Tag Archives: purpose

Samurai Concepts for Creatives Part 2

In the last post, subtitled, “A New Language for Creative People,” I applied Samurai terms to the lives of creatives to show that those terms have relevance to writers, artists, composers, architects, and actors today, a thousand years samurai-statueafter “the tramp of warriors sounded like a thousand convulsions of the earth,” and “the shouts of warriors, the whistling of arrows, the thunder of the feet of foot soldiers and the hooves of chargers did not cease.”

Do: The Concept of a “Way”

The Japanese “do” (pronounced “dough”), means “way,” short for “way of life” or “life path.” That a discipline is a Way is indicated by the do suffix at the end of a word. Thus kendo (ken, sword; do, way) means “sword Way,” or Way of the sword. Bu (warrior) do (Way), refers to the attitudes, behavior and life-style of the Samurai warrior.

In kyudo, the Way of the bow, no quiver is worn and the archer fires just one arrow. From this the archer is to learn daido, a “principle that operates in all things.” The archer is to come to value his life more fully, for each arrow is like the japanese-flowers-ikebanatotality of his life. You have but one life; thus you shoot but one arrow. The Samurai was taught, “The Way is your daily life.”

A serious writer’s or artist’s life is a “Way,” for example, the Way of the Writer,” “the Way of Writing,” and “the Way of the painter or sculptor”– just as in Japan there is the Way of floral arrangement, the “Way of flowers,” and “The Way of tea.” It’s axiomatic that what applies to one teapot-37046_640Way has application to all the other Ways. For example, a basis of the Way of the Warrior is showing courage in the face of adversity. And a writer or actor and painter too faces adversity and will benefit from having a warrior’s courage.

When creating is a Way you say to yourself, “I am full of unrealized potentials and special gifts that need to be developed, and am what I make of myself. I take full responsibility on myself and am choosing a creative’s life of my own free will.  I have felt that creative calling for a long time.  So many years and days allotted to me have passed and I believe I haven’t gotten far enough. I’m clear now and I have stores of energy in me that will make possible extraordinary achievements. My life now will be an existence that I’m designing to my own specifications. I have the conviction that the life I now envision is the life I was always meant to have.”

On the creative’s Way you’re committed to:

  • Finding a best outlet for your talents
  • Perfecting your aptitudes and skills
  • Discovering and expressing yourself
  • Creating beauty
  • Expressing truth
  • Communicating with a public
  • Learning a discipline, becoming part of a tradition
  • Prevailing over difficulty
  • Developing and improving
  • Being paid and/ or compensated in other ways such as through recognition and acclaim
  • Finding pleasure in creating and the creatives’ life

Skills can be taught, but a Way can’t. There’s no searching for a Way. It comes to you on its own when you’re ready. And when it does come, you know.  As a boy-paintingchild, you begin writing or drawing no differently than anyone else, but at some point—it could be at the age of five or a hundred and five–you begin creating more purposefully than other people. Then almost without being aware of how it happened, out of the processes of creating,  gaining knowledge of your craft, and the craft’s world, and growing in skill, you are “taken” by it fully and completely and find yourself on the Way of the painter, writer, or actor, etc.

The logical end of the creative’s Way is to become a Real Writer, or Real Painter, or Real dancer, and so forth—to become known by your family, friends, teachers, and audience, and to define yourself as “someone who is serious about creating.”

Let your work become a Way.

Mokuteki Hon’I: “Focus on Your Purpose’’

When as a person doing creative things you discover what you must accomplish with your talents and that becomes a major goal there comes something new and extraordinary into your existence. You’re electric with that rarest of qualities—intensity. Doing the work as well as you’re able becomes a Purpose.

The Samurai was taught, Mokuteki hon’I, “Focus on your purpose.” With a purpose your every act takes on power. Obstacles, once so intimidating, fall away because your purpose is more powerful than the obstacles. You feel a zest, a tingle. Your imagination is on fire. It is strength to be of one mind, complete and undivided, fully committed to a life with purposes.

When you make a purpose out of what a moment before was merely a responsibility, or a chore, or a duty by thinking, “This, what I am doing now, is a-focused-mindmy purpose,” extraordinary achievements become possible. Impediments become light as feathers.

Begin every project and every day, every time you return to work after a break, with your purpose in mind. Say the words, “Focus on your purpose.” I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve said “Focus on your purpose” aloud to myself and been inspired by those words. Thousands.

Kufu: “Struggling, Wrestling, and Grappling with Something

Until a Good Solution Is Found”

I was interviewing people for a job that required the ability to write reports. While he wanted the job, Jack confided that he had a problem—writer’s block. Anyone who will apply for a writer’s job and be so honest as to tell the person doing the hiring that he has problems writing is my kind of guy. He told me more. “When I sit down to work, all that I want to say seems clear to me. But when I actually start I have a tough time. The ideas and words don’t come. I try, but after about an hour I give up. What do you think I should do?”

“Don’t quit after an hour,” I said.

The point I was making was a simple Samurai one. I was telling Jack to kufu his way out. Some problems are one-hour problems, others are two or five hour or longer problems.

Kufu. It’s a wonderful concept that applies equally to the small everyday tasks and problems in a creative’s life and to the big ones too. It means giving yourself completely to discovering the solution or to finding the way out of your difficulties and to your creative goal.

It means to struggle, to grapple, to wrestle until you find the solution. It is holding nothing back in reserve. It is closing ground on the problem and never retreating or hanging back. When you take the kufu, grapple-your-way-out approach, you know that somewhere ahead of you lies a breakthrough point, a moment when you will get the better of the creative problem or the task. It is there awaiting you. All you have to do is remain concentrated and focused on the goal.

“Who knows,” I told Jack, “but your breakthrough point could come at sixty-one minutes or seventy-five or may take days. If you give up after an hour, hand-299675_6401you’ll never reach it. Kufu your way out of this writer’s block.”

Months later Jack came to tell me that he had gone back to his writing to try the kufu approach of staying with it, trying it again and again, no matter how long it took. Suddenly, he said, writing had become not totally effortless, but noticeably less difficult.

No one is spared resistances to the creative breakthrough experience. Jack continued to encounter concentration problems from time to time, but he had learned what many people never learn: the kufu spirit of staying with it until the problem is solved.

Makoto: “Sincerity”

Makoto is the Samurai precept of precepts and a concept of action that the Japanese of today value above all others. It is usually translated into English as “sincerity.” But it does not mean sincerity in the sense of “I’m sincerely pleased with our conversation.”

