Tag Archives: Thomas Wolfe

The Authentic Voice of Creative People

Creatives’ On-Going Quest for an Authentic Presence

Painting of a tree with birds

Inspiration by Regina Valluzzi

We homo sapiens are marvels, aren’t we? Since the dawn of our species, through every era, among us have been extraordinarily artistically gifted people. They are blessed or burdened with an unquenchable need to express, to grow, to explore, to create, and to embellish their existence by communicating in their own voice–which is not precisely like any other voice–a presence they wish, rather urgently, to share.

The first subject our artistic forebears chose to leave behind for us to see are impressions of their hands on the walls of caves. There at that site thirty thousand years ago, a man or woman–much shorter than us, with faces different than ours, working alone as artists do–put aside chores, squatted down in darkness, and blew colored pigment through a rod onto their hand, leaving no other trace of their days and nights but that hand. Yet through that hand–that painter’s medium, that subject–we feel their presence, and with it a bond, a caring for them, a love. We hear their voice.

Blue waves with pink and blue sky

Rose Dusk Beach by Regina Valluzzi

The late composer Marvin Hamlisch–a three-time Academy Award winner, and Pulitzer Prize winner for the composition for the play A Chorus Line–was a friend. Once I told him I’d been watching a movie and a few bars into the music, I knew he had written it.  He said, “Is that true?” I said yes, every distinctive piece of music, writing, art, acting, and composing is marked by the recognizable voice of the person who created it.

Pink and white thread-like flowers on a branch

Alive by Regina Valluzzi

It is often because of that clear voice that we go on reading the poem, or viewing the painting, or listening to the actor or to the music, and are attentive and respectful. It’s only inferior work that doesn’t take us back to an interesting, stimulating, flexible, and complex mind of the person behind the work.  Who a creative is intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually radiates from the creative’s presence in the work and cannot be hidden. Many creatives have recognizable voices because they return again and again to painting or writing about a particular subject matter.  Some creatives, such as Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, discovered their authentic voice when they were young; others, such as self-taught American poet Walt Whitman, not until later in life.

So if we’re looking for prescriptions to the creative for finding or authentic voice and presence, the first would be: “Reveal yourself. Let your true identity permeate the work—your sincerity, your honesty, your mind in action, your originality, abilities, and uniqueness, the ‘I’ who you are–for it’s that, above and beyond the other content that your audience will be attracted  to. Be interesting, be clever, be skilled, be alive, be true, and be authentic.

 

Learning to Write In a More Satisfying Voice

Painting of plue water with brown sand

Rhapsody on the Sea by Regina Valluzzi

American novelist John Hersey said, “The voice is the element over which you have no control.”

Contrary to Hersey’s belief that writers have no control over their voice, they definitely do. Yet many writers have searched their texts for their authentic voice and can’t find it. So they sometimes conclude that while there may be such a thing as a voice, they do not have one, or they might have one but they don’t know what it is, and couldn’t describe it if they were asked to. But their voice is right there in the text, or the right voice can be added to the text. Always be thinking of the voice you want your work to project.

Misty pastel hills

Hills and Fog by Regina Valluzzi

A writer was dissatisfied with the voices she found in her writing. They didn’t seem to be “her.” They were different from what she felt should be the voice of a mature, thirty-five year old mother of two, an assertive, experienced writer of essays and short stories. A few of her stories had been published in a local literary magazine. She hoped to continue writing and seeing her work appear in better magazines. She didn’t like the syntax in her writing. She thought the writing was too formal and stilted, too cold, humorless, bland, business-like, academic, dull, lifeless, and not inviting for readers.

If you have a similar problem, here is an approach you might find helpful: ask experienced writer friends to look through a piece you’ve written. Ask them to identify sentences or passages that sound most like you. Then analyze what they think sounds most like you and identify the salient elements that gave them that impression-when they say, “Right there you were doing something very good. You should get more of that into your writing, you may be onto something.”

Then write a piece in that voice. Then show a draft of the piece to a supportive writer. Ask them what they think. Does it work? If it doesn’t work, write the piece again. If it does sound like you, you’ll be encouraged.

Twisted brown trees with aqua sky

Undulating Wood by Regina Valluzzi

If in your craft you are trying to communicate a particular voice or to avoid communicating another one, you might tell your friends what you would like them to look for as they look at your work. Once when I was working on a book, I left some pages on my desk and went to bed. The next day I noticed my teenage daughter had circled a couple of sentences and written, “Write more like this, Dad. Sounds like you,” and it was my voice loud and clear.

