placed their bets. The odds seemed not to matter to them. But when the wheel began to spin they became agitated and worried. She thought how ridiculous that was. If they were going to worry, they should worry before they placed the bet. After the wheel was turning, they might just as well forget their worries, relax, and enjoy the game. It came to her that she did the same thing in her life. She made many personal decisions without considering the risks, and after making them she second-guessed herself and worried endlessly if she had done the right thing. From the roulette experience she learned to work hard to make intelligent decisions and to do whatever worrying she was going to do beforehand. Her decisions improved; her life improved. Making better decisions, she started worrying less.
  • Maintain a strong mind. However risky, even dangerous your choice, and however excited you are, maintain a serenity under that excitement so that your judgment remains untouched and free. Show courage, decisiveness, strength of determination, and coolness under pressure even when you’re deepest in trouble or the most discouraged.
  • Lead a lifestyle of painstaking preparation combined with bold, sweeping action. Calculate what you can. But once your calculations are done, take action. Like a swordsman, develop your talents to the highest possible level and meticulously prepare yourself for the great event; then edge in close to the opportunity before you.
  • Be great at the critical moment. Most of the time life places no great demands on you. But at certain times the consequences are great, and the pressure on you is extreme. It is then that you must rise up and be equally great or all will be lost. It’s when you come through then that you’re at your finest. It is precisely when you are in dire straits and your prospects seem dimmest that you should be at your best. Then you must rejuvenate yourself with a limitless courage. You will never be as great as you are at that critical moment.

What will be your critical moments in your artistic career?

Will you be great?

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Steps to Becoming a Successful Artist and Writer

You can develop as an artist any way you wish. This post lays out a process of development that is generally, in one way or another, followed by successful artists. The steps are not necessarily linear, occurring one after another in a strict order, but they are usually present in the lives of writers and artists of all kinds. I’ll be curious to hear from you about your own development. Did it follow a direct path or was it roundabout? What steps were involved? How difficult was it? What did you learn from it?

My life of devotion to writing and studying the arts and the artist’s life—setting writing as a high priority in my life; thinking of it all the time; sacrificing for it—were shaped by these experiences:

classroom-510228_640In the third grade the teacher read to the class my theme in which I’d used poetic language (I’d written a simile), and I decided I would become a writer and write similes as often as I wanted the rest of my life.

At eight or nine I saw Laurence Olivier, the world’s greatest actor, in a movie on TV and decided that I wanted one day to be able to affect people the way his performance had affected me—he had made me gasp. Even as children we are able to recognize art at its highest and wish to know more about it and about artists who are such extraordinarily talented beings.

A major event for me in college involved another teacher, a well-known teacher of writing who one day read to the class a piece I’d written about my childhood. When she finished reading, she said, “A teacher waits her entire career for a student who can write like this.”

Very quickly after that, while still in college, I wrote a story that was published in a prestigious literary journal.

Then came the education, the writing jobs, the artistic friends, the teachers, the ambitions and goals, the teaching of others, and the hard work.

I entered the writer’s milieu—publishers, agents, best seller lists, book tours, foreign editions, television, radio, newspapers, magazines, reviews, public recognition—success.

Then I took off years reading, researching, and experimenting.

Next, while continuing to research especially on artists, I began writing blog posts.

At every turn there was positive feedback, reinforcement, and encouragement.

 Steps

stairs-315952_640I’ve talked to many artists of all kinds and studied the lives of artists of every variety looking for patterns in their development: how did they become artists? In most instances the process of developing and perfecting an artist’s talent involves:

First signs of talent and interest: It may happen at any age–prodigies at three; painter Grandma Moses in her eighties. A child’s interest often follows an interest of a parent, and that parent often followed an interest of their parent. What is most amazing about young prodigies is that they are “pretuned”—they know the rules of their area of talent before being taught them. Few artists are prodigies, and in the overwhelming majority of cases later in life the artist who was not a prodigy–and often showed no particular talent in youth–surpasses the prodigy in achievements.

Some artists take to the art as a second career that may become a primary career, or they excel in both careers. Composer Charles Ives and poet Wallace Stevens were both also successful insurance executives. Award-winning American poet William Carlos Williams was a pediatrician. Prolific novelist Anthony Trollope was a British post office employee. Painter Henri Rousseau was a tax collector in Paris.

Interest aroused: There is almost always a moment in a talented person’s life when he/she became enamored of a particular art. There was a connection, a suitability, a symbiosis: the to-be-composer George Gershwin as a boy sitting on the curb outside his friend’s lower east side New York apartment and hearing him play the piano.