Makoto means putting absolutely everything you have, everything you are into an act—all of your heart, and all your spirit, mind, and all of your physical strength.  To hold anything back in reserve or to hesitate in any way whatsoever is for the creator to act . . . insincerely.

Creative people are tremendously productive individuals who at their best practice makoto every day, putting all their talents, skills, and training into their work, holding nothing in reserve.

The Samurai terminology I’ve described in the last two posts express ideas that have been useful to creative people everywhere in the world as they all aimed so steadily at perfecting their skills and so devotedly pursued their Way.

japanese-garden

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

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

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15 Ways to Overcome Fear of Failure

When most creative people pursue their goals they imagine what it would be like to reach them (Hope of Success). And they also worry that the goal will not mountain -seabe reached (Fear of Failure). Those two emotions go together and are reverse sides of the same coin. That creators’ fear of failure is perfectly natural and is to be expected whenever you’re facing a difficult, challenging task, such as a writer crafting a play if she’s never written one before, or a lithographer preparing a work for an important contest.

But at times the fear of failing becomes a major psychological obstacle that keeps creators from reaching the success and satisfaction they’ve been hoping for. Creators who are dominated by the fear of not succeeding, but failing have developed—often without realizing it–characteristic tactics for protecting themselves from enduring what often is not just a fear of failing, but a much more dreadful terror of failing. Ironically, those tactics do more to contribute to failure than to prevent it.  It’s worthwhile looking at those tactics that you might recognize in yourself so that something might be done about them.

Rather than enduring the misery of experiencing that terror of failing the person harried by it may:

  • Avoid competing with others of comparable ability. They prefer being the big fish in the little pond.
  • Be perfectionists. They don’t attempt things in which they won’t be able to attain perfection or near perfection. The tactic here is to carve out a very narrow area of competence in which they excel and can approximate perfection.
  • Prefer very easy or very difficult tasks, nothing in the middle. In contrast, most high achievers generally pursue tasks and goals they have a one in three or two in three chance of succeeding at. Not a sure thing and not an impossible thing.
  • Avoid displaying their abilities in public. A pianist may be able to perform beautifully in private, but shy away from performing in front of people.
  • Avoid attempting anything important. The more important the activity, the more they avoid it. A writer may avoid trying to get his work published even though publication is the logical outcome of the writing process.
  • Avoid taking risks. Most creators who become eminent experience turning points at which they take a risk which their less eminent contemporaries are too timid to take. Fear of taking chances melts in the face of a strong and urgent purpose and self-confidence (If you’ve been reading my posts you can’t have helped but notice I’m enamored with self-confidence because it, along with skill, is the antidote to most creator’s main problems, including self-doubt and discouragement).
  • Have trouble performing under time pressure. They panic as they approach the deadline. Even the word “deadline’ scares them. They delay. They give up. They shut down. More confident creators are challenged by a race against time and are often the most excited and highly focused and at the height of their skills when the clock is ticking. The best tactic is to forget about the deadline completely and focus totally on the task.
  • Prefer practice and games rather than the real thing.
  • Seek social support. People who fail tend to have as friends others who fail.
  • Have unrealistic expectations–oddly enough, on the high side. Asked to estimate how well they’ll do at achieving a goal they will say they’ll do far better than they actually will. I had an egotistical friend in college who wrote a paper for English in which he said he was brilliant, a great lover women couldn’t resist, handsome, a wonderful athlete, and a conversationalist who could charm birds out of trees. The professor returned his paper with the comment scrawled on it: “It’s a shame you can’t add a command of the English language to the list of your other accomplishments.”
  • Misjudge past performance. They also exaggerate how well they did in the past.
  • Reject the measure of a skill. For example, the student who doesn’t do well and says, “Getting good grades doesn’t mean a thing.”
  • Avoid measurements of their performance. They don’t want to know how well or poorly they’re doing, for if they knew they might have to admit they failed. Without contrary information they can always say, “I’m doing pretty well.” At work, they are the employees who dread performance evaluations. They might even arrange to stay home on the day of the evaluation. The best writers, best painters and actors are just the opposite. They want to know if they’re doing well or poorly. They welcome feedback, and actively seek it, feedback that is rapid, specific, and helpful. They are always asking about their work, “Well, what d’ya think of it?” Studies of highly creative people show that they accept helpful guidance and have “an openness to advice.”
  • Not try. A fear that dominates many creators and makes them quit trying to succeed is the fear of failing to reach financial success, or just break even. Writer Francois Voltaire and painter Claude Monet won Money treefortunes in government lotteries and were able to devote themselves completely to their work. But Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner spent most of his writing life in virtual poverty. When his picture appeared on the cover of Time magazine he couldn’t  pay his electric bill of $35. He wrote: “People are afraid to find out how much hardship and poverty they can stand. They are afraid to find out how tough they are.” But financial risk is part of the creator’s life style and for many writers the fear of being broke can be exhilarating, a source of creative energy. Most creators perform better under some amount of financial pressure. Sherwood Anderson’s publisher thought financial security would help him produce more and sent him a weekly stipend. But that made him less productive, and Anderson asked them not to send it anymore: “It’s no use. I find it impossible to work with security staring me in the face.” In The Courage to Write Ralph Keyes says, “Knowing that there is a direct line between putting words on a page and food on the table keeps me focused.” Picasso said he was rich but tried to work as though he was poor.
  • Reject responsibility for their failures. If you wipe your hands of responsibility, all pressure is off and all fear of failing disappears. You might know creators who go to great lengths to avoid responsibility. They concoct elaborate excuses for their failures.

symphony-hall-893342_640A not uncommon fear of failure among creators takes the form of “encore anxiety.” It is the fear after producing a successful first work that no matter what you do you won’t be able to produce a second work that’s as good or as successful.

 

To overcome fear of failure, go down the above list and develop counter-tactics. For example:

  1. Always try; don’t not try.
  2. Be interested in measurements of your performance; don’t avoid them.
  3. Consider your past achievements dispassionately; put your ego aside.
  4. Associate with other successful creators of comparable ability, not failures with less ability.
  5. Pursue goals that aren’t easy, goals that are a little out of reach.
  6. Open yourself up to areas in which you haven’t yet mastered perfection
  7. Take more chances; that shouldn’t he hard because creators are attracted by risks.
  8. Have realistic, not unrealistic, expectations.
  9. Judge your performance as accurately as you can.
  10. Actively seek feedback on your performance; don’t avoid it.
  11. Have no fear of financial pressures; let them motivate you.
  12. Be confident that you will succeed again.
  13. Don’t be intimidated by deadlines and time pressures; they help you perform better.
  14. Don’t fear competition. It may bring out the best in you and help you reach a level of success in your craft you’ve never dreamed of.
  15. Accept responsibility for failures.

success-620300_640All creators are capable of overcoming fears of failing, and when they aren’t extreme and debilitating, those fears can be positive—a push, an incentive– and have helped many creative people reach success.