Avoid steering their perceptions in a particular direction, as saying to them, for example, “Is my writing dull?” “Is it too complicated and unclear?” Leave them alone to make their own observations. Be sure to tell them that you want their opinions and that you are giving them your permission to be honest and open.

A competent writer should be able to write in more than one voice, as required by the work at hand, a competent painter to paint in more than one. Who could paint in as many voices as Picasso? But in the creatives’ way of producing works there is one voice that is the most powerful, natural, and suitable to what creatives are trying to accomplish, what author Peter Elbow calls the “juice.” When the quest for an authentic voice is successful, creatives come into their own and do their art better than ever before.

I can’t think of better teachers of voice than writers who have the kind of voice that appeals to you and you would like to learn from.  I find the voices of James Agee’s A Death in the Family, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, some passages of Thomas Wolfe, Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady With a Dog,”  full of instruction for me as I look for the voice I want, thinking, “I’d like my writing to sound that way consistently.” To better understand how Hemingway created the effects he did, I analyzed his work and read what critics and teachers had to say about it, then wrote an essay on techniques he employed to create his voice. It is a voice that in the 1920s marked the start of the “Hemingway Voice” that revolutionized how, ever since, Americans have written and spoken. Whose voices do you admire most?

Branches with blossoms and birds leaning toward each other

The Sentries by Regina Valluzzi

The lovely art featured in this post is by Regina Valluzzi, a trained scientist and researcher in the Chemical , Physical, and Biological Sciences. The influence of her scientific experience permeates her approach to painting as both an art and a science, and gives her a unique voice. The pieces she has kindly allowed me to display here, she has informed me, “feature mixed media and a combination of “classic” painting techniques, controlled fluid pouring techniques and acrylic extrusion using cake decorating tools to control the three dimensional line shape and forms.  In most cases [she has] developed [her] own techniques or versions of techniques through a variety of controlled experiments.”

 

© 2018 David J. Rogers

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

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

 

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Inspiration, Information, and Learnings For People In The Arts

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

Pink and orange zinnias in impressionist style

Late Season Zinnias by Steven V. Ward

THE NATURE OF ARTISTS

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

    Berry Shadows by Steven V. Ward

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

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

 

THE CREATIVE PROCESS

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

    Spring Colors by Steven by Ward

    Stravinsky).

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

Lotus Trio by Steven V. Ward

CREATORS’ WORK LIFE 

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

    Yellow Wildflowers by Steven V. Ward

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

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

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

© 2018 David J. Rogers

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

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

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The Writer’s Block You’ve Never Heard Of

When Writers Hate Words and Painters Hate Paint

I

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

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

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

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

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

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

II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

III

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

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

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

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

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

 

© 2018 David J. Rogers

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

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

 

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

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Something Has Gone Out of Publishing

In my oh-so-very-pleasant work room upstairs, where I spend so much time hacking away at this machine whose letters on keys are disappearing fast from overuse, and my wife Diana leaves me alone to bleed and brood when the thinking and writing aren’t going well and to be stricken with ecstasy when they are, I am surrounded by books–many volumes about the arts and the immensely gifted people in them.

This morning I had a busy schedule of things to do that I’ve wanted to do for weeks but haven’t. I’m Chicago born and bred, Spartan tough, so I told myself that today was “time to get serious, buster. Enough of this uncharacteristic self-indulgence.” Today would be different; I’d “dig in,” “put a dent in things,” “make progress,” “do my thing.” I checked over my list of current projects, every single one of which oddly is “top priority.”

Old booksI was eager to start, but then I made the mistake of looking over my left shoulder and having my eye caught by an old “Advance Uncorrected Proofs–Not for Sale” copy of a biography of William Golding. “Who?” you say. Golding was a prolific English novelist, essayist, and playwright, author of Lord of the Flies, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature who was knighted for his achievements.

I ask literate people, “Who was William Golding?” and they don’t know. I ask, “Have you read Lord of the Flies, and they say, “Three times.” Far, far more people have read or heard about Lord of the Flies than remember the name of its author.  I see Golding as representative of a breed of artists and writers who were once acclaimed and now are forgotten.

