Tag Archives: Henry Miller

Why Some Writers and Artists Give Up, but Others Never Do

Examples of a Writer’s and an Artist’s Adversity:

A Painter

You’re in the arts–you’re imaginative–so imagine that you are like an artist friend of mine named Ariel and you have worked very hard and Woman artist working at an easel in front of a windowhave finished a painting that in your judgment is excellent in every respect. Like Ariel you are trained and educated in your craft and recognize your paintings’ consistently high quality and dazzling originality. You know you can’t do better. You feel that no one but you could have executed this project. It required blending many abilities not every painter possesses. You see in your painting, as Ariel saw in hers, something especially flamboyant and fetching. Your hopes for its artistic and financial success are high.

But in the marketplace the work is ignored without a word.  Paintings that you know are lower quality are praised and sold for impressive prices. Your work is considered a failure, your reputation tarnished. You are as discouraged as deeply as you have ever been, heart-broken, feeling cursed, dejected, doubting that the experience of being content–that glow of the heart–that conviction of strength you remember–will ever come back again. You lose your appetite for the artist’s life. You have had enough and like Ariel you give up.

Were you to enter Ariel’s apartment and walk down the hall you would find that painting on an easel in an unused bedroom close to the kitchen.

 

An Author

Now imagine that you are an author with a new contract with a big advance and the publisher–highly regarded in publishing–is ecstatic about Writer working at an old-fashioned typerwriter in front of a windowyour book. She recognizes its significant sales potential. She calls you In Chicago from New York and says that your book is one of the two or three best books of any type she has ever read. She is entranced with the book and pledges to you to commit to “putting it over” whatever resources are necessary to make it the country’s top best seller (The book is topical and has that kind of potential.) You call your agent and ask him about the publisher reputation and he tells you that they are known for selecting one of their titles each year and making it the kind of best seller the publisher described.

Meetings are held, marketing plans laid, enthusiasm grows. But then like a curse you only read about, the very day–the very hour–you are scheduled to begin a long multi-city cross-country promotional tour to kick off the marketing campaign, you are called and told that the publishing house has been sold to a foreign-owned publisher who is not enthusiastic about your book and the marketing money and plan are abandoned. The cab to take you to the airport is outside waiting and you go out and cancel it.

All the plans are canceled and the dreams of being famous and rich are canceled too. You think, “It is no one’s fault. It could have happened to anyone.” But how dreary it is to fall unprepared from the heights of elation to the depths of sullen moods. (What you just read is not a case study I made up: it happened to me.)

 

Develop the Ability to “Spring Back”

During a career writers and artists who often are particularly sensitive people may encounter many adversities and hurtful failures. Being a section of a brass colored springresilient means first of all accepting such adversities and those you have experienced yourself as an unavoidable part of the writer’s and artist’s life. That insight deeply-felt and never forgotten is essential for maintaining a firm, unshakeable spirit.

The word “resilient” means “to spring back,” the way Ernest Hemingway was forced to spring back when his wife lost the only drafts of all his short stories on a train and he had to begin writing them all over again.  A painter needs to “spring back” when a prospect turns down a high-priced painting they had expressed a very strong interest in, but inexplicably changed their mind.

If you are a writer or artist–actor, composer, ballet dancer, musician, etc.– you have the advantage of a much larger tolerance for suffering than the majority of people. Make use of that advantage. Hardships, though they are difficult to bear and may create many stresses, strengthen the development of resilience.  Helen Keller was a disabilities rights activist, author, and lecturer who lived her life in total blindness. She said “character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

The lives of people in the arts aren’t easy.  For example, their lives confront them with many competitions when they must prove their worth: will my manuscript have a chance among the thousands of others submitted to that publisher? Will my lithographs make an impression at the show? And when there are competitions the majority are going to fail. If you fail, will you make a comeback? Not everyone makes a comeback.

 

Metaphorically Be a Body-Builder

A body-builder’s goal is to build muscle. When heavy weights are being lifted, the fibers in the muscles are broken down.   Then during the gray and aqua painting of a bodybuilder lifting a hand weight period the body-builder rests, those muscles are rebuilt, but bigger and stronger than they had been. Don’t be so afraid of hardships, stresses, difficulties, and crises. They strengthen you emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.

A knowledge of yourself and willingness to experiment with life changes and new directions will enhance your resilience. Some writers and artists are innately resilient and psychologically strong; others are not. But less-resilient writers and artists can learn to be stronger and more resilient. Begin by being self-encouraging. Tell yourself, “Don’t weaken. Be strong. This all will pass.”

Poet John Berryman thought ordeals are very positive things. He said, “I do strongly feel that among the great pieces of luck for high achievement is ordeal. Certain great artists can make out without it…but mostly you need ordeal…Beethoven’s deafness, Goya’s deafness, Milton’s blindness, that kind of thing.” Harsh difficulties enhance your ability to thrive under stress. They can improve your performance, stamina, and mental health.

Adversities can be positive, leading to the discovery of unknown strengths. Crises can change a novelist or water- colorist for the better. Hope and optimism strengthen you. Deeply-held spiritual beliefs strengthen you.  Making tough decisions under pressure also makes you stronger.