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

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

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

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

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Preparation and Creative Success

A young recent college graduate found out I was an experienced often-published writer and came over and asked me if we could get together to talk about writing. And so we went to a restaurant and talked for an hour and a half.

writing-828911_640She wants to be a poet. She’s started reading poetry but isn’t trained in it. She’s a fledgling poet, a poet in the making. She showed me samples of her work and I liked it and could see what she’s trying to get at. I encouraged her. As we were finishing up she mentioned magazines and poetry journals she was going to send her poems to. They included the New Yorker and Poetry and other of the most prestigious publications in the country.

I went home thinking, “I hope she doesn’t get too disappointed if her poems are rejected. They probably will be. She doesn’t yet realize how competitive publishing is. She’s thinking only of the gift she senses in herself. But there are whole armies of other gifted people everywhere in the world. There’s no premium on giftedness among creative people. They’re all gifted.”

And I thought, “There are a million poets nowadays, just as there are two million novelists and three million artists, some of them extremely well-trained in their craft and who have long experience. And every poet, novelist, and artist would like to be extraordinarily successful.” But why would I of all people discourage her? She’ll find out for herself. Then we’ll see what she’s made of. Will she still be writing and still be as enthusiastic in five years? Ten years? Fifteen?

Then I received an email from a graduate student in Texas who’d heard me speak. He wanted to know if I could refer him to an agent and publisher he could contact after he started writing. He hadn’t started writing yet.

I replied in my email, “I think the most important task for you now is to focus on writing, writing, and more writing. And reading good writers who are writing the kinds of things you want to write—write and study how to write. Learn bestsellers-67048_640and learn more. Read because people you read about are people who’ve spent their entire lives reading. Develop your abilities. Getting an agent, getting a publisher are separate activities from writing and should be kept separate. After you’ve gotten good at writing, then it’s time to start thinking about getting your work published. First get good.”

What I was saying was that success–particularly in the arts–is difficult, and that preparation is the key. And is the key to success in everything. And that if you lack the skill to reach a goal you will not reach it. You will not reach the goal pen-27043_640until you have the necessary skill. There has to be a perfect match between goals on the one hand and skills on the other.

The main reason most artists and writers fail is because they haven’t developed the skills they should have developed, but neglected to. The need is to develop an expertise not in every skill but in especially the key skills a person in that field must excel in if they are to be as successful as they could be. If you don’t have the skills, if you’re to succeed you’ll have to acquire them. If, for example, a fiction writer isn’t strong in the skill of characterization she’ll have problems because characterization is an essential skill. Many say more essential than every other writer’s skill. So a writer better focus on developing that skill.

You can take a flyer and try—nothing ventured nothing gained. And if you fail, you fail, so what? But something unfortunate often happens to artists and writers (and actors, etc.) with high hopes who, because they’re unprepared, fail and fail again, and again, and again. They may never succeed and never know why they don’t. Their beginner’s confidence, once so strong, now flies out the window. They become deeply discouraged and may quit, and that’s it. Their career, once so hopeful, is over.

Their dreams of being creative all the time and living the life of a writer, painter, or actor, or dancer dissolve. Why? Because they’d been so hungry to succeed fast they’d neglected their preparation. And preparation is what they should have been doing—slowly, patiently learning, learning more, overcoming their weaknesses, and building up their strengths.

I can’t possibly tell you how many promising writers and artists—talented, impressive people–I’ve known who failed pencil-1203980_640and gave up and never reached their peak. All professional writers and artists have encountered more than a dozen more talented writers and artists than themselves who no longer write or paint at all. Who knows what they might have accomplished? How much better it would have been for them if instead of thinking, “I’m not good enough” they’d thought, “I’m not YET good enough, but one day I will be if I commit myself to getting good, very good.”

A theme of mine is that it’s always best to face reality, however harsh and however much at times we want to hide from it. Face reality head-on and don’t lead a life of illusions. Never hide. And a reality that a creator has to face head-on and not hide from is that it takes a long time—usually many years–and a lot of patience and an almost unbelievable amount of work to become what I call a REAL painter, or REAL writer, or REAL actor, or REAL dancer who has what Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway called “seriousness.” And there are no exceptions.

According to the research on the development of expertise in any field thousands of hours of application have to be put in if your aim is to excel or even be competent. No outstanding creative achievement has ever been produced without that much work on the part of the creator, however much natural ability he or she possesses. Some degree of that mysterious stuff called talent is necessary. But it’s far from everything. Talented people are a dime a dozen. The poet Hesiod who lived hundreds of years before Plato wrote, “Before the Gates of Excellence the high gods have placed sweat.” Sweat becomes part of the real creator’s everyday life.

The expert makes the performance look easy and we’re seduced: “I can do that.” But we have to look past the ease of the expert and realize creating is fun, it’s a gas, it’s fulfilling, and nothing else in your life compares with it. But succeeding at it at a high level is exceedingly tough. But many people have acquired a TV-ratings kind of mentality. It’s either quick results or cancellation.

It’s the same in the arts. A couple of tries without reaching success and it’s ratings time: “Who needs this? It’s harder to succeed than I thought. I’ll go into something else.” Then if you quit, nothing will be gained and many perfectly good years will have been wasted. But when we look at creative people who’ve “made it” we invariably find beings who have (1) persevered through setbacks (2) been devoted to developing to a high level the specific skills that made their high performance possible, and (3) had a thirst that can’t possibly be quenched to get better and better still.

So it’s wise to ask yourself as you work, “Am I really ready? Am I sufficiently prepared?” Lay your ego aside. If your answer is an honest “No, I can see I’m not,” go back, be patient, and focus harder on preparation.

Feel your expertise growing, your unique creative voice becoming clearer, your skills being refined before your eyes. For backdrop-772520_640a while don’t concern yourself at all with appearing on The New York Times best-seller list or any best-seller list. The hunger to see your name on these lists is the bane of writers. Don’t worry about having your work shown in the fanciest galleries.

When you’re prepared and your skills are strong enough that well may happen. But not until. But whatever you do, don’t quit till you’ve seen how high the skills you’ve so conscientiously developed will take you.

Sometimes I see the young poet on the street and I ask her, “Are you working?” And she smiles and says she is.