The biography I’m looking at has an attractive, cheap light green paper cover, and I like the print. So I think of what I know about Golding, and the impression I come up with is that he was an odd bird, though I don’t know where I got that impression, and that his Nobel Prize was controversial.

Obviously, I had no choice but to ditch everything else immediately and start reading the book to try to understand Golding’s story as told in John Carey’s William Golding: A Life.

Golding was a strange, shy, private, reclusive depressive who didn’t want publicity or a biography written in his lifetime, and a virtuoso pianist in his early years. He was a victim of many fears and phobias, a World War II Royal Navy officer who participated in the D-Day invasion and other famous battles. During the war he discovered that the only way he could control his fear was by grinning. The men who served with him misinterpreted that as a love of violence. For many years he was a bored school teacher who was so inept and uninterested that he had no business teaching. He said he never knew what education was about.

He had trouble getting published. He wrote three books during his lunch hours, breaks, and holidays. No publisher was interested in them. Then he started the one that would change his life and enter the lives of millions of us: Lord of the Flies. The books he and his wife Ann read to their little son and daughter, such as Treasure Island and Swiss Family Robinson, were often about islands. One night when Golding and Ann were resting after putting the children to bed, he had a brainchild. He said, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea if I wrote a book about children who behave in the way children really would behave?” Ann was a formidable person, strong-willed, forceful, tough, and determined. So it made sense that she said, “Get on with it.” Golding said once he began working on the book, “It came very easily.”

He felt as if his three unsuccessful books that were circulating in the English publishing world and regularly being returned to him with rejection letters were “written by other people.” But he saw right away that the book about boys on an island was his book.

The manuscript of the book that eventually was given the title Lord of the Flies by an editor was originally panned by publisher Faber and Faber, Britain’s leading publisher, a reader calling it “absurd and uninteresting.” But it was rescued by a Faber editor who had been with the publisher for less than a month–Charles Monteith. Golding was Monteith’s first catch. Monteith would have many more. He was handsome, refined, polished, and sophisticated–qualities that were not true of Golding. That was the start of a lifelong association, with Monteith his editor, adviser, confidant, and friend.

The manuscript had made the rounds and been submitted to many publishers unsuccessfully. It was dog-eared, shop worn, and had pages yellowed at their edges, showing that it had been read and rejected countless times.

The book started out strangely, but Monteith was gripped as he continued reading. He took it home to finish. He couldn’t get it out of his mind. It had many flaws, some of them serious, but at the next meeting of the Faber Book Committee he said he thought the book was “odd and imperfect, but potentially very powerful,” and that he would like to discuss it with the author.” But the Sales Director, W.J. Crawley, whose judgment about if a book would sell was considered infallible, said the book was unpublishable. An argument ensued. When things calmed down, it was decided that since Monteith was very junior, others in the firm should read the manuscript before anything was decided.

Monteith then wrote to Golding, apologizing for keeping the manuscript for “rather a long time,” explaining that while they were interested, they had not made a decision. That was the most encouraging letter Golding had ever received from a publisher. He wrote back, saying he was glad they were interested and hoped they would publish the book.  Other Faber editors read the book, agreed with Monteith, and shared his enthusiasm.

The Faber chairman Geoffrey Faber read the book and liked it, but had doubts. But he didn’t wish to dampen a new young editor’s enthusiasm, and it was decided that Monteith would meet Golding and discuss possible changes but make no promises about publishing the book. At the meeting over lunch at a restaurant, both men were nervous. Because of the book’s religious content Monteith thought the author would be a clergyman, but then thought, “a teacher of children! Of course!” Changes were discussed. Golding would go home and consider them.

The changes Golding made quickly and sent to Monteith were even better than Monteith had hoped for. What Monteith had wanted shortened, Golding had completely eliminated, improving the book. The two men worked hand in hand on the book. On January 10, 1954, Golding submitted a complete draft. He had pieced together all the separate sections the now-friends had sweated over. Golding said now that the book was finished, he could hardly bear to look at it mainly because of the effort of “patching, so much more wearing than bashing straight ahead at a story.”

On February 11 Faber announced that it was prepared to publish the novel. The book went into production in March. Golding read the proofs and could see that Monteith’s “patching” had improved the book considerably.  Golding wrote to Monteith, “I think you have done a very clever and helpful piece of work…The novel is swift now, with a measure of subtlety and tautness. If it achieves any measure of success now it will be due to your severe but healthy pruning.”