Trying it out/taking a stab: This often has a lasting effect, overcoming hesitation, shyness, reluctance, embarrassment, and fear.

Tentative commitment: “Okay, Mom, I’ll take lessons. I’ll see if I like it.”

crystal-439297_640A crystallizing experience: Often a moment occurs when the person’s existence seems to be organized and focused toward the art, a premonition that from that point forward the art will be prominent in his/her life.

Discovery of aptitude, Inclination, potential: Reinforcement comes from the outside–approval/ support/ applause/ a successful recital or performance in a play. You will not go terribly far in the art if your personality and skills are not synchronized, harmonized, and matched with those required to excel in the art.

Awakening of desire: “This is the right thing for me to do. I like this. I’m good at it. I want more of this. I will work at this.”

Establishment of “themes” important to the artist: Personal motifs begun earlier in life, often childhood, stay with the artist throughout life and are reflected again and again in everything the artist produces. These themes cannot be avoided; they are the artist’s “fingerprints.” Artists accumulate experiences, people, places, key episodes, and ideas which they will draw on the rest of their lives, endlessly recapitulating them in their work. These are the origins of their craft. Anyone who knows an artist’s work well is able to identify the artist’s recurring themes and subjects. His/her preoccupations are everywhere in the work.

Increased effort: Willingness to devote more energy to the art develops. What is often so impressive is how quickly some artists move from a first exposure to this level.

Self-confidence builds: The desire to succeed and the confidence that they can—along with skill and resilience—bring artists success. Those who are sure of themselves intensify their efforts when they don’t reach their goal and persist until they reach it.

Jelling: Everything starts to come together–ambitions, skills, progress, and success.

Deepening of desire: Stronger feelings toward the art increase; ambitions are raised.

Instruction, learning, knowledge, talent development: The specialized knowledge you accumulate through practicing your craft and receiving instruction, including self-instruction, is the most important factor in reaching exceptionally high levels of skills, possibly of greater importance than talent. The excellent writer or artist has acquired more sheer knowledge of the art and how to create it than the less excellent writer or artist.

All artists are to some extent studious and have the ability to apply themselves and to learn quickly; they are teachable. The need is for effective teachers. A poor teacher is as harmful, or is more harmful, than no teacher; the student of a bad teacher acquires bad habits. Being a stellar student in school is certainly not a prerequisite for artists. However, specialized training in certain arts such as painting and composing is often crucial.

Mentoring, coaching, modeling, guiding: No artists—no human beings–reach their goals and achieve success without help. The older generation passes on knowledge, styles, and techniques to the younger who emulate the older. Mentoring often plays an inestimable role in artistic development, as the mentoring that Gertrude Stein and Ezra Pound provided to a young Ernest Hemingway, helping to shape his revolutionary writing style, or that Sherwood Anderson gave William Faulkner, starting him off on his professional literary career, by asking his own publisher if they would publish his protégé’s first novel.

Close personal support, encouragement: Many benefit from connectedness to others such as writers’ or artists’ groups and at times in the relationship with one other person as lovers, husbands and wives, siblings, or close friends: Frederick Chopin/George Sand, Jackson Pollock/Lee Krasner, Jean Paul Sartre/Simone De Beauvoir, Henry Miller/Anais Nin, Virginia Woolf/Leonard Woolf, Salvador Dali/Gala, Thomas Wolfe/Maxwell Perkins, George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin. Most artists form a set of personal and professional relationships in the field that support them, find them opportunities, and rally them when they’re discouraged. The partner/mate of the artist often takes pressure off the artist, freeing him to focus on his work, as with novelist Joseph Conrad and his wife Jessie George.

piano-233715_640Sustained deliberate practice: Months and years of work and improvements pass. The “ten year rule” (although it has notable exceptions) states that to progress from a novice to high expertise requires ten years of focused effort. That involves developing skills through intensive—often lonely–practice leading to competence, then to expertise, then excellence, then greatness. Even this process—tedious, boring, demanding—is a pleasure to the artist. Long periods of dogged hard work are nearly always the reason for superior artistic performance.

More focused effort: Realizing that artistic success is feasible, the artist buckles down with stronger motivation, drive, persistence, perseverance. Expectations rise. Picasso said, “Everybody has the same energy potential. The average person wastes his in a dozen little ways. I bring more to bear in one thing only: my painting, and everything else is sacrificed to it…myself included.” Some ballet dancers with an eye to excellence practice until their feet bleed.

Experimentation: William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and Eugene O’Neill began as poets, then switched to short stories and novels, or plays. Later in life short story master Anton Chekhov (the best there has ever been) began writing plays as well and discovered he could write masterpieces. A multi-talented man, Chekhov was also a practicing physician.