 

 

© 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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Conquering Blocks to Achievement

My book Fighting To Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life shows you an intelligent program for overcoming your internal blocks to reaching your highest achievements. All people everywhere on earth have an Every living thingurge to bloom, to blossom, to reach their fullest potential, but most aren’t able to because their inner blocks stop them time and again. They give up. They settle for lesser lives, and there’s no need for that.

There are a thousand blocks, but the main inner blocks you face are these:

Fear

Being afraid to take risks

Thinking too much

Doubting yourself

Hesitating

Fear:  Fear is the internal block of blocks, the obstacle of obstacles. The whole raven-1002849_640secret of existence is to be free of fear. When fear is conquered  your life begins fresh.

Being afraid of taking risks: How mediocre our lives would be if they consisted solely of avoiding risks. A survey was done of 300 adults who were asked to reflect on their lives, their happiness and their regrets. Who were the most dissatisfied with their lives? Those people who regretted not taking more risks.

Thinking too much: The Chinese character for “cowardice” is composed of two symbols, “meaning” and “mind.” The coward is one who finds too much person-690231_640meaning in things. He or she thinks too much. You’re thinking too much and becoming a coward when you spend an inordinate amount of time anticipating what could go wrong. Thinking that way you won’t start that business and won’t change your career though you’re unhappy, and won’t write that novel, and the rest of your life wish you had.

Doubting yourself: All people but fools doubt themselves sometimes. For most people, self-doubt is a fleeting and not-so-serious thing. But it dominates the lives of others and is their most serious block. They experienced doubt when they were children, and they still experience it as adults, and if nothing is done about it they will experience it the rest of their lives. What differentiates people who are confident from those in the habit of doubting themselves is not necessarily ability. People who doubt themselves may have as much ability or more ability, or much more ability than their confident counterpart who’s far less gifted but much more successful.

girl-1031309_640Hesitating: If you often find yourself waiting (for your lover to call you up, for that “just right” feeling before you act or for the “right” moment to start your life’s big enterprise) you might be on your way to becoming a hesitator. What you need now is a life of decisive choices. Throw a stake in the ground and say, “No hesitations anymore.”

REMEDIES

Practice the Skill of Making Your Body Obey Your Mind

The samurai skill of making your body obey your mind is this: going into action and getting done what needs to be done in your life in spite of your blocks. Not letting them stop you. You needn’t go off to a sanctuary on the top of a mountain to conquer your fear of whatever. You can say, “OK fear, come along if you want but THOUGH I’M TERRIFIED I’ve got a speech to give. Self-doubt, hesitation, thinking too much—you can’t stop me.”

Every day in offices, streets, art studios, and living rooms people are thinking: “In order to do it (whatever it is) I’ve got to first overcome my problem—my fear (or shyness, lack of self-confidence, bad habits, indecisiveness, etc.). Once I get rid of that baby, I’ll be all right. Then I’ll be able to sell, or lead company staff, make a speech in the town hall, go on a diet, etc.

The real problem isn’t what they think it is. It’s not the fear or lack of confidence or doubt. It’s their belief that the fear and doubt have the power to prevent them from doing the “it.” If you forget about yourself and your blocks completely and focus only on adapting to what life requires of you, no block will ever stop you.  Say to yourself, “THIS BLOCK HAS NO RIGHT TO STOP ME.” Keep your mind focused only on the task; forget about your emotions. PUT EMOTIONS OUT OF THE EQUATION.

So the next time a block is threatening to stop you, just have your body obey your mind.

Be Bold

The argument can easily be made that boldness and daring in and of themselves are what bring success in life. 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, 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.

People are curious and want to know more about boldness because they know how important it is. 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 in their history.

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 paint-33883_1280back 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 ask yourself when you discover yourself being stopped by blocks: “Bolder! What am I afraid of?”

Be Committed To A Life With Purposes

The samurai was taught, “Focus on your purpose.” When you discover what you must accomplish with your life, and moments in it, there comes something new and remarkable into your existence. You become inspired and mighty. You’re electric with that rarest of qualities possessed by so few—INTENSITY. Then your every act takes on a power strong enough to bring down a wall of iron. All hesitations and all fears and doubts fall away. You feel a zest, a tingle. Your imagination is on fire. It’s strength to be of one mind, complete and undivided, fully committed to a life with purpose.

Purposes are far more powerful than blocks. In the face of a powerful purpose, blocks dissolve and disappear. They can no longer stop you.

It’s never justified to say you can’t find a purpose. Purposes lie all around you like glittering jewels. Make whatever you’re doing your purpose of the moment, from the smallest thing to the biggest. Give what you’re doing stature, however insignificant it may seem. Then you’ll have intensity.

For a shy woman to conquer her shyness and go to a party alone is a major purpose. She’ll need a strong will and great courage. To take a second job for your family is a purpose. To be an attentive parent is a purpose. To start out on a new career is a purpose. To save a rain forest is a purpose.

Feather-60552_640When you make a purpose out of what a moment before was merely a responsibility, or a chore, or a duty by thinking, “This, what I’m doing now is my purpose” extraordinary achievements become possible. Obligations, once a heavy burden, now become light as feathers. Your life becomes tinged with a kind of glory. You become tinged with glory, and there is hardly an obstacle you can’t overcome, no obstacle out in the world, and no obstacle in you.

So, begin every day and every act of every day with a powerful purpose in mind.

 

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

www.mentorcoach.com/rogers

 

© 2016 David J. Rogers

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Living with Commitment and Power

When I was writing Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your work and Life and getting ready to send the manuscript off to Doubleday, the publisher, a good friend with my best interests in mind made it a point to come over to my house one afternoon to warn me. He said, “You’re not going to talk about death are you, Dave? It will be too depressing for your readers because your writing is always so optimistic, hopeful, and inspiring, and that’s what readers will be expecting. No one wants to read about death. No one wants to be reminded they’re going to die. I know, I know very well you have this belief that a writer must always tell the truth and owes it to the reader to never not tell the truth, but leave that out of your book. Even your editor won’t like it.”

Fighting to Win shows how the wisdom and philosophy of the samurai, the greatest and most spiritual warriors who samurai-161642_640ever walked the earth, applies to the everyday lives of anyone who can read the book, and will help them—old people, young people, students, movie stars, writers, artists, business people, teachers—anyone–Americans, Frenchmen, Swedes, Russians. And since death was so ever-present in the lives of these samurai men and women whose role was to risk death in battle without flinching or running away, how could I ignore death?