On the 17h of September, 1954, Lord of the Flies was published, one year and three days after Golding had sent it to Faber. The tone of reviews that would follow was set by the first review that appeared that same day in the Daily Mail: “Most compelling–I fell under the spell of this book and so will many others,” The following day was even better. The Evening News called it “vivid and enthralling.” To the Times it was “most absorbing.” Time and Tide said, “A work of universal significance;” its author was “a truly imaginative writer who is also a deep thinker.” In the Observer poet Stevie Smith wrote, “This beautiful and desperate book, something quite out of the ordinary.”

Biographer Carey writes, “Faber and Faber were to remain Golding’s agent as well as his publisher for the rest of his life, an arrangement” of great profit to both of them, “and the achievement of this goal was entirely the result of Monteith’s understanding, patience and literary judgment. He spotted Golding’s potential when no one else did, and his faith in his extraordinary gifts did not waver.”

Books on shelvesMany Golding books followed. The Golding-Monteith symbiotic relationship between author and editor, the author with the genius and the editor with the judgment, cannot help but remind one of that same special and rare type of association between American novelist Thomas Wolfe, a physically immense man with an equally immense talent from which a torrent of gorgeous language flowed, and the editor who discovered him, Maxwell Perkins of Scribner’s. (Perkins was also the editor of greats Ernest Hemingway, author of The Sun Also Rises, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of The Great Gatsby.) The Wolfe-Perkins combination is considered the greatest author-editor relationship in the history of literature.

No writer, painter, or performer in any age was ever given a blank check. They all had to accept certain conditions imposed from the powerful gatekeepers in the field.  But the conditions imposed on the creative center of everything in the arts–the artist himself–are harsher and more brutal today than they once were, and something has gone out of publishing, enough that it’s legitimate to ask if the publisher is the author’s friend–as the theory goes.  The author now has to supply all the this-and-thats that once were the responsibility of the publisher. That was the deal. When did the changes start and how did they happen? Were they justified and in any way equitable?

Given publishing as it is today, such a relationship is now unheard of: two supremely talented people as Golding and Monteith, experts in their own specialties, but one on the payroll of the publisher, working together with one goal of textual perfection.  Most all publisher’s editors today are acquisition “editors,” not textual editors. Authors must find their own editors, and that is an expense that authors did not have when publishers were expected to provide editors.

Most writers with one ear tuned to the stories they’ve heard of the-once-upon-a–time legendary author-editor combinations consider the loss of publisher’s textual editors and that kind of relationship unfortunate. When I was writing Waging Business Warfare for Scribner’s thirty years ago, not one, not two, but three editors at the same time in the employ of the publisher were editing my work for different things.

Red pen editing writing

Where are today’s writers to go to find someone good and capable, trustworthy and encouraging, who will give them valuable feedback and expert guidance that will refine, hone, and perfect the finished, remarkable products–the novels, the plays, the poems people will stop to admire and will never forget? Where are the Charles Monteiths to find the most talented writers to share their expertise with?

Many new gifted authors with tremendous talents are waiting to be discovered and set on the right track by someone with the solid, unwavering faith in them, the expertise, and the vision of a Charles Monteith, without whom, quite possibly, we never would have heard of William Golding.

 

© 2017 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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Turning Points In The Lives Of Creative People

From the time I was a little boy watching mystery movies I’ve waited for the first clue. From that point on the solution is just a matter of time. All fates are sealed with that clue.  I will watch movies over and over, waiting for that definitive clue. And then I’m thrilled.  In the same way, I can’t think of any time in my life I haven’t been intrigued by those events in peoples’ lives that started them on the course that would define them as human beings—the Turning Points in their lives. The first clue.

Why were they this and then became that? What happened?  I would like to know. That’s true now of artists whose lives fascinate me—writers, painters, sculptors, actors, ballet dancers, composers, musicians. Was it a lucky break or a bad break? A triumph or a failure?  An illness? A significant man or woman?  A teacher? A lover? A walk on a beach?  A birth, a death?