Narrowing down, specialization, development of a dominant style: As a result of experimentation and the clearer understanding of his strengths, weaknesses, and preferences, the artist defines himself more specifically: “I am a portrait painter.” “I paint skies.” A distinctive style (that develops over time) is the first sign of an artist’s high expertise. When I told that to the late composer/conductor Marvin Hamlisch, the composer of “The Way We Were,” and A Chorus Line, he asked, “Is that true?” and I said, “Marvin, you can’t write anything without my knowing it’s you.”

Breakthroughs: Often there are “years of silence” when the artist is working hard but has no tangible successes to show until the first successes which often then come in a flurry—novelists Jack London and William Saroyan received hundreds of rejections before their first success. Thereafter, everything they wrote was published.

Application, Working Harder: The taste of success creates a hunger for more success, which inspires more rigorous application and harder work.

Self-Education, self-determination: Every artist to one extent or another is an autodidact, a self-teacher. Some, like painter Vincent van Gogh and American poet Walt Whitman, were almost completely self-taught. Other famous painters studied with masters, but van Gogh and Henri Rousseau were exceptions. Writers are more likely than other artists to be self-taught. Most composers are taught by masters, and must have high potential to even be accepted as a student by the master. But classical composers Russian Alexander Borodin (also a chemist and physician) and Englishman Edward Elgar were essentially self-taught.

Settling on a Working Philosophy, Work Habits/ Tempo: Everyone working at an art develops his or her own work pace and philosophy of working. Van Gogh always painted at high pressure and at a feverish pitch, gathering up the colors as though with a shovel, throwing them on the canvas with rage, globs of paint covering the length of the paint brush and sticking to his fingers. He had no hesitations and no doubts. Cezanne didn’t understand van Gogh and told him, “Your methods lead to confusion. You don’t work in the manner of our ancestors.” American novelist Thomas Wolfe, a huge man with an equally huge capacity for work, wrote in a frenzy in clouds of cigarette smoke at lightning speed. Gustave Flaubert, on the other hand, worked meticulously, agonizing over every word in every sentence. Some film directors re-shoot a scene thirty times; others rarely more than once or twice.

Noticeable Improvement, refinement of skill, maturity: An evolution often occurs when the artist finds his “voice” as a result of long experience and reflection. Novelist Henry Miller: “It was at that point…that I really began to write… Immediately I heard my own voice…the fact that I was a separate, distinct, unique voice sustained me…My life itself became a work of art. I had found a voice. I was whole again.”

Greater reach, sudden growth spurts: At times, almost unaccountably, an artist experiences a leap in performance. The best example is Walt Whitman. In a short period he transformed himself from a below-average scribbler to America’s greatest poet.

Setbacks, obstacles, and Impediments: Artists often lead troubled, unconventional lives. Almost all go through fallow periods when success seems unattainable, but their recuperative powers seem inexhaustible and they work on, developing the resilience to rebound from setbacks. The incidence of addictions, mental illness (particularly bi-polar disorder), and suicide is considerably higher than that of the general population. Self-destructive American painter Jackson Pollack, American writer Ernest Hemingway, and too many poets to mention are examples. That, to me, makes artists even more remarkable, for often in spite of enormous personal problems that would debilitate most people, they still manage to produce tremendous volumes of artistic work of the highest quality. It is as though when they are focused on their craft all obstacles wither and disappear. Writer, poet, and essayist D.H. Lawrence wrote, “One sheds one’s sickness in books.”

new-york-115629_640Increased satisfaction, rewards, a way of life: Artists differ from one another in a variety of ways, but are unanimous in this way: they all love what they do. Their art provides a source of challenges, fulfillments, and opportunities for self-exploration and self-expression. The artist experiences the intrinsic satisfaction of continuous enjoyment from the art and the extrinsic benefits of success—particularly respect and praise—even adoration–and material rewards.

You want to continue to make regular use of your principal artistic strengths–your main aptitudes, talents, gifts, personal qualities, and capabilities, to do so freely, without inhibition, without conflicts, and without being interfered with, and to be in a position to say every day, “Now, at this moment, I’m doing what I do especially well. I love it. It makes me happy.” Once you know you’re moving in the right artistic direction and feel strongly about it you fly through your days aflame with energy and determination. To become clear as to what your intended destiny is and to say to it, “I devote myself to you” is to feel an unstoppable drive toward its due fulfillment and to spring to life.

One after another, you overcome obstacles that are conspiring to keep you from your intended destiny, and now you are an artist.

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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