Warriors are taught to act boldly and decisively in the face of inevitable fate. In his “Primer” for samurai, Shigesuke Daidoji says, “The idea most vital and essential to the samurai is that of death, which he ought to have before his mind day and night, night and day, from the dawn of the first day of the year till the last minute of the last day of it . . . Think what a frail thing life is, especially that of a samurai. This being so, you will come to consider every day of your life your last and dedicate it to the fulfillment of your obligations. Never let the thought of a long life seize upon you, for then you are apt to indulge in all kinds of dissipation.”

Hagakure, a famous samurai text, says, ‘Every morning make up your mind to die. Every evening freshen your mind with the thought of death.”

“Freshening” your mind with the thought of death might seem a grim way to spend time; on the contrary, it is anything but. Those who are totally aware of how short their life will be—and who can feel the importance of that fact in the deepest corners of themselves—live a completely different kind and quality of life than the people who drift mindlessly along, never letting the thought sink in that in a relatively short time they will be gone.

All truly living things–creators in particular–have an urge to grow, to continue growing til the end of their lives.

In Japan the samurai is likened to the delicate cherry blossom which doesn’t last long in the wind that blows it from the japanese-cherry-trees-324175_640tree. One moment it is there and the next it’s gone. The same is true of the samurai and you and me. You are a cherry blossom and I am a cherry blossom too.

Every person with vitality and spirit chooses to die hard; to not go gentle into that good night and to fight against the dying of the light. If you’re a person with spirit, you’re no fool. You know death is going to get you, but it’s going to have a battle on its hands. While alive, you’re going to live without wasting your limited time being worried, cowardly, tentative, or putting things off for a tomorrow that might not come.

When you live with the full knowledge that death is always stalking you, you feel a quick surge of powerful energy, a sudden spark that overcomes you. When you live in the samurai style—as if you are already dead—you operate even more vitally. You acquire extraordinary courage, boldness, and decisiveness. You’re not timid any more, not about anything, any task, any impediment. You “go beyond the trifles of the world.” You fear nothing; you are fearless.

You reach a state of seishi o choetsu, “beyond life and death,” where even the knowledge of your death no longer frightens you. All that matters now is making use of the tremendous power you suddenly feel inside to accomplish all you set your mind to and to find your true destiny, a power strong enough, says the samurai “to bring down walls of iron.” And then your every act takes on an intensity that you have never known before. You live with commitment and power, two feet higher and  three steps faster than everyone else. And you find that you have incredible control over the conduct of your life. You find that there is not a single obstacle you cannot overcome.

The Rabbit and the Fox

A wise master and one of his students went for a walk through the countryside. The student pointed to a fox chasing a rabbit and said, “Oh, the poor rabbit.”

cottontail-rabbit-938478_640The master said, “The rabbit will elude the fox.”

The student was surprised. Maybe the old man’s mind wasn’t so sharp anymore. He said, “No, you see, the fox is faster.”

“The rabbit will get away,” repeated the master.

“What makes you think so?” asked the student.

“Because the fox is running for his dinner, but the rabbit is running for his life.”

The first step in living at the gut-level is understanding that we are all running for our lives.

An Exercise

The exercise is a short one. Read this . . .

The first man asked, “How do you feel?”

“Like one who has risen in the morning and doesn’t know whether he will be dead in the evening.”

“But this is the situation of all men.”

“Yes, but how many of them feel it?”

. . . and feel it.

I sent the manuscript off and ten days later my editor called to talk about it. He started by saying, “We love that section about the samurai and death. I was worried about how you would handle that. You made a potentially depressing subject inspiring. One editor would read those pages and pass them on to another editor and say ‘Look at this’ and now we can’t imagine the book without them.”

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Artists Aim for Perfection

Artists develop notions of something greater than competence, greater than excellence, and become intoxicated with Laurence Olivierperfection of their craft, perfection of their technique, and perfection of their repertoire of skills culminating in what they hope will one day be the perfect story, perfect poem, perfect painting, or perfect performance. Once in his career Laurence Olivier, the greatest actor of the 20th century, gave what he knew and everyone knew who was present that night was a perfect performance of Hamlet. “My God,” he wondered, “How did I do it and how will I ever be able to do it again?”

All artists want to “get better” and to “get it right.” They devote their entire careers to getting better and getting it right. The development of expertise is the artist’s most crucial task. If there is one thing that all successful creative people have in common it’s that they all work hard developing their skills, the foundation of their success.

To strive to improve one’s performance continually and to more and more often get it right, requires qualities that are not common. One is self-confidence; another is an objectivity about one’s artistic and sometimes personal shortcomings and limitations—a capacity for stern, dispassionate self-criticism. If an artist shows  you his work and you don’t notice the flaws in it that are so apparent to him, he will doubt your critical judgment and may not ask you again. Tell a ballerina her performance was breathtaking and she will say, “I missed a beat and my right foot wasn’t arched properly. “

The most difficult task for artists is to find and put into their work the right voice, the presence of the artist in the work. E.L Doctorow said, “I wait until I find a narrative voice. Then I listen to that and start writing.” John Updike wrote, “I notice that as I write it comes out as a sort of Updike prose. I sit down in such different moods, wearing such different clothes, and out this comes—like a kind of handwriting. It’s always mine, and there’s no way I can seem to get around it. Isn’t it funny you have only one voice?”

cream-rose-272946_640Artists may have to spend many years finding what their proper subject matter and voice may be. When they do find it, everything suddenly comes out into the clear light of day: “Now I know how to say what I’ve been trying to say.” At times—sometimes in mid-career—they discover that what they have been doing has been all wrong. The work doesn’t express them. When halfway through her life painter Mary Cassatt discovered her true subject—mothers with their children—and the right style, she destroyed all but a few of her previous works, signifying a new beginning. In mid-career painter Georgia O’Keefe decided her art was too influenced by other people and set out in a new direction.

Every art is physically and mentally exhausting. When they finish a day’s work, artists feel they have lifted a thousand pounds. They have a compulsion to work. The reason artists, like experts in all other fields, most often cite for their enormous energy, commitment, and focus necessary to excel is their motivation to concentrate on the task and put out effort to improve their performance.

Non-artists cannot be motivated or even forced to work at an artistic task to the extent that a person with an intense interest does willingly. There has probably never been a great artist who didn’t have a strong sense of single-mindedness and an ability to persevere, overcome difficulties, and concentrate on reaching his goals while resisting distractions. An interesting question is, “Why do some people but not others possess those qualities, and why do virtually all creative people?”

The artist’s main goal is production. When they have not worked at their craft for 48 hours, or 24 hours, or one hour, they get uneasy. When they are away from their work without a brush in their hand or something to write with or dancing slippers on their feet they are completely out of their element.