If you and I were ever to meet–how nice that would be–I’d ask you about yours. I think you would tell me that after the Turning Point you knew right turning-arrowaway you’d never be the same. You were facing in a new direction. Winds picked up and caught your sails and you set out to sea. You were on a quest and were experiencing the pouring-out of floods of creative thoughts. You’re confident that your quest is still leading to something though you might not be aware yet just where it will take you. You will have to see.

American Nobel Prize dramatist EUGENE O’NEILL’S Turning Point was a life-threatening illness. The son of a rich and famous actor, he quit college after a year, worked as a deck hand on ocean-going ships, drank heavily in various ports, and dissipated his life.

Then he experienced his Turning Point: “I just drifted along till I was twenty-four and then I got a jolt and sat up and took notice. Retribution overtook me and I went down with T.B. It gave me time to think about myself and what I was doing—or, better, wasn’t doing. I got busy writing one act plays…If I hadn’t had an attack of tuberculosis, if I hadn’t been forced to look at myself, while I was in the sanitorium, harder than I had ever done before I might not have become a playwright.” He would, he said, “Become an artist or nothing.” From that point on, his life was centered on, focused on, and organized around writing plays.

Writer RAYMOND CHANDLER’S Turning Point was getting fired from a high-paying executive job. For many years he drifted from job to job. He started in silhouette-144967_640business as an accountant and rose to the ranks of the director of eight oil corporations. He was called by some the best businessman in America. He drank so heavily that he started going off on his own on binges without telling anyone for weeks at a time and eventually was fired– the worst crisis of his life.

But while driving along California’s Pacific coast to a cabin where he planned to figure out what to do now, he stopped at a gas station and picked up reading material: copies of Black Mask, a magazine of hard-boiled detective stories. Reading them, he decided that he could write stories as good as those, and that’s what he did, starting a  writing career at age 44 that saw him establish himself as probably the greatest writer in that genre.

Self-taught VINCENT VAN GOGH’S Turning Point was reading a particular book. Before deciding to devote himself to art he wrote to his brother Theo: “I quite well remember that when you spoke at the time of my becoming a painter, I thought it was very impractical and would not hear of it. What made me cease vincent-van-gogh-self-portrait-1887to doubt was my reading a clear book on perspective, Cassagne’s Guide to the ABC of Drawing and a week later I drew the interior of a kitchen with a stove, chair, table and window, in their place and on their legs, while before it had seemed to me witchcraft or pure chance to get depth and the right perspective in drawing. If you had only drawn one thing right, you would feel an irresistible longing to draw a thousand other things.”

Many creative people have Turning Points in childhood. They fall in love with some activity. Children who know what they are in love with and are pretty boy-paintingsure what they will be when they grow up are likely to be creative as adults.

At the age of eight Nobel writer SAUL BELLOW was hospitalized for half a year in the children’s ward. With boys and girls dying all around him he decided that his own survival was a near miracle; that he was “privileged” and that there was some form “of bookkeeping going on.”

He did his own mental bookkeeping and decided he “owed something to some entity for the privilege of surviving.” He believed he had “better make it worth the while of whoever it was that authorized all this.” In his twenties he turned to writing and went on to achieve all the highest literary awards. Until he died he thought it possible that he had “gotten away with something but that it had been by permission of some high authority.”

Short story specialist/poet RAYMOND CARVER’S Turning Point was meeting a teacher– being taught at the Iowa Writers Workshop by John Gardner and pen-27043_640being affected profoundly. Carver said that whatever Gardner had to say “went right into my blood stream and changed the way I looked at things…He took my stories more seriously… I was completely unprepared for the kind of criticism I received from him.”

Gardner taught Carver to be tough on himself, showing what is best about all good teachers. Through them you learn to adopt an objective critical attitude toward your work.  You learn “taste.” At that point Carver and his wife Maryann shared the goal of Raymond not selling out his writing and not have him get involved in any career but writing. Not to forget that he was put on earth to be a great writer and for no other reason.

MARY CASSATT’S Turning Point midway in her paining career was the result mary-cassatt-89730_6401of a sequence of Turning Points: living in Paris, mingling with the French Impressionists, especially Edgar Degas, and becoming an Impressionist herself. But the single most important turning point for Cassatt was finding her true subject: mothers with their children.