 

Another Painter and Three More Authors Who Failed But Did Not Give Up

Creative people are susceptible to trials and suffering. One especially trying period is getting recognized at the beginning of your career. William Saroyan received not just fifty or a few hundred rejection slips before his first story was published, but several thousand. But he continued Black and white image of Ernest Hemingway's head with mustache and beard wearing a rugged turtleneck sweaterworking, as confident as van Gogh and became one of the most popular American writers of his era. Ernest Hemingway said that  at the beginning of his career every day “the rejected manuscripts would come through the slot in the door…I’d sit at that old wooden table and read one of those cold slips that had been attached to a story I had loved and worked on very hard and believed in, and I couldn’t help crying.”  But he had faith that eventually his work would be in demand and never stopped working. The crowning achievement was the Nobel Prize in Literature.

self portrait of Vincent VanGogh in muted blues, browns, greens and orangesVincent van Gogh spent a short, intense five-year career producing an astonishing three thousand masterpieces that are now auctioned for many millions of dollars, but in his lifetime sold only one painting, and that was for a few brushes and paints. But he continued working confidently and never doubted that in the future his talents would be recognized

The persistent hard work of an ever-confident van Gogh, a Saroyan, and a Hemingway and other writers and artists like them–the refusal to accept defeat–is an antidote to failures in the arts.

American Henry Miller lived the life of a homeless beggar on the streets of Paris while trying to learn to write professionally, artfully. He was penniless and had no permanent address, no possessions but a comb and hair brush, no successes, and no prospects. Yet he was optimistic. He said, “I have no money, no resources, and no hope. I am the happiest man alive.” He lived that way into his late forties before his genius was recognized and he took the literary world by storm, writing a new kind of fiction. He was tough and street-smart. Being abused by an editor he snarled, “Who are these shits? Where do they get off saying such things to me?”

 

Acquiring Needed Insights and Strategies

In spite of inequities among writers and artists (“Why is she so successful when I am not?”) and the emotions discouragement causes–the anger, the bitterness, the scourge of self-doubt and shattered confidence, the devastation of failure, the sense of inadequacy–some people in the arts such as van Gogh, Saroyan, Hemingway, and Miller take a deep breath, regain their composure, and imperturbable, resume their heroic efforts, trying again, following the philosophy of resilience, of being knocked down seven times but getting up eight. However, some other writers and artists who are just as intelligent, just as gifted, just as aspiring, but not as resilient are tormented and creatively disabled. They may never recover unless they acquire new insights and corrective strategies of the type I’m discussing.

 

The More Persistent You Are the Better Off You Will Be

Photograph of a proud looking lion In every era, in creative after creative, three empowering qualities like three ingredients of a potent formula have proven to help writers and artists not to give up when they fail. Those qualities are being resilient, being persistent, and having faith in yourself. Resilient, persistent writers and artists with strong faith in themselves never give up.

Without a deep, enduring, never-defeated faith in yourself you may give up at the very moment you should brace yourself, focus more clearly, and work harder.  Often unsuccessful people are those who have fallen just a little short of their goals because they failed to persist for three months longer, or two, or even a week. They lost faith in themselves when they met adversity and didn’t realize how close they were to success, acclaim, and satisfaction. Have you ever given up too soon? What if you hadn’t?

grey-white cat looking at itself in a mirror and seeing an image of a grey-white lion's faceFaith in yourself touches every facet of your being–whether you think about your prospects positively or in a self-defeating way, how strongly you motivate yourself, your susceptibility to self-doubt and discouragement, and the positive changes you will be able to make in your life.

You must always strive to overcome the paralyzing sense that your efforts are futile. You must have enduring faith in yourself and not permit anything to interfere with it. Having faith in yourself, being resilient, and being persistent are cornerstones of success and fulfillment whatever your art.

Make the word “Persist” your motto, your rallying word. Whenever you are thinking of giving up your work, your career, say the word “Persist.”  Whenever you think “It’s just too much for me. I can’t continue,” say “Persist.” Say “Persist” if your submitted work is rejected. “Persist, don’t give up. Try again.” And when you are losing heart, losing confidence say, “I have faith in myself.”  Persist and have faith in yourself. “I will persist and finish my novel, and it will be the best I can do.” Then you will be strong.

Many psychologists believe that whatever the field or the activity the most intelligent person–the person with the highest I. Q.–will be the most laurel leaves on top and bottom of the words "Dont Give Up!" written with marker in a journal successful.  Catherine Cox studied greatness and disagreed. She found that persistence is a key. Persistence is so important in almost every endeavor that it compensates for lesser intelligence. Cox concluded: “High but not the highest intelligence, combined with the greatest degree of persistence will achieve greater eminence than the highest degree of intelligence with somewhat less persistence. “

Many writers, artists, composers, musicians, actors, ballet dancers, and other creatives have learned that their persistence has been more important than talent.

 

If you want a successful future in the arts, you will never think of yourself as a failure or give up if you don’t succeed.  You will be level-headed and do your best to respond calmly with composure and confidence to setbacks, difficult periods, insults, abuses, deprivation and failures–bravely, with hope, courage, and positive thinking. In the most despairing moments of your career you will think, “It’s bad, but my goodness, it’s not that bad. I’m not dead and I’m still very talented.”

 

© 2022 David J. Rogers

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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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