You cannot distinguish between true artists and their work. They are exactly what they do. A composer is his music, a writer his language. Every molecule in their body is the molecule of an artist. A director is one who directs; an actor acts. That’s what they do and that’s all there is to it. Their work is on their mind almost every waking moment.

mountain-299009_640Artists grow accustomed to loneliness. Even as children they spent much of their time alone. The common notion that artists are different and have different points of view, habits, personalities, and preoccupations than the majority of humankind is correct. There is often a distance, a gap, between them and their neighbors, even other members of their family, even their lovers and spouses who are not involved themselves in art.

They must incorporate the other person in their work or find a way of coping with that distance, or those sharing their lives must find a way. That may not be possible. Nobel Prize winning author Saul Bellow 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.” Bellow was married five times.

The artist, realizing that she’s looking at the world from a vantage point that’s not available to everyone, can say, “I am different. I see things differently. I value different things.” Everyone else wants to be rich. The artist wants fulfillment.

If they are truly artists, they are especially equipped and seem to have been born with not only magical “creative stuff” but with tenacity, strength, powerful will, and patience. In the achievements of successful artists you always see gifts coupled with extraordinary application, the former meaningless without the latter. A man I know was curious and attended an art show to ask a famous sculptor if he had advice for his son John, a sculptor who was just beginning. The sculptor said, “Yes I do have advice. It’s very simple. You tell John to pick up his mallet and his chisel and make chips.” A poet who lived several hundred years before Plato wrote, “Before the Gates of Excellence the high Gods have placed sweat.” Artists are great believers in sweat and making chips.

georgia-okeefe-396957_640Who sets the standard for perfection that all artists measure themselves against? The work of everyone is compared with the virtuoso. Miles Davis in jazz. Arthur Rubenstein playing Chopin. A novel by Faulkner.

French philosopher-playwright Jean Paul Sartre wrote that man exists first and only afterwards defines himself. He is what “he will have planned to be; he is what he conceives himself to be.” Artists may not talk much about being artists, preferring if they are any good, working to talking about working. But they conceive themselves to be artists. They have planned to be artists. They are creative in the grandest sense of creating themselves from scratch.

Henry David Thoreau, as great a clear-thinking artist as there ever was, wrote, “I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by conscious endeavor.” The Japanese say, “Irrigators guide water, fletchers straighten arrows, and as for wise people, they shape themselves.” Artists are shaping themselves from their first exposure to their art.

A cat becomes all the cat it will ever be without having to think about it. All that’s necessary is to be born a cat. But people who aspire to be artists have considerably more work to do than cats. The highest development of an artist’s capabilities to aim for and reach perfection is worth giving up almost everything for.

 

© 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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Writer and Artist Warriors

sunset-190922_640My younger sister Sharon died of bone cancer at the age of thirty-seven in a hospital in Honolulu, where she lived. She was a small, delicate woman who had the will of a warrior. When a doctor came to see her as she lay in her bed, he jumped back as though he had been pushed. He said to her, “I feel your power coming out to me.” But she was dying. There was no hope. Once she had been beautiful. I prayed, “Dear God, give me her pain so she will be free of it.”

I told her that I’d had writing a book in mind for a long time, but that I was very busy running the business I had started and really had no time, and that even if I did write it, it would take years to research and more years to write, and I wasn’t sure it would ever be published—the odds were against that as they are against any book being published–and I had a wife and four children to support and couldn’t afford to take a chance. And I was afraid I wouldn’t succeed, that I didn’t have what it took. But I didn’t tell her that.

She was in such pain that even the slightest, even the lightest, touch of another person on her was agony. So when I left to fly back home, knowing I would never see her again, I couldn’t kiss her. The pressure of my lips would bring her pain. I leaned over her and rested my head next to hers on the pillow. She whispered in my ear, “Dave, you write that book. I have faith in you. Write it for me.”

I returned home and organized my work space and set to work, thinking of her “Write it for me.” I told my wife, “I’ll close the business and I’ll finish the book in one year, and during that year we will have no income.” My wife said, “I understand. Go ahead. It’s important.” Nothing could stop me. What before had been a vague dream now became a purpose to devote myself to, to write a book, a good book for my little sister. It became my wife’s purpose and my children’s too. Whenever I was discouraged that purpose made me return to the book and to work till dawn, to sleep a few hours and get back to work for a year until the book was done. While I was working on it I thought, “I’m making a book Sharon would be proud of.”

I dedicated it to her with the inscription: “In memory of my sister Sharon. Just one word—courage,” and that word meant a lot to me because in this life everyday courage is so important.

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My book Fighting to Win: Samurai Techniques for Your Work and Life came out and has been called “an underground bestseller” because with almost no advertising it swept the country and my life was changed in so many ways. The book became known in my family as FTW. It went through multiple printings, and appeared on bestseller lists; the cover price rose and rose. FTW discussion groups took shape in big cities and remote towns in America and Europe. Articles about this strange book with the Japanese symbol “spirit” on its cover appeared in scholarly journals and popular magazines alike. The book was read by generals, governors, and dancers, writers, artists, and riveters, heart surgeons, business executives, retirees, and sales clerks. It began being included on university required reading lists. It was not about Anthropology, Physics, or Botany, but about how to live. This little book is about musha-shugyo, “training in warriorship.” It teaches the skills and passes on the insights of samurai warriors adapted to everyday life.

It is an optimistic and encouraging book. That’s how I intended it. It is full of promise, full of hope. It teaches strength and makes you strong. It says we have but one life, but this one life can be changed in an instant. It can become two lives. The life before the changes and the richer, more fulfilled and stunning life after them. We can renew ourselves and start fresh at will on a new creative course, a more fruitful course, a better course any moment we wish, putting aside disappointments, discouragements, false starts, and failures and emerging as full-blown, skilled, exceptional artists or writers. Every living thing, every artist, every writer, has an urge to grow, to realize its full potential. My life tells me that. I believe it more every day.

Warrior symbol

“Warrior” by tiseb

The book teaches us to persevere, to be brave and not hide from difficulties, but to race forward to meet them so we may overcome them all the more quickly, maintaining high spirits and complete faith in ourselves. It teaches that we must never be stationary, but must be always moving at a good clip toward a better life, never slowing down because we’re too lazy, or afraid, or self-doubting, or discouraged, or have been set back by circumstances. “When you meet calamities and rough situations, it isn’t enough simply to say you’re not flustered. Whenever you meet difficult situations dash forward bravely and joyfully.”