ERNEST HEMINGWAY’s Turning Point was deciding a college education wasn’t for him and landing a job as a journalist on the Kansas City Star.  Over the years the “Stars” editors had complied a book of 110 rules designed to force reporters to ernest-hemingway-401493_640use simple, plain, direct, cliché-free English, and those rules were strictly enforced. Hemingway’s writing style that revolutionized the way writing is done across the globe, was based on those very rules. He later called them, “the best rules I ever learned about writing.” He showed the first cable he ever wrote to fellow writer Lincoln Steffens and said, “Steffens, look at this cable: no fat, no adjectives, no adverbs…It’s a new language.”

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

Wolfe was stupendously talented. But his main problems were his uncontrollable, obsessive verbosity and a chronic inability to cut that resulted in unedited manuscripts of fantastic lengths, three or four times longer than a publishable book could possibly be.

Those problems in turn were caused by Wolfe’s difficulty making any kind of vintage-typewriterindependent decisions. He didn’t know where or what to cut. He would stare for hours at the manuscript before eliminating a few sentences when his agreement with Perkins was that he would strike out tens of thousands–a hundred thousand—words. He would start by rereading the manuscript section by section, trying to find things that were unnecessary and could be omitted. But he was totally blind to them. He never in his entire career had a concept of a publishable book.

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

I doubt there’s ever been a great creator who after a Turning Point didn’t have a powerful sense of single-mindedness and an ability to persevere, face difficulties, and concentrate on reaching goals while resisting distractions.

And rarely, if ever, wandering off on tangents. High-powered focused attention is a result of Turning Points–the ability of the creator to be absorbed, caught up in, and wholly involved in his/her creative existence.

Do you remember your Turning Point?  Just look up from the screen now and reflect on when the first clue appeared in the mystery you call your life and you turned from this direction to that.

 

© 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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The Moods of Artists and Writers

Moodiness is one of the characteristics of creative people. They prefer intuition and feeling; they experience high levels of excitability; they’re sensitive; they’re “inner directed,” and inside is where the moods are. They approach their work with an almost mystical intensity, and feel the pleasure and excitement that comes from meeting creative challenges. And the deep joy in producing a work that means a great deal to them. They have to learn to control and regulate their moods so they aren’t overwhelmed by them.

cloudy-211848_640Russian author Anton Chekhov observed that unhappy writers write happy stories and happy writers’ stories are unhappy. Was he right? He said, “The more fun I’m having, the more depressing my stories are.” A study of composers found that they did their most creative work when they were in the most pain and facing serious life difficulties like marital and legal problems. Gustave Flaubert told his girlfriend, “You should write more coldly. Everything should be done coldly, with poise.”

All his life, Gabriel Garcia Marquez experienced a mood that is so common among writers and artists—he was frightened at the moment he sat down to work. But fear or no fear, he won the Nobel Prize, so how debilitating could the fear have been? Writer Joan Didion speaks of dread: “I don’t want to go in there at all. It’s low dread every morning…I keep saying ‘in there’ as if it is some kind of chamber, a different atmosphere. It is, in a way. There’s almost a psychic wall. The air changes. I mean you don’t want to go through that door.” But exuberant Thomas Wolfe was fearless and found the act of writing a “wild ecstasy.”

A writer or artist in an optimistic mood with high positive expectations has the advantage of being able to generate rose-7634_640positive memories and large amounts of information. Good memories and that much information enable him/her to work creatively. A mood of boredom decreases artistic productivity. But a good mood improves a creator’ problem-finding and problem-solving abilities

It’s clear that regardless of the type of writing or painting you are doing, the act of doing it almost always improves your mood. Unless, that is, you’re working on a subject you feel no emotions about, neither positive nor negative. Then you don’t experience the uplifting emotional effects of working. The topic is bland; your mood is bland. But generally after writing or painting, sculpting, dancing, etc., creators’ moods are elevated. They may start their work in anger, for example, or depressed, but after finishing an hour’s work feel happier, more satisfied, more delighted, more joyful, and also calmer, less nervous, more relaxed and enthusiastic, serene, and peaceful. Positive mood or negative mood depends very much on how satisfied you feel with your performance. “Is the work going well or poorly?

Mood can have a profound and dangerous effect on creative people. They have a higher rate of mood disorders—a hall-212840_640fantastically higher rate—and poets, male or female, more than any other kind of creators. Poets—particularly female poets–have a high suicide rate. American poets Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath are prominent examples. Female poets are significantly more likely to sufferer from mental illness than other types of female writers. Poets have the highest rate of depression and greatest number of suicides of all occupations. Studies consistently find that 50%-80% of creative writers studied suffered from a mood disorder.  A very high percentage of the writers on the faculty of the famous Iowa Writer’s Workshop studied over a fifteen year period had bipolar or other serious mood disorders.