Readers started contacting me, and I was happy to get to know them and listen to the stories they told me. In the revised E-book edition I mention a few of their stories.

A Hollywood movie director called me and said he felt that people in that aggressive film industry had been “eating him alive.” A successful opera singer wrote me and told me she had been overwhelmed by a sudden and inexplicable fear of performing. She felt helpless. She didn’t know what to do and stopped singing. They read FTW. He became more assertive, self-confident, and successful; she overcame her fear and went back on stage and resumed her career.

A newspaper was having serious financial problems. Its existence was in jeopardy. And so the publisher was going to launch a five-day intense telephone subscription sales campaign using 100 sales people. The publisher, who was also a playwright, was confident that exposure to FTW ideas would inspire them, and had me speak to them for an hour. Following the campaign, he called me and said that the campaign had been a huge success–the staff was fired up and the result was thousands of new subscriptions. He said, “You and FTW saved the paper.”

The book teaches us the samurai concept of mo chih ch’u, “going ahead without hesitation.” It’s not looking back once you have decided on your course of action. Once you can say to yourself “This is what I want to do”—“Write the novel I’ve been talking about so long;” “Rent a studio;” “Move”– then be on your way immediately, mo chih ch ’u. Why delay when life is so brief and the most important time of your entire life is this present moment?

I shouldn’t have to ask where you intend to go in your career. I should be able to tell by watching you and hearing and reading about you. Your undeviating aim should be to reach the fulfillment of the creator’s life you can envision, letting no impediments keep you from it. You know that in this life you’ve chosen rather than the other 5,000 easier lives you could have chosen, courage is a necessity, that there really is nothing to be afraid of and no reason to hold anything back in reserve, and that the whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Getting closer each day to a more fulfilled creator’s life, becoming extraordinary, your energy and strength will be boundless. Others will let go of their dreams, but you never will. You’ll draw from deeper inside and be willing to exhaust yourself for the sake of your happiness.

You must never lose the expectation that no matter what, you will succeed. Your art will work out. Your book will be published. Your skills will get better and better, equipping you for your craft in ways you haven’t dreamed of yet. Knocked down, maintain your confidence that all will go well as long as you get up. Knocked down seven times, get up eight. For that is how a better creator’s life is reached. Like a warrior, you must only “take care that your spirit is never broken.” Never let disappointment and discouragement “penetrate to the depths.” “Wear your existence light as a feather.”

The samurai warrior spoke of internal “dragons” and “striking through the dragon’s mask.” The samurai was taught what we should take to heart: “When all psychological blocks are removed the swordsman will move without conscious effort.” When your blocks are removed you will write, paint, sculpt, or perform without conscious effort. “Success will always come if your heart is without disturbance.”The meaning of all things is within, in your mind, not something that exists ‘out there.’” After reading the book people ask themselves, or ask their friends, “What is holding me back? What are my dragons? How can I overcome them?”

dragon-149393_150Ask any small child what a dragon is and you’ll get an earful of terror and horror. You and I both believed in fire-breathing dragons until we discovered that the only place they existed was in our minds, that they were merely products of our imagination. They only “lived” and had the power to frighten us because we granted them license to. They died and no longer troubled us when we revoked their license. All obstacles inside us—in our minds–are dragons. They are no longer of the fire-breathing variety. They are now a different species entirely. But the effect of scaring us and making us draw back in horror is precisely the same. The goal of the warrior writer and artist is to strike through dragon’s masks and free himself/herself of obstacles so the mind is “free to function according to its own true nature.”

The five most powerful dragons samurai—there were women samurai too–were trained to strike through, and artists, writers and performers must train themselves to strike through, are any kind of fear, the fear of taking risks, thinking too much of what might go wrong, doubting yourself, and hesitating, particularly when that golden but fleeting opportunity appears. If the samurai was afraid, didn’t take risks, thought too much, doubted himself, or hesitated, he would lose—possibly his life–because of fear most of all. A creative person must be bold; fear cripples her: “Fear is the true enemy, the only enemy. Overcome fear and nothing can stop you.”

The one constant factor in warfare as well as a writer’s and artist’s life is uncertainty. Half the things you try to accomplish are obscured by it. Risk and danger and fear and self-doubt are always partners. You do not go into the arts if you want a secure, uneventful life of ease. In samurai swordsmanship there is a move that requires you to take two leaping steps forward and to come within a hairsbreadth of your opponent’s sword. It is not a difficult move and can bring quick and total victory, but it is rarely used. Why? Because taking the risk of coming so close to the foes blade terrifies most swordsmen. In a creator’s life, as with that sword move, it is only by edging yourself in close to danger and living more dangerously that you approach great success. Who are those artists and writers who are least satisfied with their lives? Precisely those gloomy writers and artists—and actors and dancers– who regret, now when it’s too late, being timid and playing it safe all their lives.

bird-226700_640As an artist or writer, you must have an immovable mind—a mind totally committed to facing with calmness and composure any fate, circumstance, or challenge a creator’s life throws at you. An artist’s or writer’s life is often filled with troubles. But you must never let them disable you: “Forget about death, forget about the enemy, forget about yourself, keep your thoughts motionless.” Then you will “flow with whatever may happen.” Then your craft will blossom and you will reach your destiny.

Unless you have mastered your mind and body, you cannot beat your enemies on the battlefield.” Take up one idea. Make that idea your life, recalling,  “No matter what it is, there is no hardship you can’t overcome.” Like a warrior “When crossing marshes, your only concern should be to get over them quickly.”

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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The Life Path of Artists and Writers

path and sunlight-166733_640Who are you? Where are you going? Where have you been?

As a boy I realized that Socrates’ advice that everyone in the Western world has heard at least five or six times–“Know thyself”–was no less difficult than to walk from my porch to the moon. But I know now that if we look carefully at where we have been, who we have known, what our life’s events from the earliest days have meant to us, and where we are going, we can in fact satisfy Socrates and know ourselves. This is a goal that is particularly important to creative people because their work is an exact reflection of the remarkable men and women their lives have made them.