Another creator’s mood is envy. Envy has been called “the writer’s disease,” and I suppose it might just as well be called the painter’s, sculptor’s, actor’s, and ballerina’s disease too. Envy is based on a “scarcity mentality,” the anguish caused by the belief that there is not enough money, opportunities, fame, etc., to go around. Envy may create painful feelings of inadequacy as the writer or artist thinks so-and-so is better or more successful than they are. Although it can motivate window-407206_640you to do better than those you envy, it can also make you lose focus. But if you free yourself from comparison to others, or from any preoccupation with yourself—your fame, your wealth, your status–you’ll overcome envy and other impediments to your best work. Your focus will be on the work 100%, nothing left over for anything else. All your attention will be brought to bear on the thing to be written or painted.

Many would-be writers and artists wait for the “right” mood before they begin. My father was a machinist and often wasn’t in the mood to go in to work. But he never missed a day. I don’t see what’s so special about writers and artists that they can’t do the same. Whether you are a machinist or a creator of great works, there is no such thing as being perfectly ready to work; there is just work that should be done whether you feel in the mood or not. To Norman Mailer, that was the difference between professional writers and amateurs. He said, “By professionalism I mean the ability to work on a bad day.”

And remember that whatever mood you’re in when you begin working, when you quit for the day you’ll probably feel terrific.

 

© 2015 David J. Rogers

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Writers’ and Artists’ Deadline Problems and What To Do About Them

vincent-van-gogh-74018_640Writers and artists are almost always marvelously productive human beings able to generate huge quantities of work, amounts of work which put people in other walks of life to shame. They are concerned with their production and pay close attention to it—did you write your 500 words today; did you finish painting that corner of the canvas before quitting for dinner? If production falls off, they want to know why, and if good work pours out of them fluently, they want to know why that is happening too.

Hard as I try, I find it difficult to imagine any writer or artist—amateur or professional, novice or expert–who hasn’t had  production deadlines to meet, and it’s not unusual for them to have had problems meeting them at least once or twice, and possibly more frequently than that. You’ve heard it said, and maybe you’ve said it yourself when you’ve been under the pressure of a tight deadline and are having trouble meeting it: “This deadline is important. It’s in the contract, and it’s very clear.”  Think how ominous the word is. It’s not a “lifeline,” but a “dead” line, as though if you exceed it you’re a goner.

You have a task that you’re supposed to finish by 2:00. Or it may be by next Tuesday, or one year from Tuesday. There’s some kind of principle or another—Murphy’s Law–that goes, “If something can go wrong, it will go wrong.” Let’s say you start to work and encounter a setback. You begin thinking, “I’m falling behind.” You’re not worried and you continue on, but you run up against another snag or block that slows you down more. More work, another snag; the ideas just won’t come, or you can’t find a concept for the drawing, or your computer crashes, and it will be a long time before it’s fixed. (I had that problem once and was told there was a backlog and that I’d have to shut down for ten days while I waited for a repair person. But I had a deadline to meet, and I really couldn’t wait ten days. So I called the national president of my internet service provider at that time, calendar-148598_640 (1) AT&T, and had a nice conversation with his personal assistant. I explained to her that I was an author and had a book to get out to the publisher right away, so I needed my computer to work. She was an avid reader which I think helped. A repairman was ringing my doorbell at 8:00 the next morning. By 8:20 I was back at work, everything copacetic, things under control.) Or you move out of your old place into a new place or have a baby, and your work comes to a standstill.  A crack in your confidence then appears. You soon begin to conjure up a grim chain of possible events: “If I don’t finish this assignment-story-novel-report-painting-lithograph on time, this might happen and that and that, and that would be very bad.” And then there are other slowdowns and still more. Eventually you think, “Oh, God, no matter what, I can’t possibly finish on time. My butt’s in a sling. What a predicament.”