 Your Ground Plan

It is a biological concept that applies very much to artists and artists’ development: everything that grows—a rose, an eagle, a human being– has a life plan, a ground plan, and a life structure. All parts of this structure have a time to emerge that when complete form a unified identity, in our case, they come together to form the identity “artist,” and more specifically a type of artist: novelist, violinist, classical pianist, jazz pianist, movie composer, stage actor, ballet dancer, modern dancer, etc. That ground plan leads either directly in a straight line or in a roundabout helter-skelter way to that identity, but lead to it, it does. There is an order to our past, present, and future lives, however disorderly and unconnected they may seem.

frank-lloyd-wright-396991_640(1)

Frank LLoyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s most renowned architect, knew from his earliest days that he would be an architect. When he was a child his mother told him he would, considering architecture man’s crowning achievement, and began to mold him to that art by placing illustrations of architectural masterpieces on his bedroom walls and encouraging him. And prodigies, Mozart, dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, Broadway composers Marvin Hamlisch and George Gershwin, and trumpeter Miles Davis among innumerable other artists followed a “neat and tidy” development, and knew as children precisely what their adult life’s pursuit would be. There could be no doubt. Novelist Henry James and his philosopher/psychologist brother William were raised with one objective in mind: to make them creative geniuses, and that’s what they became.

However, many successful artist’s ground plans follow a less neat and tidy, “messy,” meandering path, as in the cases of painters Vincent van Gogh (failed teacher, failed preacher, failed everything who yearned to find his true calling—and did at thirty-three when he was told he was starting too late), and Paul Gauguin (former affluent stock broker who abandoned his family to paint), and novelists Sherwood Anderson (successful business owner who also abandoned his business and family to write),Joseph Conrad (sea captain), and Henry Miller (telegraph office worker), and playwright Eugene O’ Neill (ship’s deck hand, grave digger, and aimless ne’r-do-well). The meandering path is typical of many artists as they experience hits and misses, successes and failures, victories and defeats, false starts and detours over and over. Straight or roundabout, tidy or messy, the artist’s ground plan is in effect and leads to his/ her being an artist and being recognized as such. There is not one best way to become a successful artist—writer—performer, etc. But there are any number of perfectly fine ways.

Has your creative ground plan been tidy or has it been messy?

La Grande Ligne

Out of the mass of experiences of his life, the artist (1) must somehow or other settle on an art and way of life that fits him; (2) must have the personal makeup necessary to excel in the art; must possess the (3) knowledge, (4) drive and persistence, (5)  confidence and (6) complement of skills necessary to excel, and must (7) further develop strengths along certain clear lines.

music-7971_640La grande ligne (“the long line”) is a term in music that means simply that every good piece of music gives the audience a sense of flow, of continuity from the first note to the last. That continuity and flow is the challenge and be-all and end-all of every composer’s existence. Every artist’s life—every painter, writer, actor, dancer–whatever his/her chosen art, has a grande ligne, a flow from beginning to end. All of the artist’s choices and goals should be understood as relating to their ground plan, whether the artist is or isn’t aware of that fact.

A number of components must come into alignment to result in a unity of direction and purpose of a person’s life, and certain steps must be followed. The components making a business woman are different from the components that work together to make a diplomat or a baker. Artists have alignments of components of a certain characteristic type–many personal qualities, interests, motivations, values, abilities, experiences, and other components. If just one component is missing, you no longer have a painter, sculptor, writer, or dancer. Everything must be present.

Life History Process

A way to acquire a clear view of your life’s “long line” is to come to understand: yourself as you are at this moment; the relationship between the person you are now and the days and years of your past life; how you conceive of your whole life; what happened in your life—what events meant to you and what they mean to you now. And to answer the question, “What am I trying to do as a human being, and as a creative person?”

  • Divide your life into periods, such as:

++++ Birth-15 years

++++ 15-25

++++ 25-45

++++ 45-65

++++ 65-

  • Recall key EPISODES from those periods, period by period—“When I was six this happened to me. It was very important because it introduced me to music…” “At twenty-three I had a gig at a local bar and met an agent at a party…” “At thirty I started to dabble with bright colors…” Very often an episode occurs when the artist’s existence seems to be organized and focused toward the art and he has a premonition that from that point forward the art will be prominent in his life. Your entire life is a drama composed of the total number of significant episodes. Looked at closely and objectively, they reveal larger plots and themes. Right now, even without much thought, what particularly meaningful episodes come quickly to mind?

++++ Episode 1

++++ Episode 2

++++ Episode 3

++++ Episode 4

Methods that can be used to help you recall key episodes include discussions with relatives and friends, looking at report cards, documents, and records, and at your products—stories, drawings, compositions, paintings, performances. Photo-history is a method that involves looking at photographs to stimulate your memory. Assemble photographs from your life. Put the photos in chronological order; look at one at a time; ask about the photos—when was it, where was I, who are those people, what was happening?

Looking closely at individual episodes, ask: “What was I trying to do?” “Who was I?” “What was I learning?” “How was I changing?” “Was something leading me in the direction of my future work—an experience, a teacher, a success, a failure?” How did everything contribute to your becoming who you are? When did your artist’s, writer’s, or actor’s ground plan start taking shape? How did it begin? Through what ups and downs did it lead you then?

You may wish to write an autobiographical narrative about important episodes as I do with my “Growing Up” stories—direct statements of what happened when. When you do, memories buried deep in your mind will come flooding back, and you will remember what was happening and how you were feeling. Memories—particularly of childhood–are a main source of a creator’s inspiration. Author Thomas Wolfe’s ambition was to describe everything he had ever experienced. Author John Updike said that nothing that happens to you after the age of twenty is worth writing about. Personal motifs begun earlier in life stay with the artist throughout life and are reflected again and again in everything he or she produces. These themes cannot be avoided; they are the artist’s DNA. 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. He/she never forgets them. These are the origins—and the content– of their craft.

  • When reflecting on episodes think about:

++++ Your characteristics; your personality at the time

++++ Your abilities

++++ Your needs

++++ Your ambitions and dreams

  • Look at the episodes for times in your life of shifts and changes of direction—crises, periods of trouble and distress, great pleasure, and achievements. Look for the choices you made and how you dealt with their consequences. What did the choices mean to your life?
  • Sift through episodes for MAJOR THEMES. Your life has been a route of recurring themes, like those in a musical composition or a novel. For author Ernest Hemingway the themes of danger, of war, of adventure. Chagall’s Hasidism. Themes help explain many events in a person’s life and show continuity. Themes are groups of episodes that fall into a type.

What do you think right now, without much reflection, are your significant life’s themes?

My major themes are childhood, family, the place where I grew up, growing in understanding.

++++ Theme 1

++++ Theme 2

++++ Theme 3

++++ Theme 4

Bearing the major themes you’ve found in mind, ask yourself:

“Where do I seem to be headed? Where does it appear my grande ligne will lead me now?”

“What have I learned about myself from reflecting on my life and my artistic career?”

“What more do I want out of my painting, my dancing, my writing, my acting? What more can I give to it?

“Where do I want to be headed from this day on?”

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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