Strategies for Freeing Yourself from Deadline Difficulties

  1. Pay not the slightest attention to the deadline. You have only so much attention. It’s not divisible. If it’s on one thing, it can’t be on another. Resist any inclination to worry about the deadline. Fix it in your mind once, enter it on a calendar, then get to work immediately. Whatever attention you devote to fretting about it is that much less you can devote to the job at hand. Yet that’s where your mind should be totally focused. It will be helpful if you are able to be dispassionate and non-attached. Perfectly unworried.

archer-160389_640Archery contests are held at a temple in Japan and the best archers compete. The object of the contest is to see how many arrows the marksmen can shoot from one end of a 128 yard long veranda into a target on the other end in one day. The ceiling of the veranda is very low, and the archer has to shoot without much arch. That requires considerable strength and is exhausting. The record is 8,133, or about five arrows every minute for twenty-four consecutive grueling hours. Now how many arrows would the archer have shot if he stopped to fret about the deadline? Certainly not 8,133.

No matter what, we must refuse to let our mind waver from the job at hand, agonizing less about the deadline, absorbing ourselves in tasks, just shooting our arrows, just punching away at the keyboard, just drawing lines. The more we remain firm and focused, shifting our minds again and again persistently to what is in front of us that needs doing, the higher the quality of the work we produce will be and the sooner the work will be accomplished.

  1. Remember that some time pressure actually enhances performance. There are many things we would never have completed if we hadn’t had a deadline to prod us. In school you had papers to write or a drawing to do. You were forewarned: it was due in four weeks. If you were like most students, you put it off for three weeks, six days and 19 hours. You stayed up the night before and, bleary-eyed and rendered useless the rest of the day, turned it in on time. There you are; you obeyed another principle: work tends to expand to fill the time available for its completion. So had you just one week, you would have finished it in one week, and would have finished it on time had you had only five hours.
  2. Bear in mind, however,  that unrealistic deadlines create too much pressure, and too much pressure interferes with performance. You worry. You tighten up. You lose focus. After a while when you’ve fallen behind, you find yourself beginning to pay more attention to the deadline than to doing well what needs doing. The need to finish on time gets more urgent and you start taking shortcuts. You really don’t want to, but you’re lowering your usually high standards and getting sloppy and the work’s quality is falling off.
  3. If you have any say in the matter make the deadline reasonable. Realistic deadlines motivate performance. I’ll confess: I’m a naturally excitable person, and I used to get very stirred up and to be too optimistic about reaching any deadline that I set. At times my staff had to work ridiculously long hours and on weekends and holidays and even while they were sick to meet them. So I devised a simple precaution which I called “the kick.” When I was asked by a client to estimate how long a job would take, an associate would kick me under the table. That was the signal to increase my estimate by 30%. Never let your enthusiasm exceed your better judgment. Can you use some version of the kick?
  4. Choose deadline-beating thoughts, not worry-creators. You are inwardly free to replace one thought with another whenever you want. Instead of, “I’m losing ground,” replace it with, “I’m making progress. I’m whittling this baby down,” or “Every time I stop to look at the clock (or the calendar) I’m wasting time.” “I’m going to have the focus of those archers.”
  5. Accept the deadline as an exciting challenge. When I was working on a particular book, as I turned in one chapter after another, the editor thought, “This is pretty good stuff, and it’s getting better and better. This book is going to make money.” She told the publisher, “I think we have something.” The publisher then said to her, “The longer his book, the larger the cover price we can charge. Have him double the number of words we contracted for (from 60,000 to 120,000 words). And let him know since the book is so good, we’ll want an earlier pub date. Finish with it as soon as possible.” So the length was doubled and time pressure increased. Rather than the usual “cut, cut, cut” I had to think “add, add, add.” I could have renegotiated, but accepted the new terms as a challenge and didn’t ask for any more time. I just worked longer hours (an extra writing shift every night), and everything went well.
  6. In some cases, renegotiate the deadline. When you do not see the time constraint as challenging, but rather as completely unrealistic, renegotiation makes sense. No one wants you not to meet the deadline.
  7. Overcome the causes of the snags and slowdowns. For example, often a person’s failure to meet a deadline isn’t that person’s fault at all, but of someone else’s failure to meet their deadline. If you can help them overcome their snags it will help you overcome yours.

I don’t think American novelist Thomas Wolfe (1900-1938)—that master of language–ever met a single deadline his entire career. When you’re as talented as Wolfe, you can get away with murder. Until you can get away with murder too, you will have to find effective ways to handle your deadlines, striving never to be late.

© 2015